Hanoi travel blog: “Hanoi is the closest city across the bridge. It’s an hour away from Bắc Ninh.”
My childhood friend had brought it up on various occasions before landing at the Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi). His family stayed in Bắc Ninh, Vietnam.
We landed in Hanoi at midnight and drove straight to Bắc Ninh. While this Hanoi travel blog is also a Hanoi 3 Day itinerary, we didn’t visit one day after another. We stayed at Bắc Ninh and would rush after public buses early in the morning to Hanoi.
Some days were day trips we had booked like Halong Bay. Other days were touring the city itself. Call it a juxtaposition but the city had a soothing bustling liveliness to it. The river through Long Biên, Hoan Kiem Lake, and Ho Chi Minh’s home itself.
Hanoi Travel Blog: A Sketch in Words
Hanoi, like many parts of Vietnam, is prosperous with its history, retail markets, and cafes. While Ho Chi Minh city is inevitably bigger than Hanoi – in size and diversity, there are some things unique only to Hanoi that make it a must-visit in Vietnam. With the plentiful things to do, at least spend 3 days to get around.
Unless you’re on a package trip, you’ll see that unlike even in the capital city, most don’t speak English. Saigon says otherwise in Southern Vietnam.
Like Chinatown in Singapore or Old Manali street, most travelers’ eyes run along the crowded uneven lanes of Old Quarters when in Hanoi. The alleys open down to Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square and then the Hoan Kiem Lake.
During the day, modern Vietnam’s light shines with cars zooming through 4 adjacent road lanes passing by the lake. Vietnam’s ever-popular places like the Water Puppet show and Ngoc Son temple stand here. And then the age-old Quarters for local eateries and endless coffee cafes.
The nights, however, look different in the very same spot. As dusk sets in, locals begin to pop out on to the streets. Those 4 road lanes get shut for vehicles and the whole city’s residents flock in night after night to get a breath of fresh air.
Acoustic guitar shows, boys’ dance crews and fangirl phones’ held up, old people simply taking a stroll, families dancing to music in the rooms between the crowd, ice cream stalls, and the list goes on. It’s quite a sight to experience.
Hanoi Travel Blog: Budget Accommodation Guide
The only mistake we made in Vietnam was booking private rooms on popular booking sites that cost a good deal. Undeniably, they were comfortable but cost too much for a backpacker.
Hanoi is the capital of the country and a major travel destination, there are dozens of compact backpackers hostels to pick from. For a people person, a party-goer, a backpacker hostel on Old Quarters is a paradise. It was for us too.
We stayed at the Old Town Backpackers Hostel that connected straight to a noisy local street. It was a decent stay for the price.
A reasonable average bed per night costs anywhere between VND 130, 000 and 170,000. For those new to backpacking, most Old Quarters hostel entrances’ are on narrower alleys between buildings. While hotels are expensive, they’re also troublesome to communicate as most who stay here are Vietnamese.
With backpackers hostel, you’re bound to meet staff and other travelers that finally speak English here – thus making these hostels a safe haven for the evening. I highly recommend using HostelWorld for booking your Hanoi stay.
Make sure to book your hostel in advance as Hanoi is always a busy hub. So check out HostelWorld below and don’t miss out on deals today!
Hanoi 3 Day Itinerary
Places like the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and his house are must-visits. But when it comes to trying coffee, and exploring Old Quarter streets, feel free to be versatile. Here’s a bit of how we spent our 3 days in Hanoi, and a view of what a Hanoi 3 day itinerary looks like:
Day 1: Land at Noi Bai International Airport
Like most airports, the Noi Bai International Airport lies on the outskirts of the city. The most comfortable way to get to Hanoi (or directly to your accommodation) is with a taxi. No doubt, it’s expensive, but language becomes a huge barrier.
Since we landed in Hanoi over midnight, it was our only option. It costs anywhere between 350,000 and 450,000 VND depending on your destination in Hanoi. Download Grab for taxis when in Vietnam as local taxis get extremely expensive. Moreover, language becomes a huge barrier for non-native speakers.
