Hanoi is the beautiful bustling Vietnamese capital which attracts many travelers with its authentic and breathtaking old French architecture and charming streets lined with vendors who seem to always be serving delicious and very reasonably priced Vietnamese street food. Then there are the more modern and developed parts of the city, catering to the Vietnamese professionals and students these areas have their own charm and show off a Vietnam of the future.
Whatever you expect from Hanoi, you are sure to be surprised with every corner you walk around by the depth of culture, the deliciousness of the food and the never ending friendliness of the people. It’s time for you to explore Hanoi for yourself and find out what the compelling capital has in store for you. The following is a list of the most popular areas to help you decide where to stay in Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem District
The beautiful central district of Hoan Kiem in Hanoi is home to Hanoi’s old town and French quarter, and this place is quintessentially the image of Hanoi. Crumbling colonial buildings house classically Vietnamese shops and eateries. This is Hanoi at its most beautiful and is where many of the streams of tourists choose to stay in Hanoi. There is a range of accommodation available around the old streets: backpackers have a great selection of hostels to choose from and hotels are extremely reasonable, offering a high standard of cleanliness as well as service. Often hotels in this district are decorated with traditional large mahogany furniture.
One of the best things to do in Hoan Kiem is simply just to sit and watch as the magic of Hanoi’s daily life happens around you. Sip on a strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee on a street corner cafe and watch the streams of scooters skillfully manoeuvre their way through the traffic, the ladies serving up sloshing bowls of pho hour after hour and vendors selling fruit and other wares on the back of push bikes, calling out in Vietnamese to passers-by to let them know what they have to sell.
Public transport in the district is non-existent, but many of the main tourist attractions are in walking distance as well as restaurants, bars and the weekend market that take over some of the quarter’s streets on a Friday evening.
Not so long ago Tay Ho was a group of sleepy fishing villages near the edge of the city, but over the past decade the area has exploded with high-end residential developments. Now instead of fishermen you can expect to find a modern district with a range of shops, restaurants and nightlife. Built around the Ho Tay lake (West Lake), the neighborhood is a great choice for those looking for a little contemporary comfort in a hectic city.
New boutiques and stylish eateries have been opened up in the district by a creative expat community who have populated this newly developed area along with locals who are looking for something new. On Saturday morning Tay Ho’s weekend market buzzes with locals shopping for organic honey and authentic Vietnamese products and offers a fantastic opportunity to pick up some unique gifts.
Much of the accommodation in the area is made up of mid to high-end hotels but rooms are often still relatively reasonable. Some of the hotels in the area have views of the beautiful lake. The city’s big sites can be reached on foot, but taxis are easy to come by and will take you to your destination.
Most visitors to Hanoi will find themselves in Ba Dinh at some point in their trip, home to some of the city’s top tourist attractions, where you will find the compelling Military Museum and the Old Citadel. It is also where Ho Chi Minh’s body is on public view in his mausoleum. The neighborhood is the political center of Vietnam: it is from here that Ho Chi Minh famously declared independence from the French in 1945 and where the national assembly is located along with most of the embassies, meaning the streets are much quieter compared to the Old Quarter. The historical and culturally important Temple of Literature is also found in the district, which with its ongoing history and links with great Vietnamese scholars is a top site in Hanoi.
If you want something a little more laid back and reserved to base yourself for your stay in the Northern capital then Ba Dinh might be the district for you. As with many of the central areas, a lot of places of interest around Hanoi are accessible on foot. Accommodation around Ba Dinh is mostly made up of mid-range hotels alongside a few quaint restaurants, and a smattering of small bars close to Hanoi Botanical Gardens.
Hai Ba Trung
Busy and urban Hai Ba trung is the district for entertainment, it is where you can find Hanois cinemas and shopping set amongst modern skyscrapers. This is where many of Hanoi’s locals live and is home to universities meaning a thriving student community. In the northern part of the district attractive tree-lined French architecture offers a more picturesque side to the area. And green and leafy Thong Nhat Park is a peaceful place to picnic with friends and take a stroll around Hồ Bảy Mẫu Lake.
Visitors who are into clothes shopping will enjoy browsing in the Vietnamese fashion boutiques or shopping for bigger labels at the huge Time City mall. The mall even has its own aquarium where stingrays float over your head in the viewing tunnel. Finish up busy days exploring the streets with a Vietnamese coffee at one of the many trendy cafes and hang out with the students.
Most places in the city are an easy taxi ride or walk away from Hai Ba Trung and there are many eateries to choose from, whether you want to eat local food or dine in more upscale restaurants there is something for everyone. Accommodation in the quarter is varied and modern 5-star luxury is surprisingly affordable.
If you want to stay in a neighborhood in Hanoi that is a little more peaceful and offers you the chance to relax after a busy day walking the city’s streets then Truc Bach could be the place for you. Truc Bach isn’t an area with a whole lot of famous tourist attractions, but there is still a wealth of interesting streets to explore and delicious food to sample.
There is a sizeable expat community living among the locals in the area and with that there are many eateries that cater to the Western inhabitants of Truc Bach – so if you are looking for a little home comfort among all of the noodles and rice then you will probably be able to find it here.
Set alongside Truc Bach lake the district offers some wonderful views across the lake, and a stroll along the water’s edge offers a little serenity among the scooter laden streets. There are many coffee shops along the lake for you to try out and some restaurants which serve frog hot pot for the more intrepid explorers to sample in the evenings.
Another place to explore in the district is the area close to the Chau Long Pagoda, where you will find the Chau Long wet market with locals busily shopping for fish for their supper and fresh fruit sellers selling reasonably priced watermelon to refresh you in the tropical heat. The hotels in the area are mid-range but prices can be very reasonable and rooms can be booked for a snip. Other parts of the city, as ever, are walkable but you can use the ever-present cyclos – just make sure to negotiate on prices!
This is one of the original four districts that make up the Vietnamese capital and, aside from a few sites, is mainly made up of middle class residential neighborhoods. The area is busy with traditional Thai food stalls and small local cafes serving up truly delicious Vietnamese noodle soup to the local community. You should try out the speciality street-side mango salad here for just a few dong. There are higher end restaurants in the area too which serve up Vietnamese classics in comfortable and cosy settings.
Dong Da borders the Ba Dinh district where many of the top, culturally important sites in the city can be found and most are a short walk or a quick cyclo ride away from the hotels in Dong Da. The Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple complex and home to the country’s first university, is also really close by, located on the border of Ba Dinh at the north end. In the evenings you can find yourself being entertained with the locals at lively karaoke bars or sip on cold beers at local bars.
Accommodation in the area tends to lean towards more expensive and doesn’t offer a lot of choice if you are traveling on a tight budget, but if you have a little more to spare you can get yourself a comfortable room in a nice hotel in a fun local neighborhood that is close to a lot of the action in Hanoi.