With a population half the size of Ireland (Roughly 8 million) in one city we were dying to dive into the narrow streets of Hanoi’s old quarter and get our hand dirty (metaphorically of course).
Obviously being the Capital, and having heard so much about Hanoi, we wanted to dedicate a good bit of time to seeing her sights and living her culture, on a budget of course… this is still us after all.
So what follows is a list of free and cheap things to do in “The Little Paris Of The East”
From Sapa To Hanoi:
Hung Thành Company has the cheapest bus going to Hanoi at 200,000 VND (€7.60) per person. It leaves at 10 pm and arrives at 4 am.
If you call the office (via Skype for cheap call rates) or book online via Vexere.com you can secure the bus for 180,000 VND (€6.90) per person.
Alternatively, next door to Hung Thanh is Hason Hai bus company with services from Sapa to Ha Noi City for 240,000 VND per person (€9.16). Buses leave at 9 pm 10 pm, 10.30 pm and 11 pm.
The only catch with either is that they will drop you at the My Dinh bus station in Hanoi around 8 km from the Old Quarter.
The bus will drop you at the side of the road next to the bus terminal. Head into the compound (you will see all the parked buses) follow the crowd towards the main building and ticket office on the far right of the compound.
For buses to the Old Quarter or City Centre take the local bus No. 34 for 7000 – 10,000 VND (€0.27 – €0.38). Ask at the bus terminal for directions to the bus stop. The first bus leaves at 5 am.
Just make sure you’re getting the bus in the correct direction because if you board the 34 in the opposite direction to the city, a quick 20-minute journey could turn into an hour-long loop.
Things To Do In Hanoi:
Free Things To Do In Hanoi:
Hanoi Free Local Tours:
Hanoi Free Local Tours is a highly rated tour company that offer free English tours from old town to the French quarter and beyond. They will even organise a Hanoi itinerary for you. You do need to book in advance (https://hanoifreelocaltours.com)
Hoan Kiem lake, also known as Turtle Lake is a green freshwater lake in the heart of Hanoi’s historic quarter. Until 2016 it was the home of a giant sacred turtle known as “Great Grandfather Turtle” (Unfortunately he died).
This is an essential part of daily life in Hanoi and is constantly surrounded by local families, street vendors and buskers. A total must-see freebie!
On the Ly Thai To road from the top of Hoan Kiem Lake, only a short walk away, is the 2010 Guinness book of records “Worlds longest mosaic walls”. 6.5 Km of intricate and colourful murals by Vietnamese and foreign artists. That’s a lot of tiles.
You can see as much or as little as you want, maybe best avoided in the mid-day sun though.
Hanoi Train street:
Hanoi’s train street is famous, or rather infamous. A densely populated stretch of live train line, where locals and tourist alike are forced to withdraw into their houses, pull in all their belongings and squeeze in close against walls to avoid the passing of high-speed trains! We’re in!!
There are a number of trains that pass from north to south and vice versa. We took a photo of the most recent times (Sep 2018) but do expect delays, and we suggest arriving a little early (or staying a little later to enjoy the place without other tourists).
The best thing to do is pop into The Train Track Cafe and check the notice board for all updated times. The owner speaks fantastic English and is happy to help. Drinks (from beers to coffees) start at 20,000 VND (€0.80).
We recommend the afternoon for better photos and fewer tourists. Head down before 2.30 pm to grab some photos of daily life and take some time before the train.
Listen to the locals, they’ll warn you if you need to get in further off the tracks or are in an unsafe position heed their warnings and for the love of Jaysus will ye BE CAREFUL.
Long Bien Bridge:
An amazing look at pre-war Vietnam, Long Bien Bridge was the first, and for years the only bridge to cross the Red River.
A wrought Iron bridge with a sunset view? It’s an Instagrammers dream! It’s best to go before sunset (sunset is usually a little after 6 pm so head down for 5.30pm).
