Hanoi weekend trip: What to eat, see & do in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a bustling city full of energy. Located in the Northern region of Vietnam, Hanoi is one of the country’s best tourist hot spots. Despite the great influx of tourists, much of Hanoi’s local way of life can still be found in the Hanoi’s Old Quarter – a maze of 36 tumultuous streets in the Hoan Kiem District.
Much of the Old Quarter’s architecture are deeply influenced by the French and Sino-Vietnamese. Despite the many wars, the Old Quarter has withstood most damages and has retained much of its original traits. Located near the Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter is filled with life from day to night. The itinerary we are about to share is suitable for walking, where eateries and attractions are within <10 mins walk from each other.
Caution: Exploring the Old Quarter is nothing like a stroll in the park. Get ready to experience the locals’ seemingly chaotic way of life as you jaywalk across streets packed with bicycles, cars, scooters, vendors and pedestrians from all directions. Crossing the crazy streets while facing incessant honking and incoming traffic may be daunting for visitors, but clearly not an issue for the street vendors who tread around fearlessly with their loots. For the locals, the act of pushing their carts while skilfully dodging the ongoing traffic is simply a daily routine. Exploring Hanoi’s historical Old Quarters is a must-do and definitely well worth the hustle.
Day 1 | Saturday
Box Hotel – Cheapest and Chicest Backpacker Themed Hotel
We strongly recommend the Box Hotel located at 16 Hàng Buồm for a cheap and no-frills accommodation. The Box Hotel opened its doors in mid 2014 and is a beautiful backpacker themed hotel. There are 3 different types of rooms available – Dorm, Box Room and Family Room to cater to varying needs. Single travellers who enjoy their privacy will be glad to know that each bed has its own drawing curtain. As seen in the picture above, there is also a safe box at the end of the bed to store one’s valuables. One can spend a night in shared dorm with just US$5. For those who do not wish to share their room with strangers, the Box Room (up to 2 pax) and the Family Room (consists of 1 king and 1 single Bed) will be ideal at US$17 and US$19 per room respectively.
An additional US$5 entitles one to breakfast (pho or Viet-style English breakfast) and free flow draft beers!
Tip: Choose the Box/Family room if you do not wish to share your room with strangers.
Address: 16 Hàng Buồm, Hà Noi, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Noi Bai Int’l Airport: 41 mins drive (without traffic)
Banh My P – the best vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi) in town
Banh Mi is the Vietnamese term for French baguette. Introduced by the French during the colonial days, the Banh Mi is a fluffier version of its French counterpart with a thinner crust. It is also called a Vietnamese sandwich. Stuffed with either grilled chicken or pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, spreadable pork liver and shredded vegetables. Banh My P does a fantastic job in creating the tastiest Banh Mi – a crispy outer crust, moist centre and generous fillings at the cheapest price. The best part is, each Banh Mi costs less than US$1.20!
Tip: For guaranteed satisfaction, add a fried egg in your sandwich.
Address: 12 Hàng Buồm, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Box Hotel: 1 min walk
Cafe Giảng – A hidden gem famous for their Egg Coffee
A trip to the Old Quarter is only complete when you drop by Cafe Giang for their unique Ca Phe Trung (egg coffee). Cafe Giang’s egg coffee is made with egg yolk that has been whisked till fluffy with condensed milk, cheese and butter, before dripping Vietnamese coffee onto the frothy mixture. If you have a soft spot for tiramisu, Ca Phe Trung is definitely the perfect beverage for you. The cup is placed in a bowl of warm water to retain the coffee’s warmth. If you can, try both the egg coffee and egg chocolate!
Do not rush into the most visible store along the street upon arriving at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan. There are 3 stalls under the same address and Cafe Giang is in the shadiest location. To get to Cafe Giang, one would have to walk through a narrow pathway before getting into the shop. A glimpse of the kitchen is eventually revealed and on the left is a staircase leading you to the shop’s upper deck.
Tip: There are 3 shops under the same location and Cafe Giang is the least visible.
Address: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Banh My P: 5 mins walk
Hoan Kiem Lake vincinity – where all the buzz is
After your coffee break, take a stroll down towards Hoan Kiem Lake to explore the area. Therein lies many souvenir shops – bright and colourful Vietnamese hand sewn bags and pouches, lacquered egg shell bowls, paintings, gift cards and clothing. It is a great place to purchase souvenirs for friends and families but do remember to bargain for a lower price! Haggle for about 40% – 50% less before settling for the price that you are willing to pay. We bought beautiful silk sleeping bags which did a great job in keeping us warm at Sapa Valley.
Tip: Bargain for an even lower price when purchasing numerous items.