Be ready to get your phones out for translation anywhere you go from here.
The cheapest option, however, is a bus shuttle. One is an Express Airport Shuttle (Bus no. 86) operating between 7:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the Hanoi Railway station as its last stop. Costing around 45,000 VND, they’re cheap and reliable. Keep in mind they only accept cash here.
For those aware of the routes in Hanoi (or those more adventurous), public city buses from the airport are another option. It is much cheaper than the shuttle and there are multiple buses from the airport to different parts of the city.
Hanoi travel blog: Since my friend had lived around Hanoi for quite a while while going to the airport, we inevitably took the local bus 17 from Long Bien straight to the airport. Surprising to me, it cost us only 10,000 VND per person! You should know that local city buses are quite spacious. air-conditioned and comfortable in Vietnam today.
How to Get around Hanoi
Public buses are the most budget-friendly option to get around Hanoi. Not to mention, the buses are air-conditioned and comfortable. But understanding the routes and communicating is a bit of a hustle.
Hanoi is a tourist-friendly city, there are multiple ways to get around to places. Grab taxis are an affordable option as local taxis can get unreasonably expensive. Another option, especially for small groups, is making use of the infinite city day tour options.
Like the Singapore City Tour Hippo Bus, Hanoi has its own traveler-friendly city tour buses at pretty good prices. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of these tours earlier. Having visited the city already, here are some of my favorite picks of day tours that cover the must-visits of Hanoi. I personally use Klook.com for the best deals.
Insider Travel Tip: Klook.com is a trusted site for booking attractions in most parts of Southeast Asia and personally my favorite. As partners of Klook, our readers get better deals and you get to book all attractions for travel in one place.Klook.com
Pay a Visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
The capital city is most popular for its historical sites. There are simply so many to visit that we couldn’t visit some popular ones as well. But to begin with, I’d highly recommend beginning with Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
As the name suggests, it preserves Ho Chi Minh’s real body and it’s quite fascinating to visit. The only downside when I visited was that it was closed for maintenance for the months of June and August. What we weren’t aware of, was that the Mausoleum is closed for two months every year in order to preserve the remains of the body.
Anyhow, my friend suggested it to be a must-visit in Hanoi. We had even left Bắc Ninh early to adhere to the strict visiting schedule of the Mausoleum. It is usually open only in the mornings like 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on selected days of the week.
Please refer to updated sites like VinWonders for timing details before you go.
Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh Museum
Luckily, amidst the same compound walls housing the Mausoleum were the Presidential Palace (a French Colonial Palace), the Ho Chi Minh Museum, and a Buddhist Temple popularized as One Pillar Pagoda.
While the Mausoleum was free, the Presidential Palace where Ho Chi Minh himself resided (between 1954 to 1969) cost VND 25,000 for foreigners. Being free for locals to enter, a staff lady stood at its entrance judging other ethnicities.
Our brown skin didn’t help much. But the building, antique cars Ho Chi Minh drove in, and the stilt houses beyond the lake, and glass panes to let peek into the comforts of Vietnam’s beloved leader back then were worth it. Unfortunately, the Presidential Palace isn’t open to walk in.
Our next stop was the Ho Chi Minh Museum to which we had already bought tickets (VND 30,000 for foreigners). But we took a step detour to the One Pillar Pagoda temple (Diên Hựu tự). People flocked around here taking pictures of the structure rising amidst an average-sized square pond.
I took a couple of pictures yet we didn’t realize its importance. There were concrete stairs built up to its entrance but that was it. Now writing this article I realize that the pagoda – Pagoda of Extended Blessings – was built on a single pillar back in 1049!
Hanoi 3 Day Itinerary Travel tip: For those interested in Vietnam’s war history, I recommend getting a guide. If not all, most artifacts, writings, and labels in the Ho Chi Minh Museum are in Vietnamese. Most of the time, we guessed through pictures and artifacts without an idea of what they meant.
Feast at Hanoi Train Street
Most already know of this infamous Hanoi street. To those who don’t, remember that narrow alley street with a track between the colorful cafes? It’s this one!
