Most people travelling through Hanoi give the city a couple of days before heading to Halong Bay, Sapa or down to the centre and south of the country. Here are our suggestions for what to do on a tight budget if you have just two days here and want to make the most of them.
On day one, explore Old Quarter. This is one of Hanoi’s highlights and could take up the best part of a day – especially if you’re really into souvenir shopping or take lots of breaks to enjoy the delicious local coffee or street snacks. If you’re on foot, this is free although you’ll have to pay for refreshments and souvenirs.
Make sure you include a stop at Bach Ma Temple on Hang Buom Street, wander along Hang Ma and Lan Ong Streets and do check out the stalls around the outskirts of Dong Xuan, the market along Phung Hung, shopping around Hang Giay, St Joseph’s Cathedral and of course Hoan Kiem Lake.
Then take a detour from the south of Hoan Kiem Lake for a peek at the Opera House and Sofitel Metropole Hotel, in the French Quarter.
If your budget stretches this far, negotiate with a cycle driver for a tour around Old Quarter and the French Quarter – it’ll save your legs and is a unique (albeit very touristy) experience.
End day one, or start day two, with a visit to a wet market. Take a taxi or xe om (motorbike taxi) – or you can walk from the Old Quarter — to Hom market (Cho Hom) on Pho Hue or Chau Long market, near Truc Bach lake. Go early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, when the markets are most lively.
Spend the rest of day two checking out a few museums or landmarks, which are usually cheap to see in Hanoi. Our favourites are the Women’s Museum, Hoa Lo Prison, the National Fine Arts Museum, the Citadel and the Ethnology Museum; take your pick depending on your preferences. Note that the latter is a bit out of town, so if you’re tight on time it might not be feasible, especially if you’re travelling by bus (No 14, just in case).
And no visit to Hanoi is complete without a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Memorial Complex. Head there first thing if you want to see Ho Chi Minh’s body, as it’s only open in the morning and it’s best to get there early to avoid queuing in the heat for too long, and don’t miss the house on stilts. From here, walk up to Quanh Thanh Temple and along between Truc Bach and West Lakes to Tran Quoc Pagoda. Stop for an ice cream cone from Kem Tay Ho or head to Havana, overlooking the lakes, for a rooftop beer or cocktail. The Temple of Literature is another highlight, and walkable from the Mausoleum. You’ll find a good bun cha joint nearby on Van Mieu, so stop off for lunch.
As you go, eat, eat and eat. The street food in Hanoi is reasonably cheap and delicious, so with only two days in the city we say eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 24th January, 2015.