Vietnam’s capital has shrugged off its hostile war-torn image to emerge as one of Southeast Asia’s best and most culturally significant cities. There are countless museums, all offering visitors a chance to better understand Vietnam’s history of revolution, war, and art, while the tangled web of streets in the historic Old Quarter are a great place to wander around. It’s a perfect launching pad for trips to Sapa and Halong Bay. Overall, I enjoyed the city and its delicious mix of French colonial architecture.
Hostel prices – Dorms start at 80,000 VND while private rooms are between 250,000 – 450,000 VND for a double. Free WiFi is standard, and most hostels also include free breakfast. A few hostels also include nightly free beer, usually for a one-hour period in the evening. Self-catering facilities are common, though not everywhere, so if you require a kitchen be sure to double check your hostel.
Budget hotel prices – Private rooms average 325,000 –650,000 VND for a double, though you can find them for as low as 200,000 VND per night. Free WiFi is generally included, and many also offer free breakfast. For a hotel with a pool, expect to pay around 400,000 VND. Airbnb is available in the city, though the shared accommodation options are limited. For a shared room, expect to pay at least 275,000 VND per night. For an entire home or apartment, prices begin around 425,000 VND.
Average cost of food – Street food is delicious and extremely cheap, with many dishes for less than 201,000 VND. Pho and varies rice dishes will be the most common offerings on the street. 85,000 VND is enough for a decent meal in a casual restaurant, though inexpensive meals at cheaper restaurants can be as low as 50,000 VND. Domestic beer is cheaper, costing as little as 20,000 VND in restaurants, though you can find it for a fraction of that on the street. For those looking to buy their own groceries, expect to spend at least 300,000 VND per week.
Transportation costs – Local bus fares will cost around 1,000 VND. Taxis start around 10,000 VND and are 12,000 VND per kilometer. While not the most efficient form of transportation, you can rent a cyclo to get around (especially in the Old Quarter) for around 200,000 VND per hour. For intercity travel, buses and trains are the cheapest options. Hanoi all the way to Ho Chi Minh City by train will cost around 1,500,000 VND, while the same journey by bus will cost around 800,000 VND. Flights from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City can be found for as low as 900,000 VND.
Suggested daily budget – 560,000 – 800,000 VND / $25-35 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating all the delicious street, and using local transportation. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Eat from street stalls – For the cheapest food in the city head to the Old Quarter which is packed with low-cost eats at the street stalls. My favorite food to eat is bahn mi or pho.
- Negotiate – You should barter for everything from street stalls, markets, and taxis. Tourists are often quoted huge prices and bargaining is expected.
- Ask your hostel staff – Before you leave the hostel, ask them to estimate how much what you want to do should cost. How much should a ride to the museum cost? How much should I pay to have a gown like this made? They will be able to give you bargaining guidelines.
- Take the bus – These are the cheapest and most hassle-free way of getting around the city and are comfortable and efficient.
- Drink Bia Hoi – This draft beer is available on the street throughout Hanoi and starts at merely 3,000 VND per glass.
Top Things to See and Do in Hanoi
- Wander around Hoan Kiem Lake – Get here early in the morning to watch throngs of people practicing Tai Chi, running, cycling and walking before their working day begins. In the center of the lake is the Tortoise Pagoda, a shrine to the famous giant turtles that live in the lake. The lake is very beautiful and there is a temple worth visiting on the north end of the lake.
- Visit the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts – The Fine Arts Museum is a must-see if you are interested in the various styles of Vietnamese art. There are fantastic exhibits of Buddhist art, folk art and silk and lacquer paintings but the museum’s most impressive feature is Kouan Yin, the goddess of mercy who is depicted with a thousand arms and eyes. Admission is 30,000 VND per person. Discounts are available for students and children.
- See Quan Su Pagoda – As the headquarters for the Vietnam Central Buddhist Congregation, Quan Su is one of the most important temples in the country. If you’re going to visit any of Vietnam’s pagodas, this 15th-century one is the one you should see. Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
- Visit One Pillar Pagoda – Built in 1049, One-Pillar Pagoda sits on stilts over a lake and is a miniature reproduction of the original temple built by the Ly Dynasty. A prayer at this little wooden pagoda is said to bring fertility and good health.
- Pay your respects at Ho Chi Minh Museum & Mausoleum – Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s leader and founder of the communist state. He lies in state at this grey concrete mausoleum, which is not far from the museum dedicated to his life and belongings and the house he used to live in. You’re able to walk through and see his embalmed body when it is not being repaired in Moscow. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time. Admission is 10,000 VND per person.
- Tour Hoa Lo Prison – U.S. POWs named Hao Lo “the Hanoi Hilton” and this is where many U.S. soldiers were tortured. Sen. John McCain from Arizona is its most famous prisoner. What remains of the building is a small museum, complete with the guillotine used to execute detainees. Again, morbid but interesting. The entrance fee is 10,000 VND per person.
- Shop at Dong Xuan Market – Hanoi’s oldest market is located in the Old Quarter. The market is multi-storied and sells everything you could ever expect, especially a lot of knock-offs. The market is a bit of a Hanoi institution and probably the best place for low-cost shopping in the city.
- Wander around the Old Quarter – The Old Quarter’s 2,000-year-old streets are a web of shopping opportunities and cheap eateries. Gold and silver jewelry, clothes, cosmetics and even musical instruments can all be bought here alongside a myriad of other goods. There’s also a lot of fascinating old worn French architecture around and you can still see the strong French influence in the area. I never bought anything but I found the chaos, the crowds, and the maze of streets fascinating to witness.
- Go to the Army Museum – References to Vietnam’s tumultuous history of combat are everywhere in Hanoi and a visit to the Army Museum is a good way to bring it all together. The museum has an excellent collection of planes, tanks and guns supplied by the Chinese and Soviet armies, alongside dozens of captured French and US made war machinery. Admission is 20,000 VND per person.
- Visit the Temple of Literature – Built in 1070, the Van Mieu temple is a great example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and is one of the oldest structures in the country. Originally dedicated to Confucius, what remains today of ancient Vietnam’s center of learning is five courtyards decorated with stelae which served as diplomas for the universities first doctorate students. Entrance is 30,000 VND per person.
- Learn some women’s history – The problem with written history is that so much of it revolves around men, and female contributions tend to fall to the wayside. The Vietnam Women’s Museum tries to turn this around with exhibits about the history and daily lives of women in Vietnamese society. There is some great material to encounter here, as well as some video interviews that will give you better insight into the life of a female street vendor. Admission is 30,000 VND.
- Watch a water puppet show – Water Puppetry as an art form dates back over a millennium in Vietnam. Near the lake, you can take in a show at the Water Puppet Theatre. Puppets are carved from wood, and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool, which makes the puppets look like they’re walking in water. This is a very unique and worthwhile cultural experience. Admission is 100,000 VND for adults and 60,000 VND for children.
- Explore the Museum of Ethnology – The Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology is a multipurpose institution, serving as both a research facility and a public museum. It contains exhibits on the different ethnic groups which reside in the country and will give you a much better understanding of Vietnamese history. Admission is 40,000 VND for adults with discounts available for children and students.
- Visit the National Museum of Vietnamese History – This museum has a collection of antiques (and some replicas) dating from around 1000CE all the way to 1945. Admission is 15,000 VND for adults, with discounts available for students and children.