Fun fact, it was never intended for tourism. It’s a full-fledged train passing just steps from resident’s homes after all. While it’s dangerous, it is equally a wonder-striking sight to see when the train passes.
Hanoi travel blog: We sat at one cafe for coffee and couldn’t help getting tons of pictures while at it. It’s exactly how it appears in the pictures – picturesue. Unfortunately, we couldn’t catch sight of a train while here, and apparently the next train was due hours later.
A heads-up for the train street – go along with one of the local vendors around this area that are looking to take you to the train street. If you go without company as a tourist, you’re mostly bound to be pushed off the street.
Yep, you heard that right. You see, local citizens with the cute shops here own these areas around the train street. Walking on a railway track is illegal, the shop vendors here run a monopoly. Thus, it isn’t free to visit – it’s best to get coffee or a meal at some place here.
Expect yourself to spend anywhere around 2 hours here.
Check out the Hoa Lo Prison Relic
Among the historic places, Hoa Lo Prison is the last stop for the day. The Hoa Lo Prison which once was the functional Hanoi Hilton today stands as a museum preserving the hallways and corridors with figures of how people lived in these dark rooms.
With the figures with melancholic expressions, the tales of brutal torture of the prisoners, and execution tools on the exhibit the place does get eerie. But it portrays the dark days of French Colonization until 1954 and the Vietnam war where Americans war prisoners were held here.
As the etymology goes, the French Colony prison turned into a torture prison for American pilots shot down in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Ultimately being named the Hanoi Hilton by the American Navy.
We didn’t have the time to visit it but it’s no more than 10 minutes walk from the Hanoi Train Street (700 meters).
Experience the Thang Long Water Puppet Show
For the evening, a water puppet show in Vietnam is a must-visit, an ancient tradition that began in the 11th century here. Yes, the whole term water puppetry originated in Vietnam.
Though I experienced a glamourous theatre show in the capital city of Vietnam with comfortable seating, authentic water puppetry wasn’t like this. It dates way back and was started by local farmers to celebrate paddy harvests. The only difference is the puppeteers performing in waist-high waters.
Hanoi travel blog: The harmony of the traditional musical instruments, the voices, and the puppets setup with fireworks at times were nothing short of perfection. The only downside was we didn’t understand a single word – the whole one-hour show was in Vietnamese.
The stories depicted here, like any puppet show, are folk tales and have morals. Though it cost a good VND 100,000 to 200,000 depending on seating, every penny was worth it. Regardless of language, it’s an amazing show but I do recommend getting the translation headphones at the reception.
Make sure to prebook your show. When we booked, only 2 seats were left out and we didn’t have much choice for availability. Instead of offline booking, one way to save time is to reserve your tickets online. Use our recommended partner Klook.com for ticket booking.
Insider Travel Tip: Klook.com is a trusted site for booking attractions in most parts of Southeast Asia and personally my favorite. As partners of Klook, our readers get better deals and you get to book all attractions for travel in one place. So don’t miss out and book your tickets below!Klook.com
Spend the Evening at Ta Hien Beer Street
Ta Hien Beer Street, simply known as Hanoi/Old Quarter Beer Street makes for the night life of Hanoi. Be it the locals or tourists, everyone ends up here for a beverage and an evening luncheon.
The very same streets of Old Quarters that remain calm during the day become a cheery crowded place with portable karaokes, bars, restaurants laid out on the street, and massage parlors.
From one of the crossroads, you’ll see the bustle following down all four narrow lanes. Even the little restaurants that were hidden way between alleys were busy. Alcohol’s pretty affordable, the vibe is there if not the language – what else could one ask for on a holiday evening?
Exploring and walking through the streets, we too settled down to a road vendor trying to get us to sit at his restaurant.
Day 2: Have Egg coffee at Old Quarters
Sorry for not mentioning coffee earlier, Vietnam’s known for coffee! It wouldn’t hurt to spend a little on coffee wherever you go. There are tons of coffee spots in Hanoi if not Old Quarters.
