Hanoi & Halong Bay
Hanoi airport is 35km north of the city, there are less international flights than Ho Chi Minh but there are numerous connections via places such as Singapore as well as internal flights. Beware of taxi scams and use official companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun or arrange a transfer with your hotel, our one cost slightly more than a taxi but cut out the hassle. There are also airport buses run by both Jetstar and Vietnam Airlines.
If you arrive early morning at the rail station you may find it difficult to get any taxi to take you to the old quarter using their meters, instead agree a price.
Taxis are cheap if you need to go to places not in walking distance but use reputable companies, check with your hotel. Look out for scams where dodgy companies set up with names one letter different and one number different in the phone number from the reputable one. Even with reputable ones who have to use meters they may and try and charge you some other figure on the meter panel but just say no and point out that you know what the price is. Also some of the less reputable companies have meters which run so fast you pay almost double the correct fare.
Hanoi can be cold and misty depending on the time of year, but do not let that put you off, for me it added to the charm of the city, particularly first thing in the morning near any of the numerous lakes in the city. If you want to feel part of the real Hanoi then I would recommend staying in the Old Quarter, there are many boutique hotels, see the hotel section for a recommendation, and it is full of places to eat and in easy distance of most of the major sites.
For information about internal flights and train travel between cities check out the travel section on the Ho Chi Minh City page.
We stayed there on our first visit to Hanoi and were incredibly impressed by the service, so much so that we have been recommending it to friends visiting Hanoi since then and all of them have loved the experience.
We stayed there for a third time on our most recent visit and as ever from start to finish the stay was fantastic, the staff do everything possible to make your stay memorable from the minute you arrive until your departure.
The restaurant is excellent and deserves it’s high rating on review sites, we are not usually fans of hotel restaurants but we would happily make an exception for The Essence. It is great that it is in the heart of The Old Quarter with all the lively bars, restaurants and street life and yet you step inside the hotel and find an oasis of calm.
The hotel can arrange trips to Halong Bay, not to be missed, and to other places including Sapa.
Duong’s 2, 101 May May St., we have visited before and on our return this time it was a must, the food and service was excellent, it is not the cheapest option but well worth it but booking is advised.
Green Farm, 44B Dao Duy Tu, a good choice in this area where there are so many options, good service and reasonably priced.
Green Tangerine, 48 Hàng Bè, Hàng Bạc, having read good reports about the restaurant we decided to try it for lunch, the setting is lovely and the service top notch, the set menu available at lunch time is a great chance to try the cooking.
Essence Hotel Restaurant, 22 Ta Hien St., staying at the hotel we know the great service level and the quality of food, deserves it’s high rating, booking recommended.
Quan Com Pho Co, 16 Nguyễn Siêu, a locals haunt, they choose from the buffet style counter, but for visitors there is a menu and all the dishes are freshly cooked, really good food and incredibly cheap.
New Day, 72 Phố Mã Mây, cheap and cheerful, just wanting something quick one evening we gave it a try and enjoyed the dishes we chose, they also offer a range of set menus but we stuck to dishes from the extensive menu which come in a variety of sizes.
Quan Bia Minh, 7A Đinh Liệt, we went on our first visit to Hanoi and not sure why we haven’t been back since as the first floor terrace is a great place to watch the activity in the street below and the food is good and cheap, now a definite for future visits.
Net Hue, 198 Hang Bong & 153 Lang Ha, think there may be more branches but not sure, the first one is in the old quarter, the latter nearer the station. We went to the one near the station and sat in the lovely garden, enjoyed the food but the menu was fairly limited. Will try the other one as it was recommended by a local friend.
T’Art, 46B Bat Dan, was an accidental find, after sampling some street food at a nearby Bia Hoi bar we were looking for a couple of small dishes and the restaurant looked like a relaxing refuge from the hectic street. We shared some small dishes and were impressed by the high quality of both the food and the service.
Family Restaurant, 39B Hàng Hành, came across this place in a small lane and liked the look so gave it a try. Small friendly place with good food at very reasonable prices, totally understand the good comments that I later read.
West of the Old Quarter
Old Hanoi, 4 Phố Tôn Thất Thiệp, famed for Gordon Ramsey’s visit, but don’t let that put you off, this is a lovely restaurant in a wonderful original building. The food was good and the service attentive, we went at lunchtime and there was a lack of atmosphere therefore suggest trying for dinner.
South of the Old Quarter
Chim Sao, 65 Ngõ Huế, we decided to try after exploring the area south of the old quarter, it has a great reputation with locals and we really enjoyed the food, it has a number of different dishes from Northern Vietnam, worth seeking out.
Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Cau Go Vietnamese Restaurant, 73 Cau Go Street, overlooks the lake and is in the same building as a number of other restaurants all under the “Avalon Group” umbrella. We were going to try the Chinese dim sum restaurant on the ground floor but it was full and were directed to Cau Go on the 4th/5th Floor, the setting is spectacular and we enjoyed the food but the service as mentioned by many reviewers was poor. Still think it is worth it for the views and food.
