The 3 best areas to stay
in Hanoi

Let's put it like that: Hanoi, Vietnam is not the perfect place for travel rookies, Asia first-timers or the average western city neurotic. It can be challenging first, because it's so different. But if you find the right spot for you, wanting to come back is only a question of time.

Here are the 3 best areas to stay in Hanoi:

  • Favourhood N° 1 Hanoi Old Quarter

    Intense, chaotic
    & colourful

    Hanoi Old Quarter
  • Favourhood N° 2 Hanoi French Quarter

    Generous, elegant
    & colonial

    Hanoi French Quarter
  • Favourhood N° 3 Hanoi West Lake

    Chill, zen
    & international

    Hanoi West Lake
  • OH NO! Maybe not

    Life's too short
    to stay here

    Maybe not

The 3 best areas in Hanoi.

  • 1 Hanoi Old Quarter
  • 2 Hanoi French Quarter
  • 3 Hanoi West Lake
  • Maybe not

The Old Quarter – Intense, chaotic & colourful


There is a good chance you won’t like it here on first sight.

It is loud.
It is intense.
It is full of scents you never smelt before and full of people you’ve never met before. Nevertheless you will find yourself right in the middle of their lives, right in the streets.

A guy straps two dinner tables to his scooter while the woman next to him keeps a charcoal fire alive. Her mother ties flowers and has an eye on the little boy waving at you while brushing teeth in his pyjamas.

Hanoi Old Town is a crash course in dense Vietnamese city life. If you can deal with that, it might be just the area for you to stay in!

You will get:

  • a crash course in Vietnamese city life
  • noise, colours and excitement
  • street food at every corner
  • probably bumped into by a scooter at some point

Nowhere else will you be exposed so quickly to so many facettes of what it means to live in Hanoi.

The historic center of the city kept up surprisingly well throughout the centuries, therefore life is now condensed to whatever space there is between the walls of the past. If you thought scooter-traffic was crazy in the wide boulevards of the French Quarter, imagine it happen right around you in narrow alleys without sidewalks. It is madness. A madness you can get addicted to.

Sure, there are some beer bars that are clearly targeting western visitors. Some vendor ladies in the streets might sell stuff that is not 100% authentic and wear traditional stuff not to uphold Vietnamese culture. But compared to other cities of the world, even the Old Town of Hanoi still seems relatively untouched by tourism. It is amazing how much of what you see, smell and experience is not aimed at you as a visitor at all. Visit a food market after dawn and you will know what I mean.

The Old Quarter is madness.

... a madness you can get addicted to.

Practical tip for Hanoi Old Quarter

The nice ladies with the cone shaped hats, balancing a bamboo stick on their sholders to carry around fruit in two baskets? Yeah, it looks amazing and sure, it seems nice & genuie when they ask you to try balancing this thing on your sholder. And why not take a picture then? Because it is a little scam and you might end up paying 150k VND for a couple of pineapple slices out of guilt for having taken a pic. In the worst case she might point at the 500k bills in your hands and just take them before you notice it weren't the 50s.

(I only heared about that and it totally never ever happened to me ...)

The French Quarter – generous, elegant & colonial


The french did not mess around back then, ruling over their colony of Indochina. The so called French Quarter is evidence for it up until today, with its wide boulevards, cafés and villas that seem like a mix of Paris, Walt Disney's Jungle Book and New Orleans. 

Most of the area south of the Old Quarter has been demolished and rebuild according to the taste and needs of the French a little more than 100 years ago. Space for administrative buildings was needed as well as an emotional and aesthetical anchor into the homeland.

You will get:

  • wide boulevards & streets
  • even more scooters due to wider streets!
  • french colonial style & shooping opportunities
  • elegance weirdly combined with a communist touch

So while the 36 super narrow and crowded merchant streets of the Old Quarter feel as vietnamese as it gets, the French Quarter is an alluring yet somehow weird mixture. There is an undeniable sophistication to the architecture, the wideness of the boulevards and the people having coffee and sweets in front of french style cafés. People dress up for work because most likely they work in an embassy. The contrast couldn't be bigger to the guys working infront of the embassies: grim looking soldiers in plain green uniforms with big plate caps, swinging their batons out of boredom. 

