Information & Facts
Hanoi has a humid tropical climate, characterised by monsoons,
like most of northern Vietnam. Summers, between May and September,
are very hot with plenty of rain, while winters, from November to
March, are cold and relatively dry. During the transition months of
April and October anything is possible, and spring often brings
light rain. The hottest month of the year is June. January is the
coolest month, usually beset with a cold north-easterly wind.
Vietnamese cuisine is defined by its fresh ingredients, use of
herbs and fast cooking times. It is unlike any other Asian cuisine,
and sampling its many variations is one of the true pleasures of
visiting Hanoi. The ubiquitous
phonoodle soup served with slices of beef (
bo) or chicken (
ga), fresh bean sprouts, and various spices is available
everywhere around the city.
Although there are many fine dining eateries, a more democratic
and authentic way to dine is to dine at the many street
restaurants, sitting on tiny plastic stools. Here you can sample
classic dishes like
banh cuon, steamed rice pancakes filled with finely
nem ran, fried spring rolls, and
bun cha, flame cooked pork often served in a noodle soup.
A well know street food joint is Cha Ca La Vong on Cha Ca Street.
Here you can find the iconic North Vietnamese dish
cha ca, which is fried fish and dill patties with
Lots of these restaurants only serve one dish, which means
they've generally perfected it. So put aside your expectations of
good service, pleasing décor and a varied menu, and try a different
spot every day. Afterwards visit a café for some
ca fe(coffee) and a pastry, or a
bia hoi(draft beer) tavern for some low alcohol lager.
Public transport is limited to buses, which are extremely cheap,
but slow, crowded and a challenge for non-Vietnamese speakers.
There are plenty of taxis to be hired and this is the safest and
easiest way to get across the city, but make sure the meter is
switched on and change is given. Motorbike taxis are also a cheap
and easy way to get around, but the driving can be nerve-wracking.
Renting a car or a motorbike are also popular options; all cars
come with a driver/guide, which is a good idea considering the
chaotic nature of the streets. Visitors should be cautious about
renting a self-drive motorbike, bearing in mind the primary cause
of injury and death among foreigners in Vietnam is due to
motorcycle accidents. Two-seater cyclos (cycle rickshaws) are
plentiful and can be flagged down anywhere, but should be avoided
at night. Fares should be negotiated beforehand and a map is
useful, as many drivers don't speak English.
Hanoi is a very child friendly city for locals and visitors
alike. Children's Park at the top end of Lenin Park is cleverly
segmented into different attractions based on age groups. There are
rides, boats, swings and plenty of space to run around in. It's
also a popular hangout for expat families.
Another must see is the Museum of Ethnology with a huge and
colourful selection of arts and crafts, plus lifestyle
reproductions of different traditional homes used by ethnic
minorities. In the evenings head to Hoan Kiem Lake to see the
traditional Vietnamese art form of water puppetry. The vignettes
are performed quickly and with great energy and musical fanfare so
kids don't have time to get bored.
When things get desperate, or if the rain keeps falling, go to
Vincom Tower, the most modern and action-packed of the city's
modern shopping malls. You'll find cinemas, including family movies
on Sunday mornings, arcade game parlours and kids rides.
The other truly kid friendly destination in Hanoi is the Old
Quarter, with its ancient traditions, evocative old buildings and
rich sensory experience. This is a slice of Hanoi as it was when
founded a millennia ago.
Finally, on hot day in Hanoi - and that's most days - take a
taxi out to Ho Tay Lake Water Park with 12 slides and other aquatic
attractions. Don't expect the water to be crystal clear, although
staff assure visitors it is hygienic.
The official language in Vietnam is Vietnamese. Some
Chinese, English and French are spoken. Tour guides can also speak
Russian and Japanese. Numerous ethnic languages are also spoken in
The official currency is the Dông (VND). There are no smaller
denominations. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de
change, hotels and on the black market. Visa, MasterCard and
American Express are becoming more widely acceptable, particularly
in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but it is best not to rely on them
elsewhere. It is recommended that visitors bring travellers cheques
in US Dollars, which can be cashed at major banks in the main
cities and tourist areas. US currency acts as unofficial tender and
is useful as a back-up when banks won't cash travellers cheques
outside the main cities, but notes must be relatively new and
unmarked. Dông can be withdrawn from ATMs, which are becoming more
Hanoi offers a less frenetic and commercialised shopping
experience than Ho Chi Minh City in the south of the country.
Traditional arts and crafts are more popular here than mass
produced goods, and night markets are a vibrant social occasion not
to be missed.
The old town is where most of the art galleries are situated. A
lot of up and coming artists exhibit here and if you can spot
quality and bargain skilfully you can pick a truly unique and
worthwhile memento of your Hanoi visit.
Also popular souvenirs are paraphernalia from the communist and
war eras, including Chairman Mao branded goods, medals, bullets,
and Zippo lighters - the latter invariably of modern provenance and
not found in a former battle zone as claimed by the salesman.
Other souvenirs include silk garments, wooden carvings, shoes
from silk or bamboo, ethnic weaving, rice paper notebooks and
paintings, and the distinctive conical hats which have been worn
for centuries and are still much in evidence today. Look out for
hats made in Hue which each have a unique poem inside the rim.
Avoid buying gemstones unless you have the skills to tell the
difference between jewels and polished glass.
Local time in Vietnam is GMT +7.