Address: Hoan Kiem lake, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam | Refer to “Souvenir etc” on map at the bottom
Distance from Cafe Giang: 5 mins walk
Orchids Spa – Relax and Enjoy a Vietnamese Massage
There are aplenty of massage parlours in the Old Quarter that would leave your body rejuvenated. Vietnamese massages are highly influenced by Chinese therapies, hence involving a lot of kneading on one’s muscle knots. They are inherently different from Thai massages that constitutes more limb movements and stretching. Orchids Spa provides a long list of services from foot Massages, facial treatments to full body massages. We tried the 60 minutes Foot Massage (USD $11.50) and the 75 minutes Hot Stone Body Massage (USD $20) and were so pleased with their services that we actually returned to Orchids Spa the following day.
Tip: You can make an online booking to secure an appointment.
Address: 34 Lương Ngọc Quyến, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Hoan Kiem Lake: 5 – 10 mins walk
Bio 45 – Drink draft beers the local way
Bio 45 was our favourite shop to go to while we were at the Old Quarter. Beers sold in Hanoi are generally very cheap and Bio 45’s beers were no exception. Their addictive fried food were also worth the calories. There are many Vietnamese-style bars and pubs similar to Bio 45 in the area. The local Hanoians love to sit outdoors with their back facing the shop and watch the night pass by whilst indulging in sinful deep fried fries and draft beers.
Tip: If you prefer something healthier, go for their refreshing mango salad.
Address: Opposite 34 Lương Ngọc Quyến, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Orchids Spa: 1 min walk
Day 2 | Sunday
Pho Ga Xua – Best Glutinous Rice with Steamed Chicken
On your second day at the Old Quarter, head down the street from the Box Hotel and you will arrive at Pho Ga Xua within a 4 mins walk. This restaurant is a must try and we highly recommend you make time to visit Pho Ga Xua even if you don’t live a stone throw away from it. They serve Pho (Vietnamese glass noodles) and Xoi (glutinous rice topped with fried onion). Like most Vietnamese shops, their Pho was brilliant but what captured our attention the most was their Xoi served with steamed chicken. The glutinous rice was fragrant, the chicken was tender and the drizzled light sauce gave it a perfect finishing touch.
Tip: We honestly think you will regret sharing your bowl of Xoi.
Address: 52 Hàng Buồm, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Box Hotel: 4 mins walk
Dong Xuan Market – where the locals gather to barter and trade
Dong Xuan Market is the oldest market in its vicinity. The market practically sells everything! From clothes, household appliances, fresh produce, dried food to handmade souvenirs, there is definitely something for everyone. In the middle of the market is Cho Dong Xuan and they sell mainly wholesale shoes, bags and clothes. The remaining street vendors surrounding the building offer cooked food, flowers, dried food and the likes.
Titillate your appetite with authentically exotic Hanoi dishes such as steamed crab, uncooked duck blood and South Vietnamese style cooked beef. What we love about the market was its vibrant atmosphere. Dong Xuan Market is definitely the place to go to immerse yourself in Hanoi’s local culture.
Tip: Visit in the morning to experience the best of Dong Xuan Market.
Address: Đồng Xuân, Đồng Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Pho Ga Xua: 5 mins walk
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen – Try their signature Hanoian steamed crepe
Another Vietnamese classic dish to try would be Banch Cuon, a rice vermicelli savoury crepe. Canontese will find this dish akin to Chee Cheong Fan with fillings, except that it is not as nicely rolled up. Banh Cuon crepes are usually stuffed with mushrooms and minced pork, topped with fried onions and comes with a bowl of fish dipping sauce mixed with lemon and sugar. My companions enjoyed it thoroughly and I found it too bland. Nevertheless, it was still an interesting experience to have a taste of what the local Vietnamese eat.
Tip: If you are a vegetarian, ask for plain Banh Cuon.
Address: 14 Hàng Gà, Hàng Bồ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Dong Xuan Market: 8 mins walk
Cong Ty Quan Phat – Economical-style Vietnamese diner
Cong Ty Quan Phat is a great alternative for cautious diners who are afraid of sampling local exotic dishes on the streets due to hygiene reasons. The concept at Cong Ty Quan Phat is similar to Singapore’s cai fan aka economical rice style – at the counter you would point and select your dishes you desire, which would then be served to you in small portions along with rice or teochew porridge. Our favourite side dish was the mouthwateringly tender and sweet braised pork. The other dishes were unfortunately not worth raving about. If you are a fan of ginger, don’t forget to order their honey lemon ginger tea.
Tip: Their braised pork dish is a must-order.
Address: Đồng Xuân, Đồng Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance from Banh Cuon Gia Truyen: 5 mins walk
You can download the free itinerary in pdf document here and word document here. Feel free to tweak it to your own preferences.
Below is a Google map of all the places we have visited during our weekend trip to Hanoi:
Disclaimer: We embarked on this weekend trip to Hanoi in mid December 2014 and are not liable for any inaccuracies. Do email us at email@example.com if you spot any outdated information.