Vietnam’s capital is a complex city, a unique mishmash of old and new, the traditional and the modern. Though historically less important than Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), its cousin down south, Hanoi shows no inferiority complex. Don’t miss the picturesque old centre, which has retained its old-world charm despite the constant state of flux that defines this otherworldly metropolis.
Hanoi is believed to have been founded as far back as 1,500 years ago. It has gone through many names, with its first being Thăng Long (Ascending Dragon), a name inspired by its ruler's vision of a dragon ascending the Red River nearby the city. From then onwards, it served as the capital of Đại Việt (the Great Viet), until the capital was moved to Thanh Hoa, also known as Tây Đô (Western Capital). Thăng Long then became Đông Đô (Eastern Capital). Its current name, Hanoi, has been in place since 1831, and means “a city lying Between Rivers or River Interior”, which are the Red and Day rivers. Hanoi became the capital of Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were reunited on July 2, 1976.
Like the rest of Vietnam, Hanoi is not overtly religious. The majority of the population identifies as atheist, and from the believers, the main creed is the Vietnamese folk religion, which has strong Buddhist influences.
Hanoi has many cultural influences unique to itself. The most well-known of these are its traditional handicraft villages, each of which specialize in a certain craft or trade. Examples include the Phu-Do noodle-making village, the Yen-Phu incense village, the Bat Trang ceramic and pottery village, and the Ngu Xa bronze-making village. Hanoi is also famed for its folk music performances, of which varieties include the Water Puppet, Cheo, Tuong and A Dao.
- The Vietnamese believe in the concept of face
- Don’t touch people’s heads, or their feet, as these two areas have great significance in this culture
- Both sexes should dress modestly, although this is a more serious issue for women
- Avoid public displays of affection
Hanoi is located in northern Vietnam, at the delta of the Red River, nearly 90 km from the coast. Hanoi has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct, mild seasons: it feels fresh, green and cool in spring, moderately hot in summer, fine in autumn, and lightly cold in winter.
Numerous lakes, rivers and mountains scattered around the area make Hanoi the place to be for nature lovers. Nearby Hanoi is the beautiful Halong Bay, which is one of Vietnam’s most famous natural wonders. 2,000 limestone islands dot the blue waters in the area, creating an otherworldly feel that can’t be missed.
The first recognised and best protected nature reserve, Van Long Nature Reserve, is near the city limits. It includes the Cuc Phuong National Park, which represents a great opportunity to see an amazing variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. Some animals that you can expect to see in the reserve include flying squirrels, lorises, bats and wild cats.
Before you go
- Language: Vietnamese, a Vietic language formerly written in Chinese characters
- Currency: Vietnamese dong (VND)
- Voltage: 220/380
- Electric Socket:
- Make sure you have an unlocked phone that is gsm-compatible, you can fit this phone with a pre-activated gsm sim card available at almost every shop in Vietnam.
- The most popular are the standard Mobifone cards. A normal voice and sms card from Mobifone costs around 80,000 dong and is valid for 2 months.
- Note that in Vietnam, you must always dial the city code (04 for Hanoi) when calling from your mobile before the telephone number.
- Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 4.00pm.
- On Saturdays, banks will open only in the morning, from 8.00am to 11.30am.
- There are a few large international banks that will open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, but all banks are closed on public holidays.
- ATMs can only dispense cash in Vietnamese dong.
- The amount of cash that can be withdrawn is usually: 2,000,000 dong with an additional usage charge variable from 30,000 dong upwards.
- Phở (Noodle soup) – Served with all kinds of meats and toppings, look for the high end chain Pho 24 or for wherever you see many locals congregating to enjoy a bowl!
- Chaca La Vong – Grilled fish accompanied by peanuts, dill, shrimp paste. green onions, and bún (a thicker spaghetti-like noodle).
- Banh My Hanoi– French baguette sandwich, most Hanoi stands serve two versions ‘Banh My Pate’ (where you can choose your own meat) and ‘Banh My Trung’.
Tipping is not a common habit in Vietnam, but feel free to show you appreciation for good service through a small tip of $0.50-1.
Taxis: Feel free to just leave behind loose change as a courtesy to your driver, should the service be of a good quality.
Restaurants: Tip as you see fit. One example of a very generous tip is a 50,000 dong note which is equivalent to around $2.5.
Hotels: In general, tipping in hotels is not expected but is appreciated.
- Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Drink bottled mineral water rather than tap water.
- Crossing the streets in Hanoi is not for the faint-hearted.
- Markets and other packed areas are full of pick-pockets, often professional gangs. Carry your bags in front of you and do not let yourself be surrounded, even by females.
- Violent crime is extremely rare in Vietnam
- Police: 113
- Ambulance: 115
- International SOS Clinic (private): 51 Xuan Dieu (behind Fraser Suites) Vietnam, Quảng An, Tây Hồ, Hanoi, Tel: (+84) 4 3934 0666
- Family Medical Practice Hanoi (private): 298 I Kim Ma Street, Van Phuc Compound, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Tel: (+84) 4 3843 0748
- Hello (in general): Zhao-ay (when greeting a male)
- Hello (in general): Zhao-zhi (when greeting a female)
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Zeen-loy
- Thank you (to male): Cahm-un-ong
- Cảm ơn bà to (to female): Cảm ơn bà
- You’re welcome: Kung-coh-gee
- Good morning/evening: Chao-booy-shang / Chao-booy-doi
- Goodbye (to male): Zhao-ay
- Goodbye (to female): Zhao-zhi
- How much is this?: Cao-uy-ha-bao-nyo
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Ju-shu-chwe
- Bon appetit!: An-nyon-nye
- Where’s the toilet?: Co-dyow-euh-doe
- Help!: Kiu-veui
- Tôi hiểu: Toy-hee-yow
- I don’t understand: Toy-hong-hee-yow
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
The compact Noi Bai International Airport is situated 35 km (or 45-60 min) north of the city. Its small size means travellers leaving the city don’t need to arrive hours in advance as there isn’t anywhere to wait around. A new terminal, Terminal 2, was built in 2015 to accommodate all international flights. Shuttle buses take you to the city for 40,000 dong (around $2), but if you choose to take a taxi, make sure to negotiate the price beforehand (it should cost around 350,000-400,000 dong to get to the Old Quarter).
Many “open-tour” bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, the stop before it (or after it) being Hue. The old district, where there are most backpacker hotels, are a good place to find tickets for such buses, and buses to Hanoi end up in this area too.
The Reunification Express, which runs all the way back and forth from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (with stops in Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang and Mui Ne) is a fun way to get around Vietnam. The sleeper trains generally contain four berths, and luggage is kept under the bottom bunks – toilets are provided at the end of each carriage too! Book here: https://vietnam-railway.com
Taxis are the best way to get around Hanoi, and Uber has recently launched in the city as well. Try to stick with the well-known taxi services in order to avoid being cheated on the fare: these are Hanoi Group Taxi, (+84 4 3856 5656), and Mai Linh Taxi (+84 4 3861 6161). A cheaper service (albeit with simpler, older cars) is Thanh Nga Taxis (+84 4 4 3821 5215).
This is the best way to get through the crowded, cramped streets of Hanoi! It’s easy to book motorcycle through your hotel, at a rate of about $5-7 per day. Be prepared to also have to leave your passport or a deposit with whoever you rent it from. If you’d like to rent one at a shop, the area around Ta Hien/ Dinh Liet/ Hang Bac has plenty of shops advertising “Motobike Rent”.
On Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house), you can pick up a bus map identifying the routes of the more than 60 bus lines around the city. Hop on your selected bus, then wait for the conductor to come to you to collect the 7,000 dong fare - you can also let him know where you'd like to get off.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.