In Vietnam's capital city, you can still sense the centuries of history that have left behind relics of French colonial rule, evidence of the fight for a unified country, and some of the best eats on this side of the world – served right on the sidewalk.
If you're ready to explore one of the most exciting cities in Southeast Asia, here are some of our favorite ways to visit Hanoi on budget
Hanoi on a budget: Know before you go
It won't always be sweltering hot
Unlike some Southeast Asia cities, Hanoi experiences distinct seasons ranging from sticky, sweltering heat to (relatively) chilly winter temperatures. Plan and pack your bags accordingly.
Get to know the money
1 US Dollar is equal to 23,064 Vietnamese Dong. But while you may be a millionaire after hitting the ATM, don't let it go to your head. Between the high numbers and color of the money, it's important to familiarize yourself with the money, lest you end up handing over 500,000 ($21) when you meant to give 20,000 (87 cents). It happens often.
Pull up a chair
In Hanoi, some of the best eats, from dinner to coffee to beer, are enjoyed right on the street. Don't be shy. Pull up a colorful plastic stool and dig in!
The rules of the road are different
Motorbikes rule the road in Vietnam and the traffic rules likely won't reflect those of your home country. You should always exercise caution when crossing the road, even if there's a traffic light.
Free and cheap things to do in Hanoi
Explore the Old Quarter
In Hanoi’s Old Quarter, you really get a sense of Hanoi’s rich history. In this bustling maze of 1,000-year-old streets, narrow roads are lined with even narrower homes, and the sidewalks are filled with plastic stools, passing motorbikes, and endless storefronts selling everything from silk garments to fresh produce. It's the perfect area to wander around, people watch, and get a feel for the city.
Tour the prison known as the "Hanoi Hilton"
Hoa Lo prison was originally built by the French in 1896 to house Vietnamese political prisoners and revolutionaries. Later, it was used by North Vietnam to hold American POWs, who sarcastically dubbed it the "Hanoi Hilton" due to the brutal conditions prisoners faced there. The prison’s most famous inmate was the late senator John McCain, who spent over 5 years in Hoa Lo, where his navy flight suit is still on display.
Filled with both tales of hard times and of hope, a visit to Hoa Lo is sobering, impactful, and educational. Inside, you’ll get a look at recreations of prison conditions, historical artifacts, and even a French guillotine.
Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake
In a city constantly bursting with energy, tranquility is hard to come by. Thankfully, locals and tourists alike can make their way to Hoan Kiem Lake daily to escape for a few serene moments. Arrive early if you want to witness the locals’ Tai Chi rituals around dawn. Then, stroll around the lake and snap a few photos of the iconic Turtle Pagoda that sits in the middle of the lake.
Take a side trip to Ha Long Bay
There’s plenty of things to keep you busy in Hanoi but if your schedule allows it, do yourself a favor and take a trip to the majestic Ha Long Bay.
You’ll find tour offices all over the city – and probably at your accommodation – that can arrange a trip to this breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage site where thousands of towering limestone islands jut out of its brilliant blue waters. If you can, do it right and spend the extra money on an overnight cruise of the bay. Just make sure it’s not a party boat – unless that's your thing.
Where to stay on a budget in Hanoi
Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel
With clean rooms, friendly staff, and a near-perfect location, Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel is a classic, budget-friendly hostel done right. There’s a sizeable common area in the lobby that serves as a great place to meet fellow travelers. The rooms are all dorm-style, filled with 4, 6, 12, 18-bed options. Both female-only or mixed dorms are available. The hostel provides free complimentary breakfast and free beer every evening for happy hour.
Little Charm Hanoi Hostel
Little Charm Hanoi Hostel’s motto is "where the little things mean everything" and it shows. The hostel is full of thoughtful touches and the dorm-style rooms are comfortable and clean. And unlike most hostels, Little Charm even has an indoor pool that’s open year-round. This hostel also provides complimentary breakfast and free beer every evening for happy hour.
La Siesta Hotel Trendy
If you’re looking for a trendy boutique hotel, La Siesta Hotel Trendy more than lives up to its name. Despite being located in the historic Old Quarter, the hotel’s stylish decor, complete with metal, glass, and wood accents, gives it an ultra-modern feel. The hotel is located within walking distance of many of Hanoi’s top attractions.
Cheap flights to Hanoi
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to Hanoi. On average, our members spent $469 on their tickets to Hanoi and saved over $510 per ticket. Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
San Francisco (SFO) to Hanoi (HAN)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $497
Average Price: $410
Toronto (YYZ) to Hanoi (HAN)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $365
Average Price: $900
Los Angeles (LAX) to Hanoi (HAN)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $326
Average Price: $890
Best cheap eats in Hanoi
Budget friendly food is on practically every street corner in Hanoi but here are some popular picks.
Banh Mi 25
A small Banh Mi stall turned backpacker hot spot. You still order from a little cart on the sidewalk but now you can walk across the street to their small seating area and grab a cold drink to go with your delicious sandwich.
Phở Gia Truyền
It's hard for a pho spot to stand out in a city that is absolutely overflowing with them but this spot has managed to do just that for years.
Bun Cha Dac Kim
Not as famous as "Bun Cha Obama," (Bún chả Hương Liên), the spot where Anthony Bourdain and President Obama famously shared a bowl of noodles. Instead, this modest spot is located closer to the old quarter and enjoys a steady clientele of both locals and tourists.
Start planning your trip to Hanoi
If you're traveling on a budget, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more exciting city and a better value than Hanoi.
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.