Hanoi, Vietnam, is a wonderful city for the budget traveler. Easy to get around, with a cool climate, and with many cafes, restaurants and shopping experiences that don’t cost your first born, spending a few days seeing interesting and unique things isn’t at all expensive. If, like most budget travelers, you’d like to experience truly Vietnamese things on just a few dollars a day, then try some of these cheap things to see and do in Hanoi.
Take a Day Tour of Hanoi – One of the best budget deals in Hanoi is the day tour of the city. It’s a fun thing to do on your first day in Hanoi, as it helps to get you acclimatized and used to the crazy Hanoi traffic, while still not walking in the middle of it. You can take a day tour of Hanoi for between $22-$24, including a Vietnamese lunch. The day tour of Hanoi I took started at 8am with pick up at my hotel. From here, we went to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, then onto the Ho Chi Minh House and the Presidential Palace. The Vietnamese Ethnology Museum came next (absolutely fabulous!), followed by lunch at a small restaurant. After lunch, we saw the Temple of Literature and then were taken to Hanoi Old Quarter, where we watched a Vietnamese artisan making handcrafted pottery. More than 7 hours of tours, plus lunch, for less than $25.
Sit at a Cafe By Hoan Kiem Lake – Hoan Kiem Lake is a small lake next to the French Quarter of Hanoi. It takes around an hour to walk all the way around the lake, but with hawkers, old Vietnamese guys playing chess and some wonderful restaurants and cafes, it’s a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon. Several times, my friend and I had breakfast at a lakeside cafe, or a coffee in the afternoon, and sat watching the people walk by. Hanoi has a wonderful climate for sitting outdoors as, much of the time, it’s much cooler than Bangkok, the city I live in. Plus, with less pollution than many Asian cities (although it still has a fair amount), it’s pleasant to be outdoors. Coffee and coffee drinks are around $1-$1.50 per cup and, at most cafes, you can sit as long as you want. A truly cheap way to spend an afternoon.
Visit the Vietnamese Fine Arts Museum – In a beautiful French colonial building, the Vietnamese Fine Arts Museum is spectacular. Showcasing modern Vietnamese art up to the 1970s, there’s some wonderful lacquer work, silk paintings and lots of colorful Vietnamese folk art. There’s also an excellent exhibit of prehistoric finds and a gift shop where you can even buy original paintings at quite inexpensive prices. While there has been some claims some of the paintings are fakes (the originals may have been lost during the Vietnam War), it’s still a fascinating place to visit and this just adds to the history of the place as far as I’m concerned. Admission is only around $1.40 and you can spend half the day there.
Look Around the Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison) – Just for the history of the place alone, the Hanoi Hilton is fascinating to look around. It only takes around an hour to see as it’s quite small (most of the prison was demolished in the 1990s to build an apartment building) but you can see the interrogation room, some of the cells and even John McCain’s flight suit. Really interesting are the photographs and old letters some of the prisoners wrote. Admission is dirt cheap at less than 30 cents.
Take Photos Around Hanoi – In Hanoi, you should spend at least half a day wandering around the city taking photos. It’s an incredibly photogenic city with some amazing photo opportunities. I got some fabulous photos of people, vendors, houses, old French Colonial buildings, temples, the lake and even new modern restaurants. Plus, don’t forget to take photos of the bicycles and motorbikes – you’ll never see so many anywhere else.
Hanoi is one of the most interesting cities in Asia. What makes it even more fun is you can see so much on a budget, and literally do it all on just a few dollars a day.