Arriving after a 2-hour flight from Hong Kong, we were looking forward to spending three days in Hanoi and discovering everything there was to see and do in this popular Vietnamese city. Temples, markets, lakes, and, of course, the famous, or infamous Vietnamese egg coffee were all on the list of things we wanted to experience. It was day 69 of our round the world trip, and while Hong Kong had been an assault on the senses, we wondered how our three days in Hanoi would differ.
This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase after clicking on a link, I may receive a small commission. Read the full disclaimer here.
Table of Contents
Traffic Mayhem in Hanoi
Just getting to the hotel was an eye-opener with a tremendous amount of traffic on the roads. Families squeezed onto small mopeds with a toddler at the front and mum at the back, precariously hanging on to dad. Teenagers were weaving in and out of the traffic often in the opposite direction of the oncoming cars and riders with huge loads balanced onto their bikes, anything from watermelons, chairs, and empty water bottles to goats! Our adventure had begun!!
The Hanoi Pearl Hotel
We arrived in the Old Quarter for our stay at the Hanoi Pearl Hotel for three out of five nights, of which two would on a cruise in Halong Bay. I booked in for two nights at the hotel, went to Halong Bay for two nights, and then came back to Hanoi for one night. By doing this, we could leave our suitcases with the hotel left luggage porter, as our cruise company had advised us that we could only take overnight bags on board, not suitcases, due to storage space.
The hotel was even better than I expected and located one road back from Hoan Kiem Lake. We both had rooms rather than sharing, and they were large, nicely decorated with a very comfy double bed, everything a weary traveller could want. There was also a spa where we treated ourselves to a full body massage (well it would be rude not to!)
Unfortunately, a frustrating element was that on the room doors, there were security alarms, so if the door hadn’t wholly shut itself, then the door alarm would be set off. It became apparent how many guests couldn’t manage to close their doors properly, adding to the perception we were getting of just how noisy Hanoi was going to be.
Day One Evening in Hanoi
How to Navigate the Roads
We left the hotel and headed down to the end of the street, where we immediately heard the “honking of horns” that is a trademark of Hanoi. It is just a warning honk rather than an angry one as there are so many vehicles on the road, many driving very precariously, that you ride and cross at your peril.
Judging by the driving standards, I was surprised to find that everyone has to take a test and pass before being given a license. Be very vigilant when crossing the roads as the vehicles will not stop for you, but instead, you must be confident and stride out onto the street and keep walking until you get to the other side. Sounds hair-raising, but after you’ve done it a few times, it becomes second nature.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Now on the other side, we were greeted with the sight of Hoan Kiem Lake, the place where all kinds of activities were taking place.
The elderly were showing that they “still had what it takes” with an energetic workout routine and a group of men watched chess players deep in thought over their next move.
Young lovers held hands and gazed affectionately at one another and finally a group of young boys, in their martial art kits, were doing some impressive backflips and high-flying kicks while brandishing swords. Not the usual thing you expect to see on a leisurely lakeside stroll, but this is why we were here, a different culture, a different understanding, and a different experience.
We sat for a while and just absorbed all that was going on around us until Dominic uttered the words, “mum, shall we get a cocktail?” Perfect. We crossed back over and found a lovely bar/restaurant where we finished our evening with a meal and several very inexpensive cocktails before retiring to our hotel.
Day Two Morning in Hanoi
This morning we had to find the Indochina Cruise HQ and pay the balance for the cruise tomorrow. We walked out of the hotel to the most torrential downpour, which was frustrating as we had picked April to come here as it was the dry season, someone hadn’t told the clouds that!
We headed down the winding back streets with the aid of google maps and finally stumbled into the Indochina office only to be informed that the cruise may be cancelled due to bad weather.
This news was not what we wanted to hear, and I immediately kicked into my “Mrs Organised Mode,” Where would we go in the rain if not the cruise? Where would we sleep? Would we get a refund? How would I cope with my disappointment?
