Hanoi for the First Timer: A detailed guide

Hanoi for the First-Timer: Budget, Tips and Attractions

We recently booked a flight to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and went there last September for 4 whole days. Hanoi is located in northern Vietnam part of the country and it is regarded as the “city inside the river.”

Northern Vietnam boasts beautiful limestone formations, picturesque seascapes and diverse cuisine for the adventurous travelers out there. If you are not a fan of concrete jungles and cityscapes, this is the place to go to. The place is a great mix of culture and nature.



  • The number of motorbikes and people is almost the same. There was a point when I got so stressed out because of too much honking which is I guess is their standard norm of saying “excuse me”
  • September is the start of autumn, dry and humid (bring lots of water and extra clothes lol) There were a few periods of rain (about 30-45mins) but it was not the type to spoil the trip.
  • Hanoi is fairly affordable. You can get hostel rooms for as low as 5USD per night (250php) and a decent hotel for as low as 25-30USD; this already includes FREE breakfast.
  • Expect to eat in street alleys using small tables and stools. Food is cheap as well, Starting at 1USD (or even below if you’re not really picky!) we have not been to adventurous with our meals but we have tried a few popular dishes in Hanoi. Expect to add a little salt or fish sauce if you’re used to Filipino cooking. Cuisine here is very diverse but the unique Vietnamese flavor is always there.
  • Hanoi is for the coffee lover. I do not drink coffee so I can’t give you advice on this one but I assure you that there is a coffee shop in almost every street in Hanoi.
  • Scams are avid and you have to be vigilant. A few people attempted to scam us but we (or I guess Robby was) were alert enough.
  • There’s nothing much to shop except for local goods. Don’t expect large shopping malls and international brands. Our tour guide said that most goods are mostly knock-offs so it’s best to buy from authorized retailers to avoid buying fake ones (unless you prefer those, but personally, divisoria and GH is still cheaper and some sellers are not honest enough to price right).


There are really cheap hotels in the area (Old Quarter is a great base if you do not mind busy streets) When you’re getting old, your body gets tired from all the walking and sightseeing and you would want to relax and sleep on a clean, cozy bed and wake up without bites from bed bugs. Hanoi is a pretty busy city and being there on Sept means that it is humid so I recommend staying at a comfortable hotel with FREE breakfast buffet.

We stayed at the Hanoian Hotel at the heart of the Old Quarter (one of Hanoi’s busy districts) with rates starting at $30 via Expedia, breakfast included. I booked a Balcony Suite by the way and here are the photos of the room:

As you can see, the room is very spacious and well-kept. What you see is what you get! 🙂

The bathroom is clean too and it comes with toiletries and 2 free bottles of mineral water (replenished daily). Speaking of water, everytime we go down the lobby, the staff were always kind enough to serve us a drink. Thank you for the hospitality! 🙂


The service was great. From the airport pick up to the tour arrangements, the staff made sure that we were okay. I am usually a do-it-yourself kind of traveler but I did not hesitate to book my tours with them because the tours are of quality despite being pocket-friendly. Shops and restaurants are just outside the hotel and the night market is like 5 minutes away from the place. Fret not about the noise because you can still get some peace and quiet when staying at the Hanoian Hotel.

Breakfast is buffet style, continental. It seems like they have more tourists than locals! Though they also serve Pho upon request.

I had a chance to take a photo with Hanoian Hotel’s staff. I have nothing but good words 🙂


Was not able to do much of roaming around Hanoi City because of the heat and the constant scary thought of being scammed and approached by random strangers trying to extort money from me. But if you’re adventurous, visit these different locations at your own pace: (it’s cheaper to take an Uber, >30-50php per trip) Do a little research ? or check out the Poor Traveler’s guide for cheap things to do in Hanoi: CLICK HERE

Hoan Kiem Lake

  • Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Hoa Lo Prison
  • Thong Nhat Park
  • Temple of the Jade Mountain
  • St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
  • Bach Ma Temple
  • French Quarter
  • Dong Xuan Market
  • Bat Trang Ceramic Village
  • Royal City


Ninh Binh. Having constrained time means we had to resort to pre-booking day trips from Hanoi. I booked a Ninh Binh tour from Klook which costs around 36USD (includes roundtrip bus transfers, bottled water and buffet lunch). The bus ride is about 2 hours from Old Quarter, Hanoi.

Here are the highlights of our trip!


First, we visited 2 temples in Hoa Lu (not a fan of temple trips so basically, I was not listening to our tour guide. Lol!

After, we had buffet lunch at a local restaurant. Food can be improved!

An hour of cycling was included in our tour but we decided to skip it due to the heat. It was 130PM and I don’t want to risk getting melasma.

Then we went on a paddle boat ride in Tam Coc (almost 2 hours) We visited caves and limestones. Tam Coc is the “second Ha Long Bay”. We arrived Hanoi at around 5pm.

Ha long Bay

If you have budget to spare, I suggest taking the overnight Halong Cruise. We spent 123USD per person for this trip via Galaxy Cruises (mid-budget already), there are cheaper options but if you’re staying overnight then it’s better to spend a little more for the comfort and relaxation. Full onboard meals, transfers and tours are already included in the package.

A daytrip to Halong costs about 2500PHP (less than 55USD) with transfers and lunch but the travel time is about 3.5 hours one way so expect to spend only 4 hours roaming around the bay. Personally, I find the day trip tiring.


The tour bus picked us up at around 830AM. There is one 30-minute stopover per way.

We arrived around 1230nn. Welcome drinks were served and our room key was given to us. Before lunch, there was a 30 minute break to wash up and check-in.


You can already see the beautiful view from afar.


Lunch was served while cruising the bay. We had a 7-course meal. Food was okay. They have vegetarian options btw!

At around 3:00, we arrived at the Pearl farm wherein the locals demonstrated the process of farming pearls.

Kayak time! (45 minutes)

view from titov island

We went to Titov island to do a mini hike and swim.

After, complimentary wine was served and we had time to freshen up before dinner. Squid fishing was also included in the itinerary but it was not squid season! lol and around 10, we slept already.

Morning view <3

There is an optional Tai Chi class but we did not attend. Lol! Afterwards, we had breakfast before heading to Hang Sut Sot (Surprise Cave)

Caving (one hour)

After caving, we went back to the boat to get ready for check out and lunch.

Part of the tour also included how to make spring rolls.We were able to go back to Hanoi at around 4:30PM. We opted to rest after checking in of course at the Hanoian Hotel 🙂

Ha Long is always being compared to El Nido or Coron but based from my experience, each place has its unique beauty and culture and it’s like apples to oranges.


NOTE: Hanoi is safe for tourists. Yet like any other place, you have to really be mindful of the surroundings. There were a few instances when people tried to scam/extort money from us. I thought that these things only happen in movies lol

  • Shoe Shine Scam – While we were walking, a man kept pointing at my slippers saying “oi oi oi!” Due to this, i removed one of my slippers, he took it away and started putting glue (pretending there was something wrong with it). Robby quickly grabbed my slipper from the man. They said that these people will pretend to fix your shoe and charge you 10USD for the repair cost.
  • Wrong Pricing – Robby saw a piece of bread he liked with a 20