Bless those who found joy in backpacking! Traveling with a large knapsack and a small budget can many times yield the most wonderful experiences. This is the same thing about backpacking in Hanoi. You get to discover the beauty of the city without getting blindsided with the luxury of hotels or upscale restaurants. It’s also a great way to hustle around the place and discover more spots in a shorter period of time.
From devouring cheap Pho and rounding the streets in a motorbike, here are some tips for a backpacker on this side of Vietnam.
The best time to visit
December to February is the offseason period. It’s where the Tet celebration happens as well as the start of winter. If you want to go around in a little chilly atmosphere, this is the best time to pack your bags. Just make sure that you bring some jackets as Hanoi experiences snow at some parts of it.
However, some tourists prefer to get a nice tan from the Southeast Asian country. If you have the same plan, I suggest that you visit during the months of March to May but be wary of the weather. May is the period where the rainy season starts and some island attractions are closed.
Accommodation and schedule
On a backpacking budget, it’s wise to stay on a hostel with low rates but still decent rooms. One good thing about Hanoi is its very touristy vibe. You surely can find one especially if you book ahead. In case you’re planning to go backpacking in Hanoi within the Old Quarter, check out the See You at Lily’s hostel. It’s located strategically near a lot of local attractions and is a favorite spot for backpackers. Their staff is also warm and accommodating.
See you at Lily’s is located at 16 Ngo Huyen Street a few blocks away from the Joseph’s Cathedral.
From the airport, you can take either a taxi or a bus. But if you want to save some dongs, just a choose a bus and it will bring you right in the center of Hanoi. If you do not want to jump right on to this kind of transportation, you can look for the airport shuttle. This should have the sign “Vietnam Airlines” which will cost around $2 compared to the bus fare of $0.39. Still, not that expensive but if you’re a total cheapskate, you go for the most affordable option.
Before you choose your ride, make sure that you have your money changed to Vietnamese Dong. At least $20 would be fine if the exchange rates at the airport seem to be a rip-off.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to miss the famous Pho while backpacking in Hanoi. Small stalls all around Hanoi including the Old Quarter sell this food together with the equally-famous egg coffee. Having these local foods for your meals is a good way to save money from luxury restos where your $50 would go out the window for just a small meal.
There are a lot of food choices that you will find here. However, beware of shops that sell outdated soups that can piss your stomach. The rule of thumb is to go to an eatery where lots of people flock. It’s a sign of quality and good taste.
As a backpacker, you’re most likely to tour on your own. And true enough, you don’t have to pay for tour guides as you can walk around the city to visit temples and parks. The only downside to going alone is you might be a target of pickpockets and merchants who tend to increase their prices in the sight of a tourist.
Don’t miss the Hoan Kiem Lake and the red bridge inside that leads to a temple. Uncle Ho’s resting place is also a must-visit, but you have to bring tons of patience to get through the queue. When visiting temples, avoid wearing sleeveless tops, shorts, and slippers.
Some tips to remember:
Join the locals
One advantage of backpacking in Hanoi is you get to immerse yourself in the local culture. You can join an aerobics session at the Hoan Kiem lake or ask the locals to teach you some tai chi moves. It’s all on these small acts that you make the most out of your visit in Hanoi.
Get out of your hostel room and discover new things. If you’re afraid of getting out on your own, book a free tour with the Hanoi Kids in advance. A student guide would be more than happy to accompany you to your chosen destinations.
Look after your belongings
Such a big backpack won’t go unnoticed especially by people with covert plans. Hanoi is relatively safe, but like any other place, there are criminals lurking the streets and ready to victimize an oblivious tourist. If you’re touring, it’s best to leave much of your baggage in your hostel room. Bring only a small bag with your necessities like phone, money, maps, keys, and others.
Never leave your bag unattended even at the airport or a store. It’s not that anyone will likely steal it right away. It’s just a practice of caution to be low key in the eyes of thieves.
Haggling is a common thing in night markets of Hanoi. If you want to save money, haggle with care. Do not argue with the merchants or confront them when they seem to rip you off. Just go away and look for another seller. It’s best if you’ll bring a local friend who can guide you and translate things to you.
Again, it’s not a good move to bring that hefty bag in such crowded place. It’s a silent sign of “hey, I got lots of stuff here.” Always practice caution.
Backpacking in Hanoi is a good way to explore another culture and enjoy your much-needed vacation. Regardless if you are a first-timer or a veteran backpacker, a few suggestions like this would surely make a difference.
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