Wow, you’re going to Hanoi! I’m excited for you! Glad you decided to visit one of Vietnam’s most charming cities.
Hanoi stands as a favorite destination among backpackers for being a budget friendly destination, and the first port of entry into Vietnam.
It’s an interesting city with a lot to offer. So much so that it can be overwhelming and without a bit of insider advice, you may end up picking overly priced tours to Ha long Bay or lackluster choices for tours, hotels and food.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time in Hanoi and want to share you all the essential tips you need for an almost hassle free trip.
Before you get carried away about the awesome street food you’ll have, here is everything you need to prepare for a trip to Hanoi.
Check the weather
Don’t assume it’s all hot and sunny all year round. Vietnam may be a tropical country, but you should know that Hanoi has two distinct seasons that may affect your travel plans.
May to October is the wet season, hot and humid with the highest rainfall. July to September are often the wettest months of the year. During these months typhoons and flooding can delay tours in Northern Vietnam.
November to April is the dry season when temperatures average 17-22°C with the coldest months being January – March.
When is the best time to visit Vietnam?
There is really no right or wrong time to visit Hanoi as the city can be enjoyed all year round.
If you prefer pleasant and mild temperatures, then Fall (around September to November) and Spring (March and April) is your best bet.
Most people dislike rain and think it will ruin their trip. For those of you who don’t mind the wet weather are in for an authentic travel experience and exposure to local culture. You’ll get to see how the locals deal with the rain without complaining!
For more on the weather, see here.
The right visa
Many countries do not need a visa to enter Vietnam, but other nationalities need to get an entry visa prior to departure.
There are 2 main ways to obtain a Vietnam Visa.
- At the Vietnamese embassy or consulate in your country.
- A pre-approved letter for picking up an entry visa (issued on arrival at Vietnam’s International Airports) at the airport. See here.
Plan your journey
I’m not saying plan a detailed itinerary of every single place. The point is having an idea of where you want to go and for how many days. Vietnam is a big country and it’s likely you’d want to visit other destinations from Hanoi such as Sapa, Ha Long Bay, and Tam Coc. Familiarize yourself with Vietnam. Start reading this travel guide below!
The currency is the Vietnamese dong (VND). 1 USD is roughly 20,000 dong, while their biggest banknote is 1 million making you feel like a millionaire! It’s common for most restaurants and shopping malls to accept USD, but it will be more convenient for you to exchange your money into VND.
Many street vendors and street stalls will only accept Vnd. Besides, this will give you more of a local experience handling a different currency. More on How to exchange into VND later.
What to pack
Adaptors | Vietnam uses plug type A, C, and G.
You can easily buy converters or adapters at the airport and convenient stores and the price is around $4 per adapter. Alternatively, you can borrow one from your accommodation.
Dry bag | Chances are you’ll want to go on a boat tour in Ha Long Bay. Don’t let your wallet/purse or camera get soaked. Preparing a dry bag will keep your belongings from soaking from rain prone Northern Vietnam.
Raincoat|Regardless of the time of year, there’ll be bouts of rain. You can get a plastic poncho in Vietnam or pack a lightweight raincoat which is one of the best transitional travel items you can bring.
Trekking shoes| Trekking in Sapa is one of the must-do activities for visitors to Northern Vietnam. You will need proper trekking shoes which can be bought in Hanoi or you can bring a pair of your own. I personally prefer buying trekking shoes in Hanoi just to save luggage space!
Earplugs| Chances are you’ll be staying in the Old Quarter, which can get really noisy. Do yourself a favor and get earplugs. It might help you get a good night’s sleep!
Traveling during Tet
Tet is Vietnam’s most important and longest holiday which may last up to seven to nine days. I have traveled to Hanoi during this time, and truth be told I wasn’t exactly prepared for it. During Tet, the Vietnamese embark on a mass exodus, returning to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year with friends and family.
What to expect
Many places close and traveling is more difficult in the whole of Vietnam. Journeys that usually take 1hr will take longer. Don’t be surprised to know that buses, flights, and trains will be already fully booked in advance.
