A night in … Hanoi, Vietnam

MANIC, commerce, tangled, claustrophic, wild, motorbikes, heart pumping, hawkers… These are just some of the words that come to mind when you first arrive in the Vietnamese capital. But don’t let that put you off for melting pot, charm, grace, colonial, baguettes, chic, coffee, noodles and shopping come just as easily to mind also. This is a city you’ll easily fall in love with and want to visit over and over again.

Peaceful Hoan Kiem lake. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

I’ve just arrived…

Hanoi really has a little bit of everything. In fact Hanoi in many ways surmises the story of what is today’s Vietnam – that seeming tangle of old and new or chaos mixed with moments of utter peace and delight.

Hanoi celebrated 1000 years in 2010 so there’s plenty of traditions you’ll want to indulge in when you come from sights to sounds and tastes. And if you do come the Old Quarter is probably the best quarter to find them. While it is the tourist district and a busy place it’s also very central to everything you’ll probably want to see and do.

What’s the best way to get around?

If you want to go somewhere in Hanoi there’s no lack of transport to get you there. Taxis run to and from the airport and will take you around town – just keep an eye on the meter or better still use a reputable company. Some will quote the price beforehand and this is probably the safest bet. A far cheaper mode of getting around however is by bicycle or motorbike taxi. The two-seater cyclos or cycle rickshaws are everywhere as are willing motorbike taxis – neither are for the faint hearted and if you don’t like being right there amidst all the traffic you might want to stick to the cars. Again decide on your price before you start out. Alternatively local buses are available and very cheap but can be confusing for non-Vietnamese speakers.

Rush hour on the streets of Hanoi. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Where to stay?

Hanoi Backpackers
Located right near the Old Cathedral this place has 117 bunk beds to choose from if budget is a priority for your stay in Hanoi. There are however a choice of mixed or girls only rooms. It’a social place and there are BBQs on the terrace and other associated hostel activities of a nightime. The price does include breakfast, all day tea/coffee and even use of the Internet. Dorm beds cost from USD $6, private rooms from USD $25 per night.

Royal Palace Hotel
A boutique three star hotel located in the ancient quarter of Hanoi. This place offers a little more luxury for those willing to spend more on their own comforts – in fact it is listed as one of Hanoi’s top ten luxury hotels in the Old Quarter. Some rooms have balconies with great city views. Room rates are $35-95.

Hanoi Daewoo Hotel
Moving into the five star bracket the famed Daewoo offers the ultimate in luxury, elegance and convenience. It is located in the business and diplomatic district, has a range of restaurants and bars, a fitness centre, garden, swimming pool and business centre ensuring you will literally want for nothing. Room rates start from $150 and rise through to $4043 per night for the Royal Suite.

Find accommodation in Hanoi to suit your budget at Agoda.com

What’s for dinner?

Joma Cafe
Those hunkering after quality western coffee, shakes and snacks need look no further than the excellent Joma Cafe located near the tourist district. There are also other locations in Hanoi and you’ll also find them in Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos. There’s also a social conscience with this cafe and they operate on a fair-trade level and donate sales back to the people and planet.
22 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem District, Tel: + 84-43-718-6071, www.joma.biz, open 7am – 11pm

Pho Bo
We’re not actually going to provide a listing for a pho bo place as this is a dish rather than a restaurant and you will find streetside restaurants absolutely everywhere around Hanoi serving it. This Vietnamese noodle soup is served with bo (beef) or chicken (ga) and is available from breakfast through to dinner time for about the price of USD $1. It’s a must eat when you come to Hanoi.

Eating pho in Hanoi. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Koto is a not-for-profit restaurant near the Temple of Literature that employs disadvantaged youth in the city. It serves up an excellent array of Asian and Western drinks, snacks and meals. Australians will be pleased to note Prime Minister Julia Gillard has eaten here too.
KOTO on Van Mieu, 59 Van Mieu St. Dong Da District, Tel: +84 4 3747 0337, www.koto.com.au

I need a drink…

International Bia Hoi Corner, Hanoi
For a cheap night out and some fine street side seating, head to the famed beer corner in the Old Quarter for cold beer on tap. Go early before they sell out otherwise you’re stuck with beer from a bottle. And no need to worry if you’re on your own – someone will chat to you. Seating is on plastic chairs right on the street.
Pho Ta Hien / Pho Luong Ngoc Quyen, Hoan Kiem

Culture vulture

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
For a glimpse into Vietnam’s communisitic past, a visit to Ho’s mausoleum is a must. The monument is a huge marble edifice and rather austere. Inside is the body of the former leader. You will have to go early however as the crowds soon gather–even then you may need to be prepared for a long wait–and it closes at 11am. You are not allowed to take a camera or other possessions inside. Entry is free.
Ba Dinh Square, Quant Truong Ba Dinh, open 8-11am Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun Dec-Sep, last entry 10.15am

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
For a chance to see one of Vietnam’s oldest arts that has been practiced for over ten centuries, head to the water puppet theatre near the lake for a night of entertainment.
57b Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hoàn Kiếm, Tel: +84-4-3936-4335, 04-824-9494, www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org, open Mon-Sat 6:30pm, 8pm, Sun 9.30am, 6.30pm and 8pm.

Shop ‘til you drop.

The Old Quarter is the best place to shop. Eight hundred years ago the thirty-six guilds in the city established themselves in this part of the city. Each took up residence in a different street and the streets are still named for them. You will see signs on each corner with hang for street followed by the name of the merchandise they once sold. For example there’s Hang Da (leather street) and Hang Tre (bamboo street) amongst the narrow lanes. Some still sell the product they were named after but not all do. It’s fun to wander through these in any case. You’ll find silverworkers, paper money, lacquerware, old propaganda posters, art galleries and much more. It’s fun to just let your feet do the walking and see what you come across.

Anything I should take with me?

Always head out with some water when hitting the streets of Hanoi. It can be hot and sticky here in summer. The best way to deal with the heat is to go out early in the day and then rest at lunch time.

What should I avoid?

Hanoi has the usual number of touts and pickpockets you find anywhere. Be careful with your belongings when you are out and about.  Traffic can be intense all day long but is particularly worse in evening peak hour. If you’re at all nervous about crossing the roads avoid getting about in the 5-7pm window.

Find accommodation in Hanoi to suit your budget at Agoda.com