First, I need to tell you that a weekend in Hanoi, Vietnam is really not enough. If you have more time to be there, then take it! I visited again for my birthday weekend so I could see Halong Bay. That being said, if you only have a short time, here is how to spend a weekend in Hanoi.
Arrival & Checkin
I arrived in Hanoi on Friday afternoon to meet up with my guy Arash. He was there the whole week ahead of me because he was fixing baby faces with Operation Smile. How cool is that.
We checked in to our hotel, the Authentic Hanoi Hotel in Old Quarter. The location is very central so it’s handy to get around easily. The hotel was very comfortable with great staff, and welcome rose petals!
Coffee and a view
After check-in, we walked around the area and grabbed a late afternoon coffee and enjoyed the lake view from the rooftop at Café Pho Co. We ended up hitting 5 coffee shops over the weekend cuz we’re crazy, so check out my post on what places we hit here!
Snacks and explore the Old Quarter
Later, we walked around the Old Quarter to get acquainted with our surroundings and take in the area. We learned pretty quickly that crossing the street is taking your life in your own hands. The Old Quarter is full of shops, street vendors and food so there is tons to see.
I am a fan of Bánh mì, so my mission of the evening was to find some. Obviously it wasn’t hard to find, so I stuffed my face. Arash and I both had the pork and pâté mix and some Saigon beer from Banh Mi 25.
Drinks, Dinner & Night Market
We headed back to our hotel to have a drink at the rooftop lounge they have and enjoy more city views before we headed back out to check out the weekend night market. There is a huge area of the Old Quarter that gets shut down to traffic and it was packed full of people.
The central area had musical performances, tons of vendors selling crafts and food, and sooo many little kids having the time of their lives. There was even a little couple’s dancing competition mostly made up of older people dancing their asses off.
Make sure you have your walking shoes on cuz the market is huge. It’s full of knock offs as well as local crafts, random electronics, clothes, bags and whatever else you can think of. You can find it there. This happens on the weekends and I def recommend it.
We had a late night snack at Quán Vi Saigon where we had some amazing clams, fresh spring rolls, and fried squid.
Saturday Morning – Coffee, Ngoc Son Temple, Breakfast & St. Joseph’s Cathedral
I drink too much coffee so obviously that’s always my first concern in the morning. We grabbed some coffee and went to the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) early to beat the crowds. The temple is right on the lake in the Old Quarter.
After a big breakfast at the Hanoi Social Club we headed to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The outside is quite pretty and the whole area is full of cute shops, cafés and restaurants. We stopped into Pasteur Street Brewing Co. for a little break before our afternoon activities.
Saturday Afternoon – Hoa Lo Prison, Vietnamese Women’s Museum & Water Puppet Theatre
We managed to fit in two museums and a theatre show in the afternoon. The Hoa Loa Prison was kind of depressing, but what was I expecting? It focuses on the time when the prison was used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese and it’s pretty dark but definitely worth a visit.
The women’s museum was really well done. It was interesting to learn so much about the role of women in Vietnam, and especially neat to be in a museum completely devoted to women.
After the museums, we grabbed a late lunch in the Old Quarter centre. The food wasn’t great so I don’t remember what it was called, but it had a great view so it wasn’t the worst. Just look for the huge building full of patios on every level in the centre area.
Our last activity of the day was the Water Puppet Theatre! I loved it so much. Obviously you can’t understand what they’re saying, but it’s only an hour so you can deal with not knowing what the hell is going on. This one’s a must see. The music is so fun and the puppets were awesome.
We had dinner at Quan An Ngon, a Vietnamese restaurant known for bringing all the different types of Vietnam street foods into one place. We ordered an obscene amount of food and it was all delicious. I would go here again in a heartbeat.
Last Day – Temple of Literature, Shopping & Dinner
We got up extra early to shovel food in our faces and get out early enough to check out the Temple of Literature, which houses the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university.
After the temple we wandered around the shopping streets in the Old Quarter, and checked out the Silk Street to see what we could find. I grabbed a couple of “cashmere” scarves as well as some pretty silk dressing robes.
We wrapped up the trip with an amazing (and huge) lunch at Home Hanoi restaurant, which was amazing. I mean, Kenny G is quoted on their website so you know it’s gotta be good right? Kenny G probably knows good restaurants. I’ll be adding a post about the restaurant on its own, so stay tuned for that bad boy. After lunch, we headed to our flight, where we both promptly went into a food coma on the plane.
I loved my weekend in Hanoi. It was incredibly vibrant, alive, and somewhat overwhelming. I wish I would have had more time there, but I still feel like I got to see a few things and had a great experience. Have you been to Hanoi? How did you feel about it?