Hanoi, Vietnam travel tips

On and off, we spent almost a week in Hanoi, and we spent many meals hopping from one little shop to another, noshing on each shop’s specialty. So, there are a lot of travel tips! Read on…

Where we ate:

  • Quan An Ngon – We’d read online that the Hanoi outpost of this renowned restaurant was better than the one in Saigon, which we loved. We ate at the Hanoi QAN several times and, maybe because we like Southern Vietnamese food more or because there’s so much outstanding street food in Hanoi, we can’t strongly recommend it. It’s still a wonderfully easy way to challenge your culinary palate, but most of the dishes we orderd tended to be little more than pork fat. Order better than we did: YEH
  • Quan Bia Minh – This 2nd floor balcony of this Lonely Planet recommended restaurant may be an ideal spot for people watching, but their food is awful. Oh, yeah, and the giant – though dead – roach in the bathroom was unappetizing as well: NAH
  • Bun cha shop next door to 22A Ta Hien Str, Hanoi – Since it was only our first day in Hanoi, we had no idea that the city’s streets were practically paved with bun cha, a bowl of vermicelli, grilled pork slices and meatballs, soup stock and herbs. Since we were souped out, we asked for ours dry. Great grill flavor: YEH
  • Bun cha in Hanoi, Vietnam
    Bun cha in Hanoi | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Pepperoni’s – It’s a shame what happens to Italian food in Vietnam: NAH
  • KOTO (Know One Teach One) – Years before we heard of KOTO from Lonely Planet, my friend Lisa F returned from a vacation through SE Asia saying Todd and I would love this place. Lisa, you were right! It inexplicably only attracts Western tourists, but dishes are inspired, and the staff of former street youth are going places. Desserts are fantastic: YEH
  • Foreigners’ bia hoi junctionat P Dien Liet and P Luong Ngoc Quyen – Cheap cold bia hoi, or “fresh” beer. Chatty tourists and expats with advice and stories. And, from our experience, a great meeting place​: YEH
  • Foreigners' bia hoi junction
    Foreigners’ bia hoi junction | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Highway 4, 5 Hang Tre – Following the expert gastronomic advice of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, we had excellent crickets fried with pork and lemon leaves (yes, we ate them all) and drool-inducing fried catfish spring rolls with wasabi. The pork with fermented tofu was interesting but too greasy for our tastes: YEH
  • Papa Joe’s – Lame little white bread sandwiches to go, but still, it’s something to take with you on the train to Sapa. Nice view of a crazy moto filled intersection from their narrow 2nd floor balcony and ok cookies to nibble while you watch the chaos: MEH
  • Banh Cuon Nong, 14B Bao Kanh, near to Kangaroo Cafe – If you see anyone, whether it’s at this shop or elsewhere, ladleing a white liquid onto cloth stretched over the top of a steaming pot, that means fresh rice paper. Here they roll it up with what may have been minced mushrooms or maybe minced clams, they didn’t speak English so we never found out what was in the mystery filling. Yum!: YEH
  • Fresh rice paper rolls in Hanoi, Vietnam
    Fresh rice paper rolls in Hanoi, Vietnam | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Com Tam Sai Gon, 24 Le Van Huu – At lunch time this place was packed with office workers grabbing a quick plate of rice topped with whatever you point at whatever looks good to you from the spread. Ridiculously cheap. You may need to be aggressive or patient to place your order or get a small plastic seat: YEH
  • Hapro Bon Mua, coffee shop on the shore of Lake Hoan Kiem – No cuppa joe will be cheap with this kinda view, but surprisingly, this was also a cup of Vietnamese iced coffee worth devouring. It took a lot of willpower to not order seconds: YEH
  • Bia Hoi Ha Noi at Bat Dan and P Duong Thanh – A more local bia hoi experience with 6,000 dong beers, few Western faces, and a full menu of food (which we didn’t have room in our stomachs to try): YEH
  • Cha Ca La Vong, 14 Pho Ca Ca – A universally recommended Hanoi institution with many copy cats, they make only one dish and make it well – chunks of catfish with fennel you cook at your table. Try to be patient and let it caramelize in the pan a bit before digging in. If you’re not Vietnamese, they may not give you the bowls of shrimp paste and hot peppers, so insist if you want them: YEH
  • Nha Hang Bach Phuong, Bun Bo Nam Bo Shop 67 Hang Dieu near Nha Hang Bach Phuong – At first, this shop seems small and simple, but then you notice the dozens of identical bowls of vermicelli waiting to be topped with the beef stir fry being cooked on flames shooting out the shopfront. Inside, there are at least two floors packed at mealtimes with a hundred people eating one thing – bun bo nam bo. Follow their lead: YEH
  • Fresh rice paper rolls in Hanoi, Vietnam
    Bun bo nam bo in Hanoi, Vietnam | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Bun Mien Ngan – shop next to 31 Ly Quoc Su: With some creative, patient pointing and “no” head shaking, you can get one of their variations on duck soup, with some of the most suppable and miraculously MSG-free duck broth in this world: YEH
  • Com Quan Minh, 2c Quanh Trung – One of the more well known and cleaner places to get a plate of rice and as many small dishes of other stuff as you want. The pork ribs were fall-apart, the stuffed tofu was weird. Though cheap and filling, not worth a schlep: MEH
  • Stop Cafe – Another late night, another night when Italian food was the only edible-looking option of what was still open and close by. We split a pizza. We’ve had worse: MEH
  • Bun cha shop, 43 D Cau Go – Another bowl of succulent bun cha without fault. We also happily scarfed an order of nem cua be, fried spring rolls. A simple place with plastic seating scattered around a corner, just look for the lunchtime crowd: YEH
  • Long Vi Dung, 107 Ma May – A tiny shop with tiny stools that makes papaya salad to order for about 20,000 dong a plate. Look for a small cart with glass windows holding the papaya salad ingredients. I skipped the dried meat toppings, while Todd tried them all. I was happier: YEH
  • Havana Club, 135 Hang Bac – Six weeks in Vietnam had us craving cheese like mad, so we shared a quesidilla and sanity returned. The bar-restaurant is a bit silly, Havana Rum bottles entombed beneath plexiglas windows in the floor, and obviously no idea that Mexico and Cuba are different countries. Stop by to peruse their collection of local mags for advice on where to eat, drink and party: YEH
  • Nem ran, on Tam Thuong Lane – Ugh. Anytime you see a bunch of highschoolers eating late at night, the food probably isn’t very good. This alley near our hotel was filled with shops selling nem ran, best described as fried pressed pork things. Unfortunately each shop made more effort to swindle us than serve us a snack. Travelers beware!: NAH
  • Bun Rieu, 14 Hang Da – We were looking for some new street food to try, so we tracked down this shop, mentioned in the Pathfinder guide for their bun rieu, which seemed to be some sort of clam broth soup with everything but the kitchen sink tossed on top. We’re not sure what we ate – snails, clams, tofu – but it was all chewy. It must be an acquired taste: NAH
  • Quan Goc Da, 52 Ly Quoc Su – Until the day I die, I will dream of these perfect golden, flakey spring rolls served with vermicelli and dipping sauce. The woman who runs the place sits alternately smiling and growling behind a pile of fried wonders, including the spring rolls. She is a Fry Goddess: YEH! YEH!
  • BBQ corner, at P Hang Bong and P Duong Thanh – A place for the indecisive and vegetarians. Pick your skewers of meat, seafood, or veg from a table, take a seat and scarf it as they deliver it, skewer by skewer, to your table. The staff doesn’t speak much English, and there’s no menu, but if you gesture, someone will write down prices and point to skewers so you can estimate the damage: YEH
  • Phuong Hanh, 24 To Tich and Sinh To Minh Hieu, 13 To Tich – The To Tich alley has what looks at first like an unpromising and repetive collection of fluorescent lit shops selling glasses filled with fruit or a small blob of purple goo. For less than $1 US, the fruit or the purple goo (which is black sticky rice cooked until pudding-like) is topped with coconut cream and sweetened yogurt. You mix in some shaved ice from the tupperware at your table and eat it with a spoon: YEH
  • Sua chua nep cham shop, Hanoi, Vietnam
    Sua chua nep cham shop, Hanoi, Vietnam | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Where we stayed:

