You get off your plane and you're shocked by how busy this capital city can get. It gets you thinking: What should you do in Hanoi? Here are some budget things you can do:
Do as the locals do
Sit on a plastic chair, drink bia hoi and people-watch. This is a favorite activity of the locals. Walk down any street and you'll find several shops with plastic chairs to post up in. Bia hoi is fresh locally brewed beer, but don't get too excited... it's no craft beer. In fact, it's the lightest of light beers (which is not really my thing), but it's SO cheap (about 40-50 cents USD for a glass) that you just can't pass the opportunity to try it. The beautiful thing about Hanoi is that life happens on the street. As you sip on your super light-light beer, watch people getting haircuts, men lifting weights and playing chess, children playing games and women catching up with friends – all taking place on the sidewalk. It's something to be seen.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Head to the Hoan Kiem Lake and take stroll around it. If you're there in the evening, do as the locals do and by ice cream from one of the many street stands. The lake particularly beautiful when the sun goes down and the colored lights come on.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Book your tickets for the popular Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre at the northeast corner of the lake (it's a good show to see when your first visiting Vietnam, but if you are crunched for time don't go out of your way to see it). Tickets are cheap (60,000 - 100,000 dong, which is between $3-5 USD) and there are many showtimes each day, but they book up quickly so get there in the morning to book that afternoon or for the next day.
Downtown Night Market
Explore downtown Hanoi, which is relatively calm during the day but really livens up for the night market.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
You can take a tuk tuk or walk 2 km from the lake to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It's a huge communist-style structure surrounded by a nice park to walk around and get away from the buzzing city.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Get lost in the winding, messy, chaotic, narrow streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter. There's no place like this city, and getting lost is the best way to explore it.
Eating Bun Cha
This is a top contender for our favorite Vietnamese dish, and we think you'll love it too! Originating in Hanoi, this dish consists of grilled pork patties and noodles served with lettuce and herbs and a dipping sauce. We had two delicious meals of Bun Cha in Hanoi and it was too hard to choose a winner so I'm putting both. One was in a small shop on the northeast corner of St. Joseph's Cathedral and the other was at a restaurant called Bun Cha Ta at 21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân. Try them both to compare and let us know which one you liked better. And this is just one of the ubiquitous dishes to try in Hanoi.
For international food in a relaxed atmosphere, look no further than the Hanoi Social Club. With several levels, including a quiet rooftop and tons of inventive and healthy food to choose from, this is a great non-Vietnamese option. Best of all, they are vegetarian-friendly and regularly host live music and other events.
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