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum:
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For us the whole point of travelling is to learn about people and places we've never been before. And as massive history buffs, this always involves delving into a country's past. From Argentinian dictators and the 'Dirty War' to Laos' secret and unacknowledged one, from great civilizations like the Aztec and Inca to uncivilised street wars between cartels, guerrillas and governments, we thought we'd heard it all. We were wrong. The Vietnamese are a people who have struggled. A people who have been at war nearly constantly since about 2800BC defending their land, their freedom, their culture and their lives from various invaders of one dynasty or another. One of the most famous wars in the world is named after their country, and it wasn't even their worst or latest war. Struggle and fighting is so ingrained in their national identity that you can see it in their way of life, in their unbending haggling skills and feel it in their die hard pride and patriotism. Vietnam the proud, Vietnam the fierce, Vietnam the unyeilding. One thing's for sure, past, present or future anyone that comes knocking looking for trouble will be very quickly given their marching orders. ° ° ° #vietnam #vietnamese #vietnamwar #vietnamtravel #vietnam🇻🇳 #instavietnam #vietnamtrip #vietnamwonders #visitvietnam #vietnamflashback #vietnamhistory #vietnamhistorymuseum #vietnamhistorylesson #vietnamhistorybooks #finalrestingplace #vietnamhistorymilitarymusuem #marching #hochiminh #mausoleum #communism #armymarch #meninuniform #army #hochiminhfinalrestingplace #travelvietnam #vietnamphoto #vietnamtravels #igvietnam #topasiaphoto #southeastasiatrip
The resting place, or rather, the display case of the embalmed body of beloved revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh (against his wishes we might add). Apart from being an important historical site, it is a really impressive building.
A strict dress code is enforced here, shoulders and knees covered (men and women).
From April to September, the Mausoleum is open from 7:30 am – 10:30 am from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 7:30 am – 11 am weekends.
From December to March, the Mausoleum is open from 8 am – 11 am Tuesday to Thursday, and 8 am – 11:30 am weekends.
Huu Tiep Lake is a twenty-minute walk west of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the Ba Dinh district, just west of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
If you walk west on Hoang Hoa Tham Avenue where it meets Ngoc Ha Avenue, you should see a sign directing you to the memorial down a narrow street.
Here you will find the remains of a crashed B52 bomber jutting from a lake in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, a stark reminder of how recent the war still is for these people.
Grab a cheap coffee in Cafe B52 facing the wreckage. Coffees from 15,000 VND (€0.57) and smoothies from 10,000 (€0.38) the cheapest around.
Tran Quoc Pagoda:
The oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, sitting on a small island in the West Lake. Totally worth a look either during the day or all lit up at night, just bear in mind it closes at 5.30pm
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A random thought but as two of the most doubting disbelievers, we cannot help but be fascinated by relgion as we travel. Traipsing around nearly every extravagant gold-laced Catholic church and never skipping the local village-made wooden houses of worship in Latin America. When we barely know what the inside of our local church looks like. Delving into the world of the Qur'an and praying with local families, now our very dear Muslim friends from Tunisia, yet we haven't read one page of the bible. Talking with monks and marvelling at the Buddhist temples in Thailand, exploring and researching every inch of the Khmer Hindu ruins in Laos, visiting graveyards and spying on ceremonies in Vietnam. We even turned our attention to Caodaism, a religion we never even heard of before visiting Vietnam, after walking past an unusual yet beautiful structure topped with a symbolic eye in a triangle. Man did that send us down a rabbit hole. Religion, a topic we have ignored and one we ran from as soon as we had the freedom and choice to do so. Yet, a subject that draws us in across nearly every town, community, city and country we visit. So on we go, fascinated, curious and eager to learn, because at the end of the day it is our beliefs that can unite or divide us all. Anyone else?
Cheap Things To Do In Hanoi:
Ice Cream At The West Lake:
Ok, so a nice sunset stroll around Hanoi’s West Lake technically is a free thing to do, but we’ve popped it in here because no stroll around the lake is complete without an ice cream from Kem Ho Tay.
The place will be packed with locals and for 7,000 VND (€0.27) for a cone or 6,000 VND (€0.23) for a popsicle, it’s easy to see why, also… Yum!
Hoa Lo Prison:
The “Hanoi Hilton” as it was ironically known by the American POW’s it housed during the Vietnam war is another fascinating, but chilling reminder of the countries war-torn history. US Senator John Mcain was interned here during the war. A total must see if you’re a history buff.