I’d be only a nuisance if I recommended my favorite coffee shop here, as there are tons to try out there. And trust me, any traveler you meet is bound to tell you theirs too. So it’s best you take a walk out there and see where it takes you.
But being human myself and for this Hanoi travel blog, here’s my favorite – the Hanoi Coffee Station. It’s a little hard to find – it lies above another store by the road towards Hoan Kiem Lake. The egg coffee here is a must-try here.
For day 2 of the Hanoi 3 Day itinerary, have a heavy breakfast before you begin your day. Hanoi Coffee Station, popular among the backpackers community, has amazing breakfast options to try. Everything we ordered was simply finger-licking good and satisfying!
Hop on a Cyclo Tour
Remember those 3-wheeled pedal cycles? The French Colony introduced them as cyclos and they became popular among foreigners as well as locals. However, the rickshaws were a failed attempt.
While the cyclos aren’t really needed today with Vietnam’s development, it’s preserved for tourism. Various vehicle brands cruise 4-lane roads today. While it’s no more than a slow tour around the heart of the city, it covers a great area which would otherwise take a long while by walk.
They’re quite fun to look out at, but we didn’t hop into any. We preferred walking on instead. It isn’t a must – when you’re here, you might as well hop on.
Here’s another article for you to read: Perfect Batam Travel Guide
Walk the Ngoc Son Temple (Hoan Kiem Lake)
Hoan Kiem Lake itself with the Turtle Island (turtle tower) is an attraction enough. But that larger island on the northern end with a bright red bridge connecting to it is an extra. The Ngoc Son Temple.
Hanoi travel blog: We paid the entrance fee and entered, not really expecting much. Nor was there much to expect. But it was before us when we entered a low-ceiling room with two turtle figures that seemed to be made of concrete. There was a legend with an English translation of the stories of the turtles.
Spoiler alert, these turtles weren’t concrete – they were real preserved turtles that once resided in the very lake! Enclosed carefully behind glass panels, the turtles’ glossy finish made it hard to believe, but here it was!
The history itself was quite a fascinating read. There was a shrine before the turtle room overlooking the lake beyond, but the turtles’ were the best part. Make sure to have a look when you’re here.
Visit the Tran Quoc Pagoda
Similar to the Ngoc Son temple, the Tran Quoc Pagoda is a Buddhist temple island on the West Lake. Except West Lake is much much larger than Hoan Kiem Lake.
Also, there are multiple temple elements here apart from the main Pagoda structure and lots of greenery around here.
With the temple being 1500 years old, it’s a sacred place among the Vietnamese and many come here on various occasions of the year. You’re lucky if you witness any of them. One such occasion I found fascinating was when they released small animals like fish, turtles, and birds free into the lake.
Though the temple is free to visit, it is a 10-minute drive from Old Quarters.
Don’t miss the Temple of Literature
The last of the ancient spiritual places in Hanoi (though I already picked a few out) is the Temple of Literature. For those who find historical places in Hanoi interesting, another pick is the Imperial Citadel Thang Long.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the remains of the main structure that dates back 1000 years and belongs to the ancient capital city. I picked the Temple of Literature as it possesses equally jaw-dropping architectural preserves.
The following day is a whole-day itinerary to visit Halong Bay from Hanoi. Thus making it difficult if not impossible to visit both of these spots. Nevertheless, for those who wish to visit both, make the best of squeezing in.
Temple of Literature, built around 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, began for the prince – then the nobles, and the elites of the nation. It later spread to accepting the bright minds of the nation. Forgive me, but with literature and philosophy being of personal interest, I daresay I’m biased in picking this place.
It costs VND 30,000 for adults and VND for children and the disabled. It takes around an hour to get around the structures.
Stroll Hoan Kiem Lake Walking Street
Trust me, we were itching to get back to the Old Quarters nightlife. I bet you’ll be too! The Hoan Kiem Lake Walking street is only a short walk from Beer Street. Not to mention, you’ve already been here before.
