After an amazing two days exploring the Mekong Delta we took a two-hour flight all the way north to Ha Noi. We were quite excited about Ha Noi as we had heard all good things about it and from the minute we landed we knew exactly why – we instantly LOVED it! It was quite different to HCMC as we found it a lot greener, less people (only 7 million not 10 million so obviously still extremely chaotic) and the people were even more friendly. We booked a airport transfer through the hotel to avoid being ripped off again which was great as it took away a lot of stress (mainly on my behalf). Our driver was there waiting for us – it cost $15 NZD (250,000 VND) and it took 45 minutes to get into to the old quarter.
We stayed at the Gia Thinh Grand Hotel and the location was PERFECT. We were right in the heart of the old quarter which was awesome! We booked one of their Balcony Suites which we found on Airbnb but it wasn’t until we arrived that we found out it was actually part of a boutique hotel. This was great as there was always someone round when we needed help and the staff were super friendly and helpful. Our balcony suite was basic, quite noisy from the tooting and people outside, not that clean but we knew that from reading the reviews prior to booking however, the price, aircon and the location were too bloody good to care.
Our first day in Ha Noi was spent exploring the local sites, finding our bearings and soaking up the new environment. We would recommend making time to see the following beautiful and iconic sites.
Hoan Kiem Lake
This lake is known as the centre piece of the city – it takes about 30 – 45 minutes to walk around it and the Den Ngoc Son Temple with the beautiful red bridge (which sits on the lake) is definitely worth a visit. The area is best Fridays to Sundays when traffic is banned making it rather peaceful and much easier to self navigate. 6am is the best time to walk around the lake as it is a lot cooler and many of the locals practise traditional t’ai chi on the side of the lake making for some great shots.
St Josephs Cathedral
This is worth the visit just to get a stunning insta. This cathedral was inspired by the Notre Dame in paris and has a spectacular facade with the most beautiful stain glass windows and twin bell towers as the entrance. Keep in mind you are only allowed into the cathedral during mass hours (the times are listed on the main gates).
Located at the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake the French Quarter his home to some of the most amazing five star hotels, upmarket restaurants, great shopping venues, government buildings and personal houses all with a beautiful french influence. For an ultimate luxury experience or even just a stroll through like we did (cause it was too expensey to stay there) is the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi – it was next level luxurious and is definitely now on our bucket list of places to stay when we are millionaires (so never, but dreams are FOC).
Weekend Night Market
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the streets are closed off to traffic and turn into busy bustling stalls selling street food, art, souvenirs and clothing. Its absolutely packed with tourists so i recommend getting in and out asap. However, in saying that make sure you try some iconic Hanoi dishes including banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), bun cha (rice noodles with grilled pork), bun thang (rice vermicelli with chicken, fried egg and pork), La Vong (grilled fish) and pho (chicken or beef noodle soup).
Wander the old quarter, eat street food and drink the famous Vietnamese coffee
We loved strolling through this beautiful part of Ha Noi, we bought a beautiful piece of art which is now hanging up in our hallway, we felt a lot safer and the people were absolutely amazing!
Some of our standout restaurants from our time in Ha Noi were:
- Marvel Restaurant – would recommend making a reservation
- Red Bean Restaurant or Red Bean Trendy Restaurant
- The Gourmet Corner – GREAT views!
- Home Vietnamese Restaurant
- Quam An Noon
- Kalina Cafe
If you’re wanting to get above the crowds or even the clouds a roof top bar in Ha Noi is a MUST. We headed to the Summit Lounge which sits 20 floors up on on the old Sofitel Hotel now known as the prestigious Pan Pacific Hotel and has the most unbelievable panoramic views of Hanoi and the West Lake. With these great views obviously come sightly steeper prices – expect to pay a little more than you would on the street but for a cocktail or two you’re looking at around 180K VND ($11NZD) each and it was totally worth it for an amazing experience.
After spending a successful full day exploring Ha Noi we decided to book a day tour through our hotel and head in towards Ninh Binh Provence (recommend by our host Long in Saigon). Ninh Binh is approximately two hours south of Ha Noi and is known for its unbelievable scenery. Our main reason for heading out this way was to see the Bai Dinh Temple and to visit the Trang An Scenic Landscape complex – it goes without saying, we would 100% recommend making time to do the same as it was beyond SPECTACULAR!
Bai Dinh Temple sits perched on Bai Dinh Mountain and consists of multiple buddhist temples within the entire complex. The compound is 540 hectares making it the largest Temple in the whole of South East Asia and a very popular site for buddhist pilgrimages from all across Vietnam. Note: Be prepared to climb roughly 400 steps – we were so bloody close to giving up however our guide Vinny was quick to mention that it is bad luck if you do not make it to the top…
Trang An is what they call in-land Ha Long Bay. It is a UNESCO word heritage site and was by far a standout on our trip (despite it being a ridiculous 45 degrees). While it is possible to walk or drive around this beautiful complex we chose to paddle our way through (slash pay to have someone paddle us). The boat driver sits at the back with her two large oars and paddles us down the large emerald green river passing some of the most impressive limestone karst peaks. We didn’t really know what we were signing up or for how long we would be – probably something we should have asked as it was ridiculously hot but we sit back, enjoy the ride AND the view.
With mountains surrounding us in every direction and approximately 50 caves (we didn’t venture into them all) its was such a spectacular way to see Trang An and we would recommend this ten times over. If you are interested – it takes approx. two hours and be sure to take sunscreen, a fan and water as it can get ridiculously hot out on the water and there is limited shade on the boats.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our time in Ha Noi – it was everything we had pictured and more with the french inspired historic charm Hanoi is so famous for. We were now 5 days in to our trip and both found we were definitely starting to relax and unwind enhancing the experience even more.
Stay tuned and next up … the stunning HA LONG BAY!
L & A