Luckily Dominic, the sensible young man he is just said ” don’t worry mum, it will be fine,” and with that, we left the office with the hopes that the weather would be beautiful in the morning and that our tour guide would turn up at 7 am to meet us.
St Joseph Cathedral
Opposite the office was St Josephs Cathedral looking slightly out of place with its Notre Dame like facade and almost worn exterior, but this was a Roman Catholic Church that dominated these tiny backstreets of Hanoi.
Constructed in 1886 and providing a place of worship for the four million-plus Catholics in the country, this is the oldest church in Hanoi and named after Joseph, the patron saint of Vietnam and Indochina.
We went inside as a reprise from the rain and also to light a candle in remembrance of family members we have lost (I have done this in every church, in every country I have ever visited and it makes me feel like the spirits of my loved ones are enjoying the journey with me)
Vietnamese Egg Coffee
We were cold and wet and now in need of a hot drink. There a quite a few great coffee shops in Hanoi but after previously researching the best place to try the infamous Vietnamese Egg Coffee, we headed back to the lake and the Note Cafe, located just by the roundabout.
The Note Cafe is covered in post-it notes where travellers write messages and then stick the note anywhere they want, be it the table, wall, ceiling even the toilet. I ordered the egg coffee, a recipe tweaked slightly depending on where you buy it, but it is coffee, sugar, and raw egg, which ends up tasting like thick custard. Dominic took the safe route and stuck to a milkshake.
He also found he was too tall to stand up in the cafe!
Ngoc Son Temple
We left the cafe and went across to the Ngoc Son Temple, an 18th-century Buddhist temple, also known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain. It is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century).
Ngoc Son Temple sits on a tiny island accessible via the bright red bridge connecting the island to the northern shore of the lake. There is a small fee to enter, and it is little but still worth a visit where you will see the inside of the temple with its artefacts and offerings and the outside with its giant bonsai trees.
Despite the rain, our spirits were not dampened as we wandered along the streets of Hanoi taking in the sights of the local vendors going about their daily business.
I loved seeing the ladies in their traditional Vietnamese conical hats called non la (leaf hat), handmade using palm tree leaves with bamboo, and perfectly designed for the rain.
The streets of Hanoi are awash with shops selling everything you could imagine, and the roads are ordered according to what they sell, such as shoes, flowers, and party decorations.
Don’t expect to have much pavement to walk on, though, as the shops spill out onto them, and you will find yourself in the road most of the time trying to avoid mopeds crisscrossing between the pedestrians, but this all adds to the experience.
If you are going to buy, then it is worth bargaining with the shop owners as they expect it, and the ones we encountered were all amicable. Better still, if you are in Hanoi at the weekend, then go along to the Night Market, where you will find everything at even lower prices.
Day Two Afternoon in Hanoi
Temple of Literature
Our next stop was the Temple of Literature, which is slightly further out of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Jump in a taxi for only a few dongs (the Vietnamese currency is called Dong), and you will be there in no time.
The Temple was built in 1070 and has been rebuilt over the centuries by the ruling dynasties. Despite wars and disasters, its ancient style has been preserved for current generations to admire and now houses Vietnam’s first national university.
It comprises various pavilions, statues, and halls and is dedicated to the scholar, Confucius. A small fee will gain you entrance, and it will not take you long to look around, but it is worth immersing yourself in its history and imagining life within its walls throughout the centuries.
Dominic realised that a theme was beginning to emerge relating to his height!
From here, we walked to the area where One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum were both situated. It was getting late by now, and these would be the last monuments we would visit while in Hanoi.
One Pillar Pagoda
One Pillar Pagoda was just that – a pagoda balanced on one pillar in the setting of gardens. It was built between 1028-1054 and is regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples.
The Buddhist shrine just at the entrance to the temple is to the deity Quan Am, Goddess of Mercy, and although the admission is free, correct attire must be worn and shoes removed to venture up the steps.
