The Ultimate Guide to Hanoi for Beginners
This weeks post is brought to you from Jess of Tripelio: Jess is a writer and blogger who loves to travel! Having visited places all over the globe, traveling is both her love and addiction (and she doesn’t want to be cured!). Jess is currently getting ready for her next adventure in Eastern Europe. You can keep up with her travels on Twitter: @JessTripelio, or on her blog: tripelio.com.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and the country's second-largest city, is a fascinating place to visit, a place where travelers can really see the unique mesh of French colonialism with traditional Vietnamese life. The city is often treated as just a necessary stopover on the backpacker's route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, but it's definitely worthy of at least a few days in your itinerary.
Look into whether or not you need a visa to travel to Vietnam. Most visitors do, including those from the United States, Canada and many European countries. If you'll arrive into Vietnam by air, you may be eligible for a visa on arrival.
These are often the cheapest option, rather than applying for a visa at a Vietnamese embassy or consulate abroad, but you'll still need to think ahead some. In order to get a VOA, you need to have a sponsorship letter. This can be obtained from one of a number of agencies which can be found online.
Weather and When to Go
The weather in Vietnam is usually mild and humid, but spring and fall are generally the best seasons to visit Hanoi. In the summer, it's often uncomfortably warm and humid, and the summer months are usually the wettest months of the year. In the winter, although the city doesn't get too cold in terms of air temperature, the wind, and the humidity can make it feel a lot colder than it actually is.
You'll be able to get Vietnamese đồng from ATMs in most cities and at many tourist sites, as well as from exchange offices. Don't take out more than you'll need while you're in the country. Because it's such a weak currency, you'll find that it's often difficult to find a place to exchange your đồng for dollars, euros or other foreign currencies, especially if you try to do this after you've left Vietnam. Also important to note: even though many places advertise prices in dollars, you're generally expected to pay with đồng. This can be confusing to those who have travelled to certain other countries in Southeast Asia.
Netflix, Texting & Plugs, Oh My!
Vietnam uses a variety of socket styles, so although you may not end up needing a plug adapter depending on where you stay, it might be better to carry one just in case. Nothing is more frustrating than needing to charge something and not being able to. The country calling code is +84.
With regards to computers, geo-blocking is a problem that travelers usually encounter due to copyright restrictions. For example, if you try to access Netflix abroad, you may receive an error message saying that Netflix isn't available in your current location. But geo-blocking can be a form of government censorship as well, and the Vietnamese government has been known to block a variety of sites, including social media sites. Fortunately, there's a way around this.
If you install a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you'll be able to hide your IP address from the sites you access, making it appear as if you were somewhere else in the world.
This means you can stream Netflix or access social media sites just as though you were back home in your living room. A VPN will also encrypt the information your computer sends out about you, meaning your web-traffic is less likely to be intercepted by government spies or hackers.
Note from the Editor: Netflix Travel Hacking? Read my post showing you how-to.
Hanoi has a ton of museums, temples, parks and more to appeal to any sort of traveler, so we won't cover them all here. You'll definitely want to do more research, but here are some ideas to get you started:
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is a must-see while you're there; you'll feel both as though you've stepped back in time and into another world, in this place where French colonial architecture and neon signs combine. While you're exploring the history of the city, make sure you swing by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Hoa Lo Prison.
Take a break from the history and check out the Dong Xuan Market, the largest market in Hanoi. Be on the lookout for silk goods, paintings, and other traditional handicrafts, but know that they aren't as easily found in this market as they are in other markets around Vietnam. Instead, soak up the local culture here and at the Water Puppet Theatre, where you can view puppet shows in this unique style, which dates back to the eleventh century.
If you have time, take a trip out to Halong Bay. The bay is located about 100 miles east of Hanoi, but it's easy to visit on a minibus or with a tour from Hanoi. There are well over a thousand islands in the bay, many of which jut out of the water in impressive, steep-sided cliffs dotted with caves. The area is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. of protected sites, and it's an incredibly unique place to explore.
Vietnam is a special country, and Hanoi does a great job of displaying both traditional and modern culture. From the sights to the fantastic food, you're sure to find plenty to love here. Whether Hanoi is just a stopover on your journey to Ho Chi Minh City or your base to explore the north of the country, you're sure to find plenty to keep you occupied and entertained.