Once for the Water Puppet show and the other for Ngoc Son Temple the same morning. But the evenings here, especially weekends, are something else. It appears as though the whole capital gathers here for a fresh breath of air. Music, laughter, people dancing in nostalgia, and cute coffee dates by the lake.
The tiny portable shops, food vendors, and colorful lights only make the place bright with hues. Old Quarters Beer street is surely a happening place. But this is more of a relaxed crowd with families, kids, ice creams, and bright balloons.
Similar to the Old Quarters streets, the roads are shut for vehicles and all the lanes stretch out for these markets, artists of all sorts – dancers, guitarists, and even painters.
Walk the whole stretch to the Gucci corner store at the end of the lake. But be sure not to tire yourself. The next day needs you to be up early.
Day 3: Plan a Day Trip to Halong Bay!
In this Hanoi 3 Day Itinerary, if you have a day planned separately for Halong Bay, that’s amazing! You get to spend another day just in the city of Hanoi. But assuming most travelers are new to Hanoi, here’s everything to know about Halong Bay.
When I visited this place, I didn’t bother checking up on what really was this spot. In fact, that’s most of how I traveled to Vietnam. I don’t recommend doing so, but for Halong Bay – it’s best you blindly book a 1-day package trip through an agency and go on the adventure.
A package trip is the best budget option in this case as Halong Bay is a good 2.5 to 3-hour ride away from Hanoi city. Prices vary with agencies and services offered.
For a hustle-free booking, use a trusted site like Klook.com for day-package trips from Hanoi.
Travel Tip: Here are some of my favorite day-package trips from Hanoi that are definitely worth the budget. From Hanoi – Halong Bay, Trang An, and Bai Dinh are the best places for day tours. Pick your preferred package below on Klook.com for the best rates.Klook.com
A single shot of the landscape gives you an idea but also makes for its spoiler. So it’s best keep your eyes and ears away till you make it on that boat. Most 1-day packages are inclusive of a luncheon, the Thien Cung and Sung Sot Caves or Surprise Caves, a long Kayaking session, and trekking up Ti Top Island.
They don’t focus on hardcore caves exploration, or even actual hiking. It’s more of steep walks on concrete steps. Yet, the views are dreamy.
Hanoi travel blog: Halong Bay was one of my favorite of Vietnam. On that lucky day, the weather was perfect, most of the company we had were Indonesians. Me and my friend, who grew up in Indonesia, mingled along speaking Bahasa Indonesian and spent the whole day together.
They were all older than us (we’re only 22 after all) but still jolly and up for all the activities. They still talk with us from time to time. Instagram is handy. It was overall a good day.
Why Halong Bay? It isn’t a bad idea to spend another day at more historical sites in the city, but Halong Bay being neither too large to stay at, nor too small to miss, it makes for a perfect itinerary from Hanoi.
Apart from this, there are quite a handful day trip package options from Hanoi. You’ll see that most common pickup point is the Hanoi Opera house in the morning. To recommend, another alternative day trip from Hanoi is Trang An in Ninh Binh – another recognized World Heritage Site.
Between Halong Bay and Trang An, I wouldn’t be able to pick one.
Is the Sapa tour worth it? There are trips to Sapa as well, but that’s another story. For Sapa, I’d recommend keeping it aside from your Hanoi 3 Day Itinerary. It’s best to stay in Sapa at least for 2 days to have a better experience.
Tailpiece to Hanoi Travel Blog
We had 3 days to spend in Hanoi but not consecutively. Still, we could make it to most these places. While we focused more on the itinerary when in Ho Chi Minh, we stayed a little laid back in Hanoi.
For 3 days, it honestly isn’t possible to cover all of Hanoi. The beauties of the city are endless. It’s best to take your time and experiencing whatever you visit to the fullest. Don’t miss on the must-visits like the Ho Chi Mih mausoleum, the Hanoi Train Street, Water Puppet Show and Old Quarters.
But the rest are all a gamble. I’ll make another post on tips when traveling Hanoi for making the best of time and budget. For now, this makes for a rough sketch for a Hanoi 3 Day Itinerary.
Tell me about your Hanoi stories below. I’d love to hear. Happy traveling!