The temple is more a small room, so don’t arrive expecting a vast temple similar to others in Hanoi, and if you are strapped for time, I would probably miss this from your itinerary as it is also some way from the Old Quarter.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of the most visited attractions in Hanoi and is the final resting place of the most popular leader of Vietnam. He was president from 1945-1965 and founded the Communist-ruled Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
We arrived after closing time so we could only walk around the grounds, but we still got a feel for the importance of this monument as there were guards all around watching us closely.
Inside we would have been able to view Ho Chi Minh’s preserved body laid to rest in a glass case. Known to his people as ‘Uncle Ho,’ which showed how much they loved and respected him and Vietnam’s second city, previously known as Saigon, is now named Ho Chi Minh City.
Day Two Evening in Hanoi
Hanoi Old Quarter
With tired legs and aching feet, we headed back to the Old Quarter for dinner and cocktails at Luc Thuy, a beautiful restaurant with a large outside terrace across the street from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Even as a seasoned traveller I’ve never eaten street food as I don’t want the risk of being ill while travelling and despite being told what I’m missing out on, I’m afraid I will always stick to preventative rather than cure!
Hanoi’s Weekend Night Market
Feeling replenished, we wandered back to the main thoroughfare in Hanoi by Hoan Kiem Lake and suddenly realised there were no mopeds or cars on the road. What had happened? Where had they gone?
Dominic suddenly realised that it was Friday night, and that meant one thing, the start of the Weekend Night Market. The typically hazardous streets would be closed to vehicles until Sunday evening, and hundreds of stalls would appear. The street market was going to be fun. We had thousands of Vietnamese dong in our pockets, worth about £50, and we were ready to do some serious shopping.
Authentic or counterfeit?
There is debate on whether the designer gear on sale is fake or authentic. Still, whatever the answer is, it looks like the real deal and along with beautiful silk kimonos, sunglasses, incense burners, and ornaments we were in our element bartering with the vendors and experiencing a Vietnamese night market.
It is hard to put into words how lively it is. The colours, smells, and sounds from the street are very immersive, and the realisation that you are thousands of miles from home becomes a reality.
Shopping is thirsty work, and there are plenty of bars lining the streets and located above the shops. We wandered into a bar selling Hanoi brewed pineapple cider, which we didn’t expect but thoroughly enjoyed, and discussed our thoughts on whether tomorrow would bring good news for our 2-night cruise with Indochina-Junk.
Day Three Morning in Hanoi
Heading off for our Halong Bay cruise
The news in the hotel the next morning was that all cruises the previous day had been cancelled. It seemed no-one knew what would happen today, and my stomach sank.
The cruise was to have been a highlight of our trip to Vietnam, and now we may not get to go. The reception staff tried calling my cruise company but to no avail. Other guests sat looking bewildered, waiting for some news from their cruise companies. And then it happened.
A tour guide for another group walked in and called some names out from a clipboard. Surely this had to be good news for us as well. Finally, the last tour guide arrived, and he was for us. We were ushered into the waiting vehicle where Dominic calmly said, “Mum, I knew it would be ok!” and with that, we were on our way to Halong Bay ready for another adventure!
My honest opinion of Hanoi
What month did I travel? I travelled at the beginning of April and encountered rain and sunshine. The months of March/April are high season due to less rainfall and a more comfortable climate; however, this also comes with higher prices for accommodation and flights, and as I found out, you can still expect showers.
November/December are the other two months that will offer you the same weather pattern.
If travelling in the Vietnamese summer – May to October – you will need to be prepared for a fair amount of rainfall; however, you will also see prices for hotels decrease.
Would I recommend the hotel? Yes, I would. The Hanoi Pearl was located several roads back from the lake and was quiet considering the noise outside. The rooms were comfortable and nicely decorated, and the breakfast buffet was excellent. The staff was all friendly, and the hotel was spotless.
Would I recommend three nights in Hanoi? Definitely. What we loved about Hanoi both in the day and at night was how safe we felt. The local people are friendly, and there is no pressure from vendors, which we found refreshing.
It is incredibly noisy and chaotic on the streets, but that’s what makes it different and adds to its character. It is like stepping to a different time in history, and it is a place that I would return to in the future.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.