In the French Quarter vietnamese bureaucracy meets french lifestyle, the fading beauty of colonial architechture and western-ish shopping opportunities. But there is one thing that clearly tells you where you are: the density of scooters in the streets. It's still Vientnam, Baby!

An alluring yet weird mixture of cultures.

Where bureaucracy meets french lifestyle and the fading beauty of colonial architecture.

Practical tip for Hanoi French Quarter

Although it first looks like the wider streets of Hanoi's French Quarter would be easier to pass then the super-dense and crowded narrow streets of the Old Quarter, it is quite the opposite: wider streets just mean more possible lanes for scooters. Stay calm, walk with a purpose and direction and never panic.

West Lake – Chill, zen & international


In almost every major city around the world, open water is a focal point. Be it the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, the beaches of Barcelona or the harbors of Hong Kong. In Hanoi, the West Lake though seems to take off focus from all the hustle & bustle of an otherwise very, very intense city.

The West Lake area, a long strip of land surrounding Tay Ho Lake, does two things better than any other neighborhood of Hanoi: reflecting light and reflecting thoughts. Try both of them at the same time by thinking about your life in the evening sun and you get magic moments of Zen.

You will get:

  • gorgeous sunsets
  • a view onto Hanoi
  • some free space
  • some quietness
  • an idea of the smog in Hanoi

Locals know that. That’s why they bring their birdcages to the water front, play board games and fish there. Expats know it as well. That’s why they rent overpriced apartments in this district from Vietnamese people that bankroll their children’s education abroad with it. So it all comes full circle: people move here, so that other people can move elsewhere.

You, on the other hand, should stay in the West Lake area if you are in search of quietness and open space – two otherwise rare goods in Hanoi. For western travelers it might also be the district most easy to adjust to. So if you feel like you are not ready yet to be thrown right in the middle of all the madness, West Lake will be your ideal base camp.

Reflecting light and reflecting thoughts.

Two things that the West Lake area does better than any other neigborhood in Hanoi.

Practical tip for Hanoi West Lake

Try to get up onto one of the rooftop terraces of a highrise building at West Lake as soon as you can. Ideally for Sunset. Not only is it gorgeous but it gives you an overview of the city that I think is very important for your stay.

Summit Lounge of the Pan Pacific Hotel is one of them. It is expensive though, so if money is a topic, just order one drink and overstay your welcome untile sun has set ;-)

You will feel like the only foreigner in Hanoi quite often. But what can be rather scary in other cities of the world never felt to me this way. Locals are either very friendly or just ignore you, even in areas where you are literally the only non-local. But for the sake of transportation (which can be hard sometimes), try to keep the necessary commutes as short as possible and stay in one of the (more central) Favourhoods. Areas in the outskirts of Hanoi are neither interesting for visitors nor practical.

Hanoi in under 1 minute

How Hanoi is structured:

The city of Hanoi is divided into four main sectors: Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung, and Dong Da.

  • Hoan Kiem District is in the heart of Hanoi and typically very lively especially for tourists.
  • Ba Dinh District is northwest and completely packed with various museums.
  • Hai Ba Trung District in the south where Thong Nhat Park is located
  • Dong Da District is historically important given that the Chinese were defeated there. This event is immortalised in the Tet holiday!

Hanoi is greatly influenced by the French when they ruled over them. You will find some areas to be more planned rather than chaotic given that the French brought over their urban planning which was used in Paris when reorganising the city.

How Hanoi is structured:

The city of Hanoi is divided into four main sectors: Hoan Kiem, Ba Dinh, Hai Ba Trung, and Dong Da.

  • Hoan Kiem District is in the heart of Hanoi and typically very lively especially for tourists.
  • Ba Dinh District is northwest and completely packed with various museums.
  • Hai Ba Trung District in the south where Thong Nhat Park is located
  • Dong Da District is historically important given that the Chinese were defeated there. This event is immortalised in the Tet holiday!

Hanoi is greatly influenced by the French when they ruled over them. You will find some areas to be more planned rather than chaotic given that the French brought over their urban planning which was used in Paris when reorganising the city.

Fast Facts

Airport to city

Hanoi is reachable via the Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) which is located roughly 30 kilometres from the city centre.

  • The fastest option to the city centre are taxis. They take around 45 to 60 minutes depending on traffic. Expect around 300,000 VND (~12€/$). Bargaining skills will come in handy and taxi sharing is quite common but be advised - choose a rather known taxi company such as: Dai Nam, Viet Thanh, Mai Linh.
  • You do have two different options regarding buses. Both take around 1,5h but costs and operating hours differ. The city bus lines 7 and 17 cost around 5,000 VND (~0.2€/$) and operate from 5am to 10pm. They run every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • The express bus 86 takes roughly the same time and operate from 5:05am to 11:05pm. Its interval is around 25 minutes. It does cost a little more with 30,000 VND (~1.2€/$) but you have two different routes with 10 stops each, so you are a little more flexible.
  • Shuttle-buses are available as well. They cost 40,000 VND (~1.4€/$).

Security

Hanoi is considered to be generally safe. But taking the typical precautions is advisable just to be on the safer side. Pickpockets and taxi scammers are somewhat common but easily avoidable.

Getting around

  • In the area around Old Quarter and French Quarter it is possible to just walk. This can be a bit stressful though because often sidewalks do not exist or they are blocked by something.
  • For you as a visitor the taxi might be the prime mode of transportation in Hanoi. It is cheap (the average ride might cost 1-5 $/€), reliable (taxi drivers tend to find their destinations), safe (4 wheels and metal around you) and mostly airconditioned. They all drive with a meter and usually are very correct.
  • Renting a scooter is a possibility if you are brave, stress resistant and looking for a lifetime experience. If not all three factors apply to you: are you crazy even considering this?!
  • Safer, less stressful and also an experience: riding with a scooter taxi. Whenever you see a guy at a corner with two helmets, watching people while laying on his moped: that is a scooter taxi driver. If you want to avoid the negotiation about prices (you might get taken advantage of), you can also use one of the (scooter) taxi apps like Grab or Uber. But be careful about possible roaming charges!
  • Forget public transport in Hanoi. There is no metro (yet!) and you will most likely not understand the bus system.

 

 

ODER

 

Hanoi provides with almost endless option regarding getting around the city.

  • Taxis are the most convenient one given that they are fairly cheap compared to other major cities. Make sure to have the meter running and keep and eye on it.
  • Cyclos are more suitable for shorter distances and especially visiting the Old Quarter.
  • Xe Om (scooter taxis) are not metered so agree on a price prior your arrival.
  • Two different metro lines should be available at the end of 18
  • Buses are scam free and cheap but hard to understand at first. Huge network, more information here: http://www.tramoc.com.vn/modules.php?name=Content&opcase=Details&id=299&mcid=136
  • Renting motorbike or car - careful huge traffic, international driver’s license not valid
  • Metro will bill available at the end of 2018.
  • Uber not available in Hanoi as Grab is the prefered service operating there but due to complains from the side of normal taxi drivers the situation regarding taxi apps is not clearly defined yet, as once banned Uber already started working on a solution. Do not count on having apps like Grab be available during your visit.

Rookie mistakes you should avoid

  • Crossing the street the wrong way (e.g. starting to run or stopping in the middle of the street).
  • Not having cash on you when taking a taxi (or only having big bills of cash).
  • Getting pressured into paying way too much for some fruit by one of the traditionally dressed vendor ladies that first let you carry their baskets and hats for a pic.
  • Thinking getting honked at by a car or scooter means you did something wrong or mistaking it for some kind of aggression by the driver. It is just their way to tell you "I'm here!".
  • Trying streetfood the first time on your last day before you fly back home. There are methods for eating streetfood without getting sick, but taking your chances right before a 8 or 12 hour flight ... not the best plan!

Tipping

Who to tip: Tipping is not really expected in Vietnam, but common and appreciated in upscale restaurants, bars and hotels. Tipping spa employees and tourguides is expected though, while giving tips to street food vendors or taxi drivers is not common.

How much? 5% to 10% for waiters; round up to the next ten-thousand if you want to tip a taxi driver; 20% to 30% for spa employees and bar keepers because they get paid very little often and rely on tips; the equivalent of 1-2 $/€ for room maids or doormen carrying your luggage in hotels; 3-5 $/€ for tour guides.

The mode: Since service charges added to your restaurant bill rarely end up at the waiter that served you, give them your (additional) tip directly. The same goes with employees in high end spas that have a service charge. As an alternative, you can also just leave the tip on the table or at the bar after getting your change.

Watch this video if you want to hear it from a local.

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