When I went to Pattaya, Thailand last year for my 25th birthday solo travel, I met Vietnam-based Australian teacher Warren Cowley (who graciously paid for our tuktuk ride!) and told him how I managed to solo travel Thailand on a dirt-cheap budget. He told me: “If you think Bangkok is cheap, Vietnam will make it look expensive.” And the rest, as they say, is history. When I returned home, I was itching to book my next solo travel adventure and by February 2016, ta-dahhh.. I finally booked that Manila-Hanoi plane ticket! 🙂
For the uninitiated and untrained eyes, Hanoi can be pretty daunting and intimidating. The solo backpacker that I am, I rode a public bus from Noi Bai International Airport to the Old Quarter in downtown Hanoi. and boy was I in for one hell of a motorbike experience! As mentioned in my previous “Why I ‘solo traveled’ Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand“, this is all part of why I did this trip, to go out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to know how far I can go.
Vietnam roads are heavily populated by motorbikes, it’s the country’s main mode of public transportation. I had a hard time crossing the streets in the fear of getting bumped by motorbikes which come out everywhere (yes, from all sides of the streets!). I couldn’t even properly cross the streets and thought “What was I getting myself into?” Hanoi traffic looks very chaotic, much worse than Manila. But after a few hours of roaming around the Old Quarter, Hanoi looked to me as if everything’s synchronized, something that non-local people and visitors would find hard to appreciate.
The Old Quarter, as the name suggests, springs you back to the old Vietnam. Even though we’re already on the 21st century, the Old Quarter seemed to have retained its charm that will take you decades ago, which makes it very fascinating. And in this post, I will let you have a glimpse of lovely Hanoi from my own personal experience. When I research about a new travel destination, I usually break the budget and other details down to the following: accommodation, food and beverage, transportation, tours and shopping.
Accommodation for solo travelers in Hanoi
If you’re a solo traveler like me, accommodation can be quite challenging as you have no one to split your room fee with but yourself. This is the part I consider most important of the five factors because accommodation cost can either make or break your budget, especially if you’re staying long in one destination. If you can afford it, then by all means, book that USD50++ hotel room per night. But if you’re on a budget, you can kiss that five-star hotel goodbye. So my advice for solo travelers who are on a budget? HOSTELS. It’s a no-brainer.. stay at hostels!
While prices may vary depending on the location, hostels are generally cheap. That being said, in most cases, hostels do not have the amenities five-star hotels offer, but it’s fine as you’re supposed to be outside exploring what that place has to offer. I’d rather spend my money on experience like food and tours rather than spend it on fancy expensive hotels. You’re not supposed to be sitting at the comfort of your hotel room all day! So why do I recommend staying at hostels? Apart from it helps stretch your budget, staying at hostels is the surefire way of meeting new people. And this is the part where I debunk the preconceived notion that ‘solo travel is boring’. As long as you are open to meeting new people, you are never alone as you get to meet new people along the way, in the pantry, in the common area, etc.
During my four-day stay in Hanoi, I stayed for three nights in See You at Lily’s and one night at Hotel Rendezvous. I am completely fine with my first two nights at See You at Lily’s, only that I actually forgot that I booked the next two nights with Rendezvous via Booking.com, and the free cancellation period has already lapsed, so in any case, my credit card will be charged, so I thought of staying at Rendezvous just so I could utilize my payment. Needless to say, I do recommend See You at Lily’s when you stay in Hanoi. I will be posting a separate blog review on all the hostels I stayed at across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand — so keep tabs! 🙂
Transportation in Hanoi
The budget solo traveler that I am, I never rode a taxi or any private car to get from one place to another in Hanoi. Just like in accommodation expenses, this can be a downside of solo travelling when you have not done enough research prior to your actual trip. This is where you reap the benefits of doing research.. by riding public transportation, instead of booking a private vehicle which would charge you sky-high prices from USD20 and up.
What I like about Hanoi is you have a lot of options from the airport going to the city center and vice versa, taxis are the best options if you have the money to spend. But since I was on a budget and was being adventurous, I took the public bus route. From Noi Bai International Airport, I rode the public bus no. 86 going to Long Bien Station for only 30,000VND (approx PHP60), then rode a motorbike going to Hoan Kiem Lake for about 50,000VND. This was a bit higher than usual, but since I was really tired that time, I no longer haggled and hopped on the motorbike right away.
Top three cuisines in Hanoi
I don’t understand why and how the Vietnamese can be sooo creative with their delicious cuisines and remain generally thin. They have a vassstttt selection of cuisines that definitely will make you want to eat more!
- Buncha – Buncha, buncha, bunchaaaaa!! One of the reasons I went to Hanoi was to try the famous local Vietnam food pho which means rice noodle. Also to understand why Erwan Heusaff was going gaga over this rice noodle soup on his Overnight in Hanoi video on Youtube and thought I should give this bowl a try. But bun cha, ughh, bun cha. Just typing it makes me salivate already, yes, no exaggerations!
- Egg coffee and milk coffee – Worthy to mention that I had about eight cups of this in my four-day stay in Hanoi. Egg coffee is traditionally prepared with egg yolk, sugar, condensed milk and Robusta coffee. As per BuzzFeed, it’s like drinking a liquid tiramisu cake. Can you imagine it, cos I definitely couldn’t agree more.
- Matcha coffee bun – This was introduced to me by newfound friend Keena. This is heaven. I could easily eat three buns of this in a single sitting.
- Bahn mi – Vietnamese style sandwich. but is more popular in the south, Ho Chi Minh.
- Pho – Pho was one of the local food I was really looking forward to tasting because of Erwan Heusaff’s ‘Overnight in Hanoi’ YouTube video, but to me, it’s just fine. I might be missing something but I tried it thrice at three different restos, and I’m convinced.. while it tastes good, but it just didn’t live up to my expectation. While its tastes good, but it’s not really something that would make me want to go back to Hanoi. Feel free to suggest the best resto in Hanoi so I could give it a try when I get back.
Top three must-visit tourist spots in Hanoi
There are a lot of must-visit tourist spots in Hanoi and I’m pretty sure this post won’t do enough justice to showcase why you should visit these places. But as a reference for solo travelers, you can start off with this list
- Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple – This is where the center of Old Quarter happens. Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Island) connected to the shore by the Morning Sunlight Bridge
- Vietnam War Remnants Museum
- St Joseph Cathedral
Other notable places I have visited are the following: Vladimir Lenin Statue, Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mauseoleum, Temple of Literature, Hoa Lo Prison, and one of my favorites.. Always, the Harry Potter-themed coffee shop which serves food and beverages patterned after those featured in the series like Butterbeer, Polyjuice Potion and Felix Felicis or the luck potion.
Shopping in Hanoi
I really regretted not buying stuff at the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Since Hanoi is the first stop in my five-city trip, I purposely delayed buying stuff at the latter part of the trip since I was very conscious of my budget and I might overspend. Of course, no one would not want to go on a journey with a shortage of money. But trust me, Hanoi is reallyyy reallyyy cheaappp. I couldn’t emphasize this any better. So to keep this short.. SHOP IN HANOI!!!!
Please note that this is on account of my personal experience in Hanoi and this does not necessarily generalize the city as my four-day stay could not represent Hanoi as a whole. So, here’s a brief summary:
Transportation – 3
Food and beverage: 4.5
Average = 3.8
I had a really really great time in Hanoi and I look forward to visiting it again next year and explore other places Hanoi has to offer! It comes in second after Bangkok as my favorite destination in the five cities I’ve visited in this trip. In contrary to what others say, solo traveling in Hanoi is great. As for security, just like in any other city, you just have to be vigilant and always be wary of the people around you.
So if you still have questions, feel free to send me a message on Facebook, tweet me on Twitter or leave it as a comment below! I’ll be answering all your questions in my upcoming posts sooo.. Keep them coming!
PS: For those asking for the budget and itinerary details of my trip, I will post it as soon as I declutter my ‘expense schedule’ files. 🙂