Open 8 am -11.30 am & 1.30 pm-5 pm, there’s a 30,000 VND (€1.15) entry fee. So worth it.
Vietnam Military Museum:
Closed Monday’s and Fridays but open every other day from 8 am -11.30 am & 1 pm – 4.30pm, the Vietnam Military Museum contains war remnants, propaganda and historical documents from all of Vietnam’s military conflicts from wars with China, France the USA and so on.
There’s a 40,000 VND (€1.50) entry fee.
Egg coffee in Cafe Giang:
Famous Egg Coffee is run by Tri Hoa Nguyen, the son of Nguyen Giang the original creator who came up with the concept in 1946 during a milk shortage due to the French War.
Travel anywhere across Vietnam and see egg coffee advertised as a local speciality, but here is where it all began.
Egg coffee for 25,000 VND (€0.95), also, try the or Egg Chocolate Coffee. Our verdict? Surprisingly delicious!! We’re EGGCITED to try it again!
Food In Hanoi:
We’ve been off meat for a while now, for various (mostly moral reasons), so that hugely affects our food choices while travelling. Vietnam, in general, has been quite easy from that point of view, there’s nearly always a veggie option, owing largely to a big Buddhist population.
In saying that Hanoi was like Veggie heaven! so many options, so we thought we’d throw a section in here for our leaf-eating readers! Although I can guarantee you even if you’re a carnivore, you’ll enjoy a meal in any of these smashing eateries!!
Bồ Đề Chay:
65 Quan Su, Quan Hoan Kiem
Open 8 am – 8.30 pm.
Set menu for 30,000 – 60,000 VND (€1.15 – €2.30) serves 4, servings to include rice, soup, vegetables & salad, tofu and an option of mock meat – huge dish guaranteed to fill.
There are also main dishes starting from 30,000 VND (€1.15)
Banh Goi Chay:
Follow directions on Google or MapsMe that will bring you to the CDC Home Design Centre. Beside the centre is a small seating area next to a laneway, Banh Goi Chay is down the lane on the left. Follow the signs.
Open Monday – Friday 11 am – 7 pm, closed weekends.
Serves vegan food, small menu but delicious and very cheap! Vegan Banh Mi for 25,000 VND (€0.95) Veggie samosas for 10,000 VND (€0.38) and spring rolls for 5000 VND (€0.19).
Not far from Hoa Lo Prison so it is an ideal place for lunch.
35 Hàng Giầy, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm
Open 10 am – 12 am every day
A small selection of veggie dishes for 40,000 – 45,000 VND (€1.50 – €1.70) mainly tofu options with different sauces.
Tu Hao Buffet:
18 Hai Ba Trung
11 am – 2 pm Monday to Saturday
There’s a big green and yellow sign outside, you can miss it. 35,000 VND (€1.30) veggie buffet
Dieu Tam Vegetarian Restaurant:
133 Nguyễn Đình Thi, Thuỵ Khuê, Tây Hồ
Open 10 am – 2 pm Monday to Saturday
30,000 VND (€1.15) buffet. Buddhist restaurant outside the city, close to the West Lake we decided to pop in for lunch when visiting the lake one morning. Arrive before 2 pm to have the best selection of dishes.
9A Đặng Tất, Quán Thánh, Ba Đình
Open 7.30 am – 9 pm every day
30,000 VND dishes. Food is absolutely amazing! Lots of mock meats. Apparently, they do an all you can eat brekkie too.
Cam Chi Street:
Corner of Tong Duy Tan and Ngo Cam Chi
Open 24 hours depending on the stall.
Hanoi’s “food street”, Lots of little side street restaurants with cheap dishes starting from 30,000 – 35,000 VND (€1.15 – €1.30)
So there you go, guys! Why not spend a couple of days in Hanoi. It’s beautiful, and better again it’s easy on the pocket (you can tell I’m in charge of the budget).
Why not take a gander at our Hanoi Instagram highlights here if you fancy a giggle.
If there’s anything we can do or if you’ve any questions, you know where to find us. In the meantime…
Happy Travels TUG x
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