Let me start with this: Vietnam is a magical country. I felt nothing but an overwhelming connection to the culture and the people, it was easy to get around, and consistently safe. But Hanoi… Hanoi may have been my favorite place in the entire country. We traveled north to south through Vietnam, starting in Hanoi, spending time in Halong Bay, and ending in Hoi An. Perhaps it was because Hanoi was my very first contact with Vietnam, perhaps because it was just that fantastic, I cannot say. But it left an indelible mark on my mind, heart, and stomach. The food here was far and away the best of our trip, the city was walkable and had infinite places to explore, and I came away hoping that I would return again (and hopefully soon). Be prepared to eat street food on child-sized stools, to navigate roads filled with hundreds of motorbikes that don’t follow traffic signals, and to walk for miles every day (bring comfy shoes). Read on for everything that you should be seeing, doing, and eating in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Don’t forget to check out #caro_in_vietnam for a photo diary of my travels!
Where To Stay
Maison D’Orient – Just a short walk from Hoan Kiem, Maison D’Orient is a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a quiet alley. The location could not have been more perfect as a launching pad for exploring all facets of the city. It was not a glammed up experience, but was clean, had really thoughtful personal touches, big rooms, comfortable beds, a lovely English-speaking staff, and good wifi. An added bonus was the delightful free Vietnamese coffee and breakfast spread that was laid out each morning. Although the locals opt for pho (which I highly recommend adopting while there), it was nice to be able to grab a cup of coffee and nibble on some local dragonfruit while getting ready in the morning.
Where To Eat
Phở Thìn Lo Duc – The most important advice I could give for someone visiting Hanoi is to eat pho every morning for breakfast, and eat it here. This was far and away the best pho spot in town, and fully local when we swung by for breakfast. Don’t forget to order a basket of piping hot fried dough sticks alongside the pho (you soak them in the broth and they get perfectly soft), and top that pho with tons of fresh chilis.
Loading T Cafe – We loved this hidden cafe so much, we came back every afternoon for a caffeine pick-me-up. I wasn’t kidding when I say hidden – it’s up a double set of stairs and there’s no signage. The space is straight-up beautiful, and if you can snag the mini table outside it’s worth the wait. Get an egg coffee and a coconut coffee (it’s like a milkshake here).
Bun Bo Nam Bo – Also known as dry pho, bun bo nam bo is a beef noodle dish that’s in the pho family, but sans broth. The pile of crispy shallots, mountain of fresh herbs, and chilis (of course) come together to form the perfect flavor combination.
Ba Hoa Cafe – Just down the block from the famous Giang Cafe is an egg coffee spot that I’d argue is significantly better. It has a slim balcony upstairs for people watching, and their coconut coffee comes with a toasted almond topping that’s to die for. Don’t miss their egg coffee either.
Giang Cafe – The aforementioned Giang Cafe is a bit of an institution in Hanoi, recommended on many travel lists and guides for its egg coffee. While the egg coffee is good (the cinnamon flavor was my favorite), it feels like a wholly tourist-geared operation at this point. I’d say skip it in favor of Loading T or Ba Hoa.
Bun Cha Dac Kim – Bun Cha is, in a word, heaven. We ordered one bowl to split (with a cool beer) and ended up ordering another because we couldn’t get enough. It’s normally eaten for lunch, and is a grilled fatty pork dish with vermicelli noodles in broth with, per usual, tons of fresh herbs and chilis.
Pasteur Street Brewing Co – For local beers, look no further than Pasteur Street. Their microbrews are made with local flavors such as lemongrass, passionfruit, and jasmine, and are absolutely delicious. Grab a tasting flight and post up on their rooftop.
Banh Cuon Nong – Almost as fun as eating banh cuon are watching these Vietnamese rice crepes being made. They are paper thin, filled with pork, eaten dipped in broth, and topped with crispy shallots, herbs, and chilis.
Madame Hien – This was the only meal of our entire Hanoi stay that wasn’t street food and felt a bit Western and upscale, and I’m glad that we saved it for the last night. The space is stunning, the cocktails divine (get the passionfruit cocktail), and we loved the duck salad, bok choy, and banh cuon as well.
Cong Cafe – Yes this is a chain, but their icey coconut coffee really is delicious.
Ne Cocktail Bar – Go here, try the pho cocktail.
Pho 10 – This spot was a bit more touristy, but still had really good pho.
What To Do
Explore the Old Quarter – Taking ample time to get lost in Hanoi’s old quarter was a highlight of the trip for me. Each block of each street is arranged by the type of good they sell, and I am in no way exaggerating. You’ll stumble upon a street that only sells sneakers, a street that only sells air conditioners, a street that only sells candy. And when you get to the streets with fresh produce… well I damn near lost my mind! Don’t miss the train street too.
Temple of Literature – This was one of my favorite of the more cultural sites that we visited while in Hanoi. It’s one of the oldest places in the city, and was once the site of the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first university. You’ll amble through gardens, beautifully carved stone archways, and the original buildings. Note that you do need to purchase tickets.
Cooking Class and Market Tour at Highway4 – One of the highlights of spending time in Hanoi was getting a guided tour from Highway4 of Cho Hom market, one of the incredible local markets for fresh everything. I may have enjoyed this even more than the actual cooking class, if I’m being honest. Whether you commit to the cooking class or not, do yourself a favor and visit this market.
Tran Quoc Pagoda – The biggest pagoda in Hanoi and one of biggest in Vietnam, this religious site is set on a tiny island, surrounded by water. It is beautiful to behold, and the walk over around the lake is lovely as well.
Bookworm Hanoi – My guide wouldn’t be complete without a bookshop, would it? Bookworm is the cutest bookshop, complete with a peaceful courtyard and coffee shop.