  • Thu Giang Guesthouse – We had trouble finding anywhere to stay when we arrived in Hanoi late at night. This was a mediocre hostel. Our room qualified as a “lights on kinda place” which is when we decide to sleep with lights bright and eyemasks on to keep the roaches at bay: NAH
  • Manh Dung Guest House, 2 Tam Thuong – It’s not a calm hostel, but we enjoyed it. Insist on internet being included in your room rate and try to bargain. Say “no” often, but with a smile. Their laundry service sucks, go elsewhere. Make sure you go to the real Manh Dung Guesthouse, they have many imitators – as their sign in my 3,000-views photo shows: YEH
  • Funny sign at the real Manh Dung Guesthouse - Hanoi, Vietnam
    Manh Dung Guesthouse v. Idiots | Photo by Lauren Girardin

What we saw:

  • Municipal Water Puppet Theatre – For the bargain price of 60 dong per ticket ($3.50 US), you get a traditional yet creative hour of puppetry, performed in a pool of water. Get your ticket early, even the day before, and ask for a front row; most seats had a few heads blocking the stage: YEH
  • Perfume Pagoda tour with APT – Booked through Manh Dung Gueshouse, a tour out to the Perfume Pagoda area is a long day. Having earlier done the karsts of Tam Coc and later, Halong Bay, this was really karst-overkill. Tam Coc and Halong Bay were better, but it wasn’t bad. Manh Dung had a strange tier structure – you could get on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd class tour, but the only difference in classes seemed to be the price you were willing to pay: YEH
  • Halong Bay tour with ODC Travel – See our Halong Bay post for our opinions: YEH
  • Hoan Kiem Lake – A chill place to chill out, even with all the people walking, talking, and doing tai chi: YEH
  • Dong Xuan Market – Wander around and take in the miles of shops inside this flea market selling any “Made In China” junk you can imagine and more. Watch bales of crap being unloaded and worry about the future of consumerism: MEH
  • Trapped in the cloth shop at Dong Xuan Market - Hanoi, Vietnam
    Trapped in the cloth shop at Dong Xuan Market | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • Vietnam National Tuong Theatre – Though tickets were less than $3 US each, only a pitiful dozen people were there to watch this impressive cabaret of traditional Vietnamese music, dance, and acting. Some of the scenes were histronic, just wade your way through the moment if you’re not into it. They’ll change to a new number soon enough: YEH
  • Pathfinder Guide – We didn’t see this mag until the very end of our trip, having its street food guide through out our time in Vietnam would have helped us interpret menus and bowls of unidentifiable meals. Hunt for it at expat places like Havana Club: YEH
  • Hard to find Hanoi street food guide, page 1
    Hard to find Hanoi street food guide, page 1 | Photo by Lauren Girardin
  • 23 Hang Bo – Todd desperately searched for markers in Hanoi, and everything he found listed online was closed or was for elementary school supplies. This place, while no art supply store, had enough to tide him over: YEH
  • Temple of Literature – Not a lot of going on, but a nice historic distraction in the midst of modernizing Hanoi. KOTO’s close by so you can make a morning of it: MEH
  • Ho Chi Minh Mauseoleum – We didn’t go inside because the hours are extremely limited. No review, just a heads up.
  • One Pillar Pagoda, near the Ho Chi Minh Museum – Why is this little, ugly concrete “pagoda” on any list of attractions? Not worth even a stroll by: NAH
  • Ho Chi Minh Museum – Call and check the days and hours of operation, they change. It was the weirdest museum we’ve been to, even weirder than the Dali Museum in Spain. Seriously: YEH