In Hanoi, some restaurants and bars are closed. The ones that do open charge more. Furthermore, all the museums are closed. Therefore, it’s also advisable to book your hotel up front, as a lot will already be booked.
If you’ll be in Vietnam during Tet, make sure you plan well ahead. Not only in Hanoi but everywhere. Other than that, Tet is a wonderful time to see the festive spirit of the Vietnamese, the streets brought to life with firecrackers and flower decorations.
Landing at the Noi Bai Airport
This might sound obvious, but following these steps will give you a good head start to your trip to Hanoi.
You’ll get a signed visa and a signed date stamp next to your visa in your passport. Hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs check this stamp in case they have to report information to the police.
Getting a Vietnam sim card should be the first thing you do at arrivals. You might need to use travel apps to navigate unfamiliar places or book your accommodation in advance. There are many booths or kiosks at the airport all selling well-known sim card brands such as Vietnamobile, MobiFone, Viettel and Vitaphone.
I recommend getting Vinaphone or Viettel because they have some convenient packages catered to travelers staying in Hanoi for less than a week. Whatever package you choose, sim cards are very cheap ranging from 5 -10 USD.
It’s true that sim cards in Hanoi city will be cheaper, but it’s more convenient for you to purchase one at the airport if you choose to book a taxi using Uber or Grab. More on Taxi apps below.
As you will need Vietnamese Dong to pay for your taxi to your hotel, I recommend exchanging at the airport because there is zero commission! Alternatively, there are banks and ATMs everywhere. Note that some ATMs limit you to 2 million (around 85 USD). What I suggest is you bring enough USD so it can be exchanged when you need.
This can be easily done at jewelry shops at 135 Hàng Bạc or at 67 Hàng Bạc where you may find better rates than at your hotel. (Just make sure you know the current exchange rates)
Requesting a taxi is from the airport very easy from these well-known companies:
• Noi Bai airport taxi
• Mai Linh
• Vietnam Transfer Service
• Hanoi Airport Taxi
• Noi Bai Taxi
• Noi Bai Airport service
• Hanoi Transfer Service
Taxi fares are charged according to taxi meters and can cost between 250,000 to 400,000 VND.
Grab and Uber | Ordering a ride from these apps can work out cheaper and take the hassle out of explaining to your driver where you need to go ( most drivers speak minimal or no English) instead the apps do it for you. If you’re a budget traveler, you can always share the fare cost with other travelers
Download Essential apps
Google Trips | Supremely fast and easy to use. It’s like Lonely planet light in a nutshell. Google Trips works out plans for you in the Day plans section. Sightseeing, entertainment, local haunts to food & drink, G trips has it all covered. It might be a bit unnerving as you can see it creates a huge list of all the trips you’ve ever taken – your tickets and hotel reservations all show up instantly.
Grab|This ride-hailing app is one of my favorite ways to travel around Asia while saving money on trips. It’s very similar to Uber but is actually cheaper and lets you know your exact fare from A to B. I personally use it from the airport to avoid getting ripped off by local Taxi Drivers.
Accommodation apps | Booking.com, Hostelworld, and Agoda are all good apps to secure your stay in an instant.
Tripadvisor | You might be one of those people who needs someone else to give you the thumbs up before you try anything. The TripAdvisor app will serve you well.
XE Currency App | Access live exchange rates in a touch of a button. This is one of my go-to apps when traveling anywhere in the world.
Tricount | Keep track of your expenses and if you’re traveling with a group you can share expenses with them.
Although not necessary by law, it is still recommended to get vaccinations for Vietnam. Many travelers choose cover against Typhoid and Hepatitis A, which can be contracted through contaminated food or water, regardless of where you are eating or staying in Vietnam. Check here for more information.
Travel insurance and Safety
Hanoi is a relatively safe city for travelers, but you should keep your belongings well secured.
Unlucky travelers have reported bag snatching by fast motorbike riders or their cameras quietly taken during bus journeys.
It’s best to be vigilant at night and keep your belongings padlocked during journeys. Travel insurance is strongly recommended, so why not check out World Nomads insurance. They’re my favorite!