It was less than 72 hours since I arrived in that crazy wild city, and I already fell in love with it. The things to do in Hanoi don’t fall short than many of the more popular capitals around the world.
When I first arrived, I was intimidated by the chaos. The madness made me want to cower in a corner into fetal position.
The din is deafening and motorbikers are everywhere. Traffic lights are nonexistent and pedestrians have zero rights. But I quickly learned to love, appreciate, and embrace this vibrant city. And I got nice and fat while doing it.
Things To Do In Hanoi
Food Food Food
Hanoi is where foodies come to live and rest in peace. Street food stalls and markets are abundant, and the cuisine is so delicious and so cheap. Rarely did I spend more than $1-2 on a meal, and I would eat while sitting on a small plastic chair on the street alongside other diners.
Vietnamese bun cha. this dish packs a punch and is AMAZING. The local beer, bia hoi, is tasty and fresh and can cost less than $0.25 for a pint. I grabbed a few pints with some friends on a street corner and watched the world go by.
I’ve already had some of the best dishes of my life here. Like other Southeast Asian countries, food plays such an integral role in Vietnam’s culture, and eating it is such a great way to learn and discover new adventures.
A big part of my love and appreciation for Hanoi is attributed directly to my kickass Couchsurfing experience and CS host, Harry.
Harry is a university student and is very talented – he is an excellent cook, a terrific photographer, and has his own crafts business. He chooses to host couchsurfers from around the world so he too can learn about other people and introduce them to the city that he loves.
Because of Harry, I’ve been able to go to hidden bars and coffee shops, eat at spots that only locals know about, and discover an entirely different side of Hanoi.
To those who might not be familiar – couchsurfing is an awesome service that allows you to find and stay with locals for free. Often you’ll crash on their couch or spare bed, and sometimes share a meal together.
It’s not always glamourous, but it’s as real of an experience as it gets and it allows you to put yourself in the locals’ shoes and see how the other half lives.
This was my first time couchsurfing. I was initially apprehensive going into it and thought about defaulting to a hostel, but it proved to be my best decision yet and I’m glad I took this leap of faith.
I feel like a lot of the travelers I’ve met on the road never sought to really understand a country through the locals’ side – they stuck to their backpacker hostels and foreigner pubs, and rarely interacted with the people. Try going local. It’s worth it.
Late Night Dining
Don’t go to bed early. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and I am guilty of sometimes doing it as well, but I think this reversion to your comfort zone can sometimes be a disservice to your travel experience. There’s so much to see, eat and learn when you go beneath the darkness!
Kindness & Generosity
My favorite part about Hanoi is its people.
In less than three days, I was on the receiving end of so many acts of kindness and generosity. I can’t count how many times a local offered to share their food with me after I simply made an attempt to converse with them or ask them what they were eating.
These guys were so happy i wanted to talk and toast with them. They tried to share with me everything they had, from their dishes to their cigarettes and beer!
One time I was lost and asked university students for directions. I ended up hitching a ride with them on their motorbikes – and they even offered to give me their packed lunch afterwards even though I had already eaten!
Hanoi Friends & Partying
One night I skipped the foreigner pub crawls sponsored by the backpacker hostels, and opted instead to walk into local bars by myself. I made new friends instantly.
Before I knew it, I was arm-in-arm with my new Vietnamese friends, singing and dancing my face off to Avicii’s “Levels“, and downing drinks that they adamantly refused to let me pay for.
While walking back home late at night, I saw a group of 15-20 older local guys. They were sitting in a circle on small chairs on the street, drinking and smoking and playing cards. I walked up to them and figured I’d introduce myself.
Fast forward 10 minutes and a few shots later, and we’re broing out while eating, drinking and singing “happy birthday” to one of their buddies.
You don’t even need things to do in Hanoi, just go out, spark a conversation with some strangers, and things to do will find you. Hanoi is a wonderful place with so much to offer, but the people are by far the biggest plus. Go out there and have fun!
If you’re looking for kid friendly travel destinations in Asia, check out our article here.