My paradise: 48 hours in Vietnam
At first glance, Hanoi is a city of chaos: swarms of motorbikes weave through the congested streets, horns and chatter sound constantly, and everywhere there are people, people and more people. However, if you allow it to, the city will put your mind into a borderline sensory overloaded but surprisingly enjoyable trance. Much like the “umami” taste triggers a multi-faceted experience for the taste buds, Hanoi stimulates all of the senses at once: the smells emitting from hole-in-the-wall restaurants and street food vendors, the sight of mopeds and pedestrians harmoniously maneuvering the streets together like a well choreographed dance, the sounds of laughter that seem to silence the roar of vehicles, the taste of pho that has brewed over a pot streetside for hours, and the touch of an ice cold Bia Hoi on the palm and lips. What once seemed chaotic now seems comfortingly calm and beautiful, even. Hanoi is umami for the senses.
Hanoi is an easily walkable city, centered around Hoan Kiem Lake. Off the northern tip of the lake is the heartbeat of the city – the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is an ideal location for tourists, offering a variety of accommodations, restaurants, bars and markets to explore while maintaining to local charm of the city. Be sure not to miss “Beer Corner” at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen in the Old Quarter enjoy a $0.25 beer (5,000 VND) and the thoroughly entertaining people watching while sitting on a plastic childs size chair. Other worthwhile sites around Hanoi include Ngoc Son Temple located on an island on Hoan Kiem Lake accessible by a charming red bridge (Tickets are 30,000 VND / $1.50), Hoa Lo Prison where P.O.W.s during the Vietnam War were held captive (including Senator John McCain), and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. If time allows, a day trip to Ha Long Bay is quite feasible from Hanoi as well.
For more on Hanoi Street Food, visit our sister site’s article titled “48 Hours of Hanoi Street Food.”
• Visa Requirement – Be sure to check your country’s Visa Entry Requirement before traveling to Vietnam:
1. Visa Approval Letter – You can get a Visa on Arrival (VoA) at the airport but will have to have a Visa Approval Letter in order to get the VoA. I have used Visa4Vietnam twice with no problems. They charge $19 per person for the Visa Approval Letter.
2. Visa on Arrival – Upon arrival at the airport in Vietnam you will queue up to get your Visa. Fees are paid in USD and are as follows:
– Visa single entry for 1 month or 3 months: $45
– Visa multiple entries for 1 month (staying less 30 days): $65
– Visa multiple entries for 1 month (staying 30 days) or 3months: $95
** DO NOT FORGET TO BRING 2 x PASSPORT PHOTOS WITH YOU FOR THE VISA**
• Most hotels offer transportation from the airport to the city. Setting transportation up beforehand eliminates the possibility of being ripped off by a taxi/tuk tuk driver at the airport. Private transportation set up by the hotel should be around $19.
• For those traveling on a budget, I recommend staying at the A Dong Hotel in the Old Quarter. Great rooms with excellent location for ~$15/night for private room w/bathroom, breakfast included. Staff is extremely courteous and helpful. Book through Agoda or Hotels.com or email them at email@example.com.
• All beer in Vietnam is cheap…but don’t miss out on the Bia Hoi beer for $0.25 on Beer Corner.
• If you’re looking to party all night, Hanoi isn’t the best place. All establishments in Hanoi (at least in the Old Quarter) are required by law to close by midnight. So get your Bia Hoi and street eats in early.
• If you’re buying something at the market or shop, do not be afraid to haggle on prices. It is part of Vietnamese culture to negotiate prices and is expected. Your offer should be 50% of what the vendor tells you…then meet somewhere in between that is mutually beneficial for whatever you are buying.
• There is an endless number of travel shops where you can book excursions to Ha Long Bay, Sapa, etc., busses or flights. Check the prices that your hotel offers and then shop around a bit.
• Don’t be intimidated by the traffic and crossing the street. The drivers are very alert. Just walk slowly and confidently and they will dodge around you. Don’t make sudden movements or hesitate.
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