Hanoi has an abundance of hotels at different price points. The majority of visitors stay in the Old Quarter (near Hoan Kiem Lake) or in the Ho Tay expat district (near West Lake).
We recommend staying in the Old Quarter for an authentic tourist experience. Alternatively, if you are elderly or do not want to immerse yourself in the middle of Hanoi’s hustle and bustle, we recommend staying in the West Lake area, where it's cleaner, quieter, more relaxed, and only a short (and cheap) taxi drive to the Old Quarter. Both places have accommodations at very reasonable prices and are within arm’s reach of delicious food and exciting things to do.
Below are some suggestions for your stay in Hanoi. All of the hotels mentioned can be booked easily through hotel search websites such as hotels.com or tripadvisor.com, where there are many more options for all price ranges, locations and services.
Let's face it: this is why you are here (beside the wedding thing). Well, you're in luck! Hanoi is the culinary capital of Vietnam, with the reputation for having the most sophisticated cooks in the country. Check out this handy, very legit street food map (seriously, catch them all!) and some of our suggestions for dishes to try below.
D I S H E S
Cha Ca La Vong - Turmeric dill fish is perhaps Nhung's all-time favorite Vietnamese dish. It's also featured on many "must try before you die" listicles, so make sure to check it off while you're here!
Pho Bo (multiple locations) - Vietnamese people usually eat beef noodle soup for breakfast, but it's available at all times and on every street in Hanoi. Customize your pho with rare and cooked beef, and by cut of meat. Hanoians eat pho with a spritz of lime, green onions, herbs, chili sauce, fried dough, and never with bean sprouts or other vegetables. Pho stalls regularly serve stir fried pho and fried rice as well, also highly recommended. Finally, it's very contentious which place in town serves the best pho, and every Hanoian has their own favorite neighborhood pho place.
Pho Ga (multiple locations) - Chicken noodle soup places usually operate separately from beef pho places. This dish is extremely hard to come by outside Vietnam, since its quality is so heavily dependent on the quality of the chicken. Be sure to order an extra side of boiled chicken, and guaranteed you won't ever look at chicken the same way again.
Bun Cha (multiple locations) - The BBQ pork noodle dish of recent international fame that Anthony Bourdain took Barrack Obama to try on his official visit to Vietnam. Recognizable from afar by the aromatic smoke wafting down the street.
Nem Ran (multiple locations) - Every Vietnamese person knows homemade spring rolls are always better, hence the relative lack of specialized restaurants serving them. However, they are ubiquitous on generalist restaurant menus, so go for it if you see them! Fillings are usually veggies and eggs mixed with minced pork and/or crab.
C H A I N S
Just to be clear, chain restaurants in Vietnam are typically those that have been successfully tried and tested in a demanding culinary market, very different from the run-of-the-mill P.F. Changs or Olive Gardens of the world.
Quan Ngon (website) - Sometimes two people might wanna eat different dishes, or you'd like to taste all of the hundreds of dishes in North, Central and South Vietnam in one place. This market-style full-service restaurant has dozens of open cooking stations where you can watch the action live.
Mon Hue (website) - Foods of the old Vietnamese royals from central Vietnam.
Sen (website) - Buffet-style food in nice setting.
O T H E R
Vegetarian (multiple locations) - It's hard being a vegetarian in Vietnam as non-Western restaurants usually do not have great veggie-friendly menu options. In a pinch, you might have to order regular dishes "khong thit" (without meat). However, the places that cater specifically to vegetarians (including partially observing Buddhists) usually render great versions of local favorites. Here's a pretty comprehensive map for your exploring pleasure.
Western (multiple locations) - You probably won't find hidden gems here coming from New York, for example, but just in case you need your home food fix.
THINGS TO DO
THINGS TO DO
While Saigon in the south has been modernized quickly after the war, Ha Noi has retained its heritage and tradition which makes for a very romantic and charming destination. Make sure to roam around the meandering streets of the Old Quarter, sip a "ca phe trung" (egg coffee) or "ca phe sua da" (Vietnamese traditional iced coffee with sweet condensed milk) while gazing at Hoan Kiem Lake, or take a bicycle boat on the beautiful West Lake.
Here's a list of ideas for other things you can do in between our dates:
Water puppet show (link)
Puppeteers stand waist deep in the water behind a screen and operate the puppets on large rods to give the impression that the figures are moving across the water. Performances are accompanied by traditional Vietnamese folk music.
Food tour/ cooking class
There are plenty of food walking tours available, or if you'd like to explore on your own, check out our Food page!
Nowadays you have to go farther from the city to encounter the Vietnamese countryside, but a bike tour offers the best way to see the slow side of village life. Many tour options are available, e.g., here.
Like "pho" stalls, every Hanoian has their go-to Buddhist temple or pagoda, where it gets busiest on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month. Nhung's favorite are Den Quan Thanh (West Lake), Den Ngoc Son (Hoan Kiem Lake) and Chua Van Nien (West Lake).
Hoa Lo Prison
This prison was used before and during the Vietnam war. It was demolished in the 1990s, however the gatehouse is now used as a museum. This attraction takes you through a timeline of the war, with many facts and real life war memorabilia you can view. Definitely worth a visit.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This exemplar of Soviet-influenced architecture mixed with distinctive Vietnamese elements serves as a memorial for Vietnam’s former president, Ho Chi Minh. A flag ceremony is held at 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. The presidential palace and museum are nearby, as is the One Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple with unique architecture.
Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam
The Temple of Literature is Vietnam’s first university, dating back to nearly a thousand years.
North Vietnam (Ha Noi, Ha Long, Ninh Binh, Sa Pa, Mai Chau)
December is one of the coldest months in Hanoi. The temperature in this time of the year dramatically drops to 18-19°C with dry climate. Sun light hours shortens and it gets dark as early as 5:30 PM. Of course the relative definition of being cold may vary; if you are from cold country like Northern Europe or America, it will be cool like mid-fall weather. If you are from Southeast Asia, however, bring warm clothes!
Expected number of rainy days: 7
Relative humidity: 67%
Average Temp.: 19°C (66°F)
High: 22°C (72°F)
Low: 15°C (59°F)
Central Vietnam (Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Nha Trang, Da Lat)
December falls towards the end of rainy season, but stormy weather is still a possibility especially early in December. More rainfall is expected in Hue than in Hoi An whilst throughout the region temperatures are close to their lowest for the year, although still far from chilly. Towards the south, Nha Trang will be seeing rainfall, although this steadily declines through the month. In Dalat conditions remain excellent with dry, clear days however it can be cold, especially in the evenings.
Average Temp.: 22°C (72°F)
High: 24°C (75°F)
Low: 20°C (68°F)
South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne, Phan Thiet, Mekong Delta, Condao, Phu Quoc)
December has some of the best conditions of the year: blue skies and little, if any, rain can be expected across the region. The beaches within easy reach of Ho Chi Minh City - Phan Thiet & Mui Ne, Ho Tram & Long Hai - are basking in sunshine. The southern islands of Phu Quoc and Con Dao are also enjoying sunny days and warm weather, whilst Ho Chi Minh City remains a little cooler with low humidity.
Average Temp.: 26°C (79°F)
High: 31°C (87°F)
Low: 22°C (71°F)
The following websites provide fantastic travel tips for Vietnam and the region: