Backpacking in Hanoi

I really enjoyed my time backpacking in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. It was one of those rare occasions where I actually backpacked for real, using hostels, rather than using a cheap hotel. And I made some great friends there!

My home in Hanoi for a while!
My home in Hanoi for a while!
Drink is often pretty cheap in Hanoi
Drink is often pretty cheap in Hanoi

Hanoi is crazy! The traffic is probably the first thing you notice when you arrive from Noi Ba Airport and there seems to be no rules of the road – pedestrians need to be aware at all times as mopeds rule the roads (and pathways) here! Aside from that initial culture shock, Vietnam is actually easier to get used to than you may first think. Hanoi is the perfect starting point for your Vietnam travels, and there are plenty of good quality hostels now available for very affordable prices. The hostel on everybody’s lips at the moment is Hanoi Backpackers (no I am not being paid to say this!). I wouldn’t bother looking anywhere else if I returned to Hanoi. The staff at Hanoi Backpackers know all the best bars and pubs in the city, especially around the Old Quarter where I feel you will spend a lot of your spare time…

Eating out in the Old Quarter
Eating out in the Old Quarter

All backpackers in Hanoi will come here for some of the famous local cuisine and probably to try some new food items for the first time, such as a still-beating snake heart! I would never ever try anything so disgusting, but many friends from my hostel surprisingly claimed they would try it if they got the chance. Luckily, the places at which we ate served up more normal dishes, such as the national dish of Pho, although almost all of them were still too spicy for my liking (beef and chicken varieties were safest for my palette).

Food being transported outside our hostel - just an everyday occurrence!
Food being transported outside our hostel – just an everyday occurrence!

Having travelled through all of Thailand and Indonesia, and seen much of Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia, it was good to immerse myself in a yet another new culture. The Vietnamese way of life is strange to describe, as it is a mixture of calmness and chaos, often at the same time. The Vietnamese locals we met were very friendly and genuinely interested in our backpacking adventures, although one of my friends had his phone snatched in broad daylight during our trip to the Old Quarter. Despite this theft, there is some amazing street food on offer in the Old Quarter, and one of my hobbies when travelling across Asia is to experiment with the local food scene!

The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Hoàn Kiếm Lake

I would not say that Hanoi is known for its amazing array of tourist attractions, but in a way I think that’s why people enjoy coming here. Tourists go to places like zoos and shopping centres (and I do, too!), whereas real travellers will want to immerse themselves with the locals and try new food, and perhaps check out a little cultural history that the city has to offer. I would really recommend The Temple of Literature where I had a fantastic time reading with Confucius! Furthermore, no trip to Hanoi would be complete without a visit to the somewhat eerie Hoan Kiem Lake.

Halong Bay
Halong Bay
Don't fancy a cruise at Halong Bay? Plenty of other things to keep you busy!
Don’t fancy a cruise at Halong Bay? Plenty of other things to keep you busy!

While I only ever planned to visit Hanoi quite briefly as a way of eventually getting to Halong Bay (which is a 3hr drive away), I actually regretted leaving this bustling capital. While some elements did scare me, such as the dastardly traffic, or the unfortunate petty thefts that occur in the sidestreets, I can say that a genuine backpacking story through Vietnam remains one of the highlights of my travelling life to date! And when we did arrive in Halong Bay our Vietnam adventure took another turn for the positive (despite poor weather). It’s just a shame I’m no good at volleyball…

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10 thoughts on “Backpacking in Hanoi

  1. Hi, I’m setting off in August to go and live in Thailand for a year. I’ll be taking two months out to travel around SE Asia – hoping to get around Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and all around Thailand as well! Any advice on places to go and things to see in particular? The guide books seem to say that everywhere is fabulous and worth a visit, I cannot decide!

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    1. Hi Phoebe, I would really recommend visiting Siem Reap in Cambodia, and the north and central parts of Vietnam are also a highlight for most people! You will find some great people in these parts (locals and other travellers). If you can, please head down to Indonesia, as it has so much to offer (more than any other single country in SE Asia) and is really cheap. 🙂

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  2. Glad that you visited Hanoi and enjoy the culture here. People in Hanoi live with slower pace than the South. So peaceful and cool around Sword Lake.

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