Luang Prabang, Laos
19.8833° N, 102.1333° E
We wrapped up our trip in Vietnam with way too much time (10 days – 3 in Ha Long Bay) in Hanoi.
It’s nothing against Hanoi, but having fallen in love with Saigon we just didn’t feel like Hanoi lived up.
Why did we spend so much time in Hanoi you ask? Well, we made a decision not to revisit Bali & the gilis in exchange for adding a cheaper alternative and a place we’ve never been, Laos. Choosing Laos over Bali, kept us in a closer region (aka less travel time) as well as cut off the long list of places we wanted to revisit in Indonesia giving us more time in Vietnam. I’m also always being reminded by my hard working husband less is more. Less travel and longer stays means we can have a better routine.
So while we agree the average traveler probably only needs 2-3 days max (+ 3 days in Ha Long Bay) we were able to comfortably do everything Hanoi had to offer while launching a new product (even Courtney helped on this one!), Court did daily yoga, and we maintained a daily run schedule!
So while we can cross off Hanoi as a possible permanent location, I’m happy to say we made the Golden Palace in Hanoi our home for a little over a week. The Golden Palace was awesome. We paid $25 for our first night and negotiated that down to $20 for the rest of them. To put this into prospective, we just paid $20 a night for a room the size of our double bed, aircon that didn’t work, w/o ensuite, (it did have a TV, but we never turned it on.) At the Golden Palace our $20 a night room not only had aircon and a flat screen TV with movie channels, but we also had the most comfortable bed we’ve slept on so far, a desk and chair for Tom to work, enough room to lay down my yoga mat, and a massaging shower! Your money goes a LONG way in Vietnam and it’s often worth the extra $5.
Other places we checked out:
The Original Hanoi Backpackers:
The name says it all. Our new Aussie mate Mitch stayed there and loved it. That’s also how we heard about the backpacker’s pub crawl. You can get a dorm bed for $5. Double rooms run about $20 though and I think the little hotels surpass the hostels for value.
This is a new hostel that just opened. The rooms were super spacious and the place was very clean. They just opened and were running the deal stay 2 nights get the 3rd free. There is a good chance they might continue that as that was a common deal we found.
Things to Do:
Take a side trip!
Hanoi has a handful of things it offers, the most popular being the hop off point to Ha Long Bay and Sapa.
Run around the Lake
Or walk. Regardless the lake is the center of town and always a good option. For people watching.
The ancient district of Hanoi is set up so each street has a theme. This isn’t as strict as it once used to be, but you will find many streets do still stick to their categories. We enjoyed searching for a North face Jacket (<$20), shoes for Tom (<$15), and war propaganda posters ($4 a piece).
Visit the Hanoi Hilton
Hanoi is home to the Hanoi Hilton or Hỏa Lò Prison the famous prison John McCain was held in during his time as a POW. From our visit, I learned how inhumane the French were to the Vietnamese during their control and how kind and humane the Vietnamese were to the American soldiers during the Vietnam war. Pictures in the Hanoi Hilton show Americans enjoying a wonderful Christmas dinner, playing volleyball to past the time, and receiving souvenirs as they ended their stay and returned home.
Do the Backpackers Pub Crawl
We took part in original backpackers evening pub crawl to send our new mate Mitch back to Australia. Most hostels offer free beer for their guests from 6-7 and the Hanoi Rocks offers free beer for everyone from 5-6 and 8-9 daily.
Visit the downed B52 Bomber
It is a bit out of the city (5K) so get your walking shoes on or take a cab, but it’s definitely worth visiting Ho Huu Tiep, a small block long lake in the middle of a cute Hanoi neighborhood. It’s also close to a huge park which is a great break from all the motorcycles in Hanoi.
What/Where to Eat
We found quality street food harder to find in Hanoi then Saigon. We can say with certainty that we definitely prefer the Pho in the south better. What we did find in Hanoi, however, is the new family favorite soup Bun Cha.
Bun Cha is pork, cucumber and carrot served in a fish sauce broth and garnished with chili, garlic, and greens. It was the first meal we had when we arrived and we had it at least once of not twice a day the rest of our stay.
The best places to find it are along the shopping streets of the Ancient Quarter on the North East side of the lake between the lake and the green pepper.
You can actually find Quan Bun Cha Hang Manh on google maps at the corner of Hang Non and Hang Manh. We found their Bun Cha to be pretty tasty and definitely had the largest portions, however, they often increased the cost. Market value is 40,000 Dong per Bun Cha and 10,000 per egg roll. Quan Bun Cha charges 65,000 and for roughly $3 it’s a pretty bomb meal. (We were charged 90,000 our first meal in town. Ask the price before you sit down and you’ll get fair price, ask after you’ll pay!)
This was our favorite westernized restaurant. At $4-5 a dish prices were pretty good. We loved the tofu curry and Thai salad. Don’t order the Sapporo draft. For 1/2 the price and 3x the size a tiger beer is the way to go.
We stopped in here our last night and were so glad we did. It was probably the most expensive meal we had ($16 for 3 entrées) but it was definitely one of the best! The story kind of got lost in translation but the owner has cooked for Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and the king and queen of Spain.
66 Hang Bong BBQ
Hanoi is also the home to the best BBQ we had in Vietnam. We found it our 3rd night in town and it dramatically increased Hanoi quality of life. Pick your own basket full of food with choices of squid, chicken, pork, beef, cow’s tongue, frog, and many veggie options. Wash it down with a Hanoi Beer and you have a great meal. We weren’t daring enough to try frog or cow’s tongue ourselves, but our friends were raving about frog meat!
Where to drink
The name is pretty accurate as to get to this coffee shop you have to find the hidden staircase amongst the shops below. It is worth it though as the coffee is awesome and corner view of the city even better!
We ended up here a couple times, mostly because they gave us discounted Shisha. It is fun to sit on the street, and if you head upstairs they have a jenga set!
We never actually had a beer here. They don’t serve anything special, but the green pepper is the center of the party in Hanoi. If you can get a seat, you’ll be at one of the busiest corners in town, ideal for people watching.
Another place we didn’t actually hit, but I hear it is the 1 place that stays open past midnight. We had one late night when Little Prague stayed open because we had a large party and as we were walking home, the city was dead. Everything shuts down and looks the same at night and most places close much earlier than you would expect in a city.