Bars shut at 12 midnight during the week but now stay open later at weekends, the Anti Fun police as they have been christened still keep an eye on this but things seem more relaxed these days, talking to ex-pat residents there are obviously places where you can go, apparently especially if you like karaoke
Bia Hoi is Vietnam’s draught beer and there are very cheap Bia Hoi Bars on most street corners, there were a couple at the junction of Ta Hien St and Luong Ngoc Quyen, but they seem to be more tourist beer bars, you may have to go a bit further afield to find genuine local ones, the best being where P.Nha Hoa meets P.Duong Thanh on the western edge of the old quarter.
Ta Hien Street just north of The essence Hotel is packed with bars, since our last visit some of our old haunts have gone and new ones opened up, there are many in the street which are not particularly attractive and also at a certain age you do look for ones that don’t just have low plastic stools as seating.
The Hill Station, 2T Ta Hien, was a wonderful find, this lovely cool bar does great beer, wine and cocktails also tapas. The drinks are very reasonably priced especially at Happy Hour, their cocktails using rice wine are lovely especially the one called Mountain Medicine. Their started in Sapa where they have a bar, restaurant and hotel and also have a place in Hoi An.
Fat Cat 25 Ta Hien, fits the bill with some high bar stools, ok beers and other drinks.
Xupito, 37 Lương Ngọc Quyến, is just round the corner, again high seat, nice staff and some decent food.
Cong Cafe, 54 Phố Mã Mây, is part of a chain of cafes and we loved the style of them, as well as coffee they sell beer and this one does a very good Gin & Tonic, a great relaxing place away from the madness of the streets.
Hanoi Taco Bar, 13A Đào Duy Từ,is a Mexican restaurant but also serves some really good cocktails, definitely worth a visit.
Lalang Cafe, 85 Hang Buom, is a good place to stop for a beer with outside seating good for people watching.
Nola Cafe, 89 Phố Mã Mây, not the easiest place to find, this quirky cafe bar was pleasant but very quiet when we visited.
Legends Beer, P Nyguen Tuan, on the second floor of a building also housing others bars, restaurants and cafes, overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. The terrace gives you a great views over the lake.
Polite & Co, 5b Ngõ Bảo Khánh, was a fabulous find, a very cool bar, five minutes walk from Hoan Kiem lake the happy hour from 4pm to 8pm gives you a great chance to try their fabulous cocktails or the wines and beers on offer.
Solist, 65A Bat Dan, is at the western edge of the old quarter and is a friendly bar with a mix of customers, local and visitors.There was good live music the night we went and the staff were great.
Bar Betta, 34 Cao Bá Quát is near the Temple of Literature, it is a very cool bar in an old French Villa. We went during the day when it was quiet but heard good reports of evenings when the rooftop is open, the cocktails are apparently excellent.
San Ga Cafe, 62 Tran Phu, is just past the western end of the Old Quarter and is on the edge of the railway track, there are several places along the side of the track but we chose this one, very cheap beer, friendly service and great track side fun.
Bia Hoi is unpasteurized draught beer with a low alcohol content and sold in corner bars where a mix of locals and visitors consume this very cheap beer. There are various local brands sold by the bottle along with other brands such as Heineken, San Miguel etc.
We always manage to find new places on each visit and some have become firm favourites, among them Cong Cafe. Polite & Co and The Hill Station, in fact we enjoy the bar scene more in Hanoi more than in Ho Chi Minh.
Craft beer is becoming more and more popular in Vietnam and each city seems to have local favourites although Pasteur Street from Hanoi is particularly well known and is often found in up market restaurants.
Vietnam does produce a wine called Dalat, the ordinary one is like an average table wine, there are some better quality ones in the range these days which are good and reasonably priced particularly the reds. We stuck to imported wines mainly from Australia, Chile and France in restaurants or beer. Imported wine is not ridiculously expensive considering the duty.
Coffee is also a major drink as you would expect from the second largest coffee producing country and there are some lovely cafes to relax in with an iced coffee, very popular, or a regular coffee.
Explore the Old Quarter, the restored Memorial House at 87 P Ma May is well worth a visit. Wander round Hoan Kiem Lake, take a taxi and visit the West Lake and the Tran Quoc Pagoda, also a must is the Temple of Literature. The French District is lovely to wander around as a change from the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter. There are many souvenir shops but the one at 24 Ta Hien Street is run by a lovely man and his lacquer scenes are very good souvenirs.
Most people who come to Hanoi also visit Halong Bay and it is a must, but do book with a reputable company to ensure a good boat and a well organised trip. Personally I think 2 days and 1 night is enough to see the Bay. If you are lucky enough to stay at the Essence Hotel or any of the same group they will offer to arrange a trip.
You should do research in advance on the various companies, size of boats etc. as booking any that are not in the mid to luxury range risks disappointment in the quality of accommodation, food and service. Also take into account the journey time to the port, this visit we booked Azalea Cruises who use Dinh Vu port which is only a two hour journey from Hanoi. The service level from pick up to drop off was excellent and we felt we saw better views in the area they chose than on our previous visit.