Lisa Owen

Vietnam’s capital is sure to take you on a sensory journey filled with tasty pho, creamy egg coffee, bright pagodas, and bustling street life. And the best news is you don’t have to spend much money to experience the best of Hanoi’s food and culture. Vietnam is a very cheap country to start with, but if you’re a backpacker like me, there are easy ways to make sure you’re saving every penny. Here are seven ways to maximise your budget and still enjoy the best Hanoi has to offer.

1. Tour the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

imperial citadel of thang long

One of the top sights in Hanoi is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. The citadel was built in the 11th century, and was a seat of power in Vietnam for 13 centuries. The Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the best preserved part of the citadel complex and can easily be reached on foot from Hanoi’s Old Quarter. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the buildings and gardens within the citadel complex and learning more about Vietnam’s history.

citadel hanoi

2. Taste the local coffee

When in Vietnam, you have to try egg coffee. Say what? You read right, Hanoi is home to a special kind of coffee. Egg coffee is coffee blended with egg yolk and condensed milk and it can be served hot or cold. It’s delicious and I bet once you try it, you’ll have more than one. If you’re on the hunt for egg coffee, then your best bet is to try it at the cafes renowned for the specialty.  

hanoi

The first is Giang Café, and the second is Café Pho Co. Both are located near Hoan Kiem Lake and you should visit both. Giang Café dates back to 1946 and is a no frills coffee shop hidden down a long corridor off Nguyen Huu Huan Street.  It’s said that the original owners of this café created the delicious egg coffee. Most people are here to try the egg coffee and it’s served in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm.

You have to know where Café Pho Co is to find it. First find the sign on Hang Gai Street, then go past a couple of textiles shops, wind down a corridor and into an open space filled with bird cages, mirrors and lights, then head up the stairs. Make sure you head up the three flights of steep stairs to the rooftop to get a great view of the lake. You should also try the country’s namesake Vietnamese Coffee, which is also served hot or cold with condensed milk. Vietnamese Coffee can be found in most cafes across Hanoi.

hanoi

3. Don’t be afraid to eat at hole in the wall cafes or restaurants

My third budget tip in Hanoi is don’t just dine at the chain or fancy restaurants. You can get filling, delicious and cheap meals at small restaurants scattered across Hanoi. Some of the best meals I had were at the little hole in the wall cafes and restaurants across the Old Quarter. They didn’t look like much from the outset but the food was always cheap and delicious. You can always go one step further and try food from the street kitchens if you have a strong stomach.

hanoi cafes

If you’re staying in the Old Quarter, head out from your accommodation in any direction and you’ll find kitchens on the street serving up cheap traditional food. If street food isn’t your thing, you can still get very cheap food at the many cafes and restaurants across the Old Quarter. A favourite of mine was Noodle and Roll. They serve up huge but cheap meals and I could not finish any of my meals.

You can also get street food from the Night Market, held Friday to Sunday in the Old Quarter. I had banh mi at least once a day from street food operators or little hole in the wall cafes during my week in Hanoi. You can find it across most cities, and it can come as cheap as 50 cents!

4. Browse the Night Market stalls

night market stalls

The Night Market is a great place to pick up cheap clothing, accessories or souvenirs. The Night Market offers up everything you would expect such as jewellery, greeting cards and sunglasses. You don’t even have to spend any money to enjoy the Night Market. Just browse the stalls and absorb the bustling vibe of Hanoi at night.

Make sure you stop by the lone street food stall among the clothing and knick knack stands and grab one of their pineapple and coconut rolls, served warm. Delicious! The Night Market is held Friday to Sunday from 6pm in the Old Quarter.

5. Wander the streets of Hanoi

One of the best budget things to do in Hanoi is lose the map and wander the streets. Hanoi never stops and it’s an experience to dodge the scooters and explore Hanoi on foot, seeing the street food kitchens and shopkeepers at work. During your wanderings you’ll come across railway tracks bordered by colourful houses, locals selling anything from flowers to frogs, and bustling laneways. Especially on a sunny day, the Hoan Kiem Lake is nice to walk around and you can also visit the 18th century Buddhist Temple of the Jade Mountain, easy to spot with the red Huc Bridge leading up to it. 

buddhist temple

6. Stay in budget accommodation

Hanoi offers up a surprising number of good quality hostels throughout the Old Quarter. Most hostels offer up private rooms with shared bathrooms, or dorm rooms. My pick of the bunch is the Hanoi Tomodachi House with its spacious ensuite dorm rooms and generous breakfast, but there’s a number of other good hostels spread across the Old Quarter. Hostels in Hanoi are well reviewed on online booking sites such as HostelWorld, Booking.com or Agoda so it’s easy to find a quality and cheap hostel.

train tracks in hanoi

7. Travel to Hanoi on a budget

Vietnam has a network of trains crisscrossing the country, however you can find domestic flights reasonably cheap to travel between cities, especially if you only have carry on luggage. Check out Jetstar Pacific or VietJet for cheap domestic flights to and from Hanoi from other Vietnamese cities such as Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City. From Hanoi’s Noi Boi Airport, the budget way to get into the city is via local bus 86 or with the Vietnam Airlines shuttle. You’ll just need to dodge the taxi touts on your way. The local bus departs the airport about every hour. You’ll find an airport representative with a timetable outside arrivals near the shuttle minibuses.

You can also catch the Vietnam Airlines shuttle minibus to and from the airport. You don’t need to have flown with Vietnam Airlines to use the service. The shuttle usually leaves the airport when it’s full. The service runs to the airport from outside the Vietnam Airlines Office on Quang Trang Street hourly from 4am daily. The journey to the airport can take up to an hour due to traffic.

hanoi streets

Things You Should Know:

  • Be careful when booking tours in Hanoi and make sure you go through a reputable agencies. There are many scam agencies across Hanoi.
  • I never experienced any pickpocketing or felt uncomfortable walking the streets of Hanoi after dark, but I was warned to be aware of pickpockets several times so be on guard.
  • The local currency is the Vietnamese Dong. You’ll feel like a millionaire every time you get money out with notes ranging up to 500,000 Dong. You’ll need small notes for convenience stores and street food so you’ll find 10,000 and 20,000 notes will come in handy.
  • Hanoi is a great city to walk around, see the street life, and also take a look at all the street food offerings but watch out for the bikes! Beware when crossing the street, most motorbike and scooter drivers ignore red lights so you have to weave in and out of the bikes when crossing the street.
  • It’s recommended that you don’t drink the water in Vietnam. Bottled water is easy to find and very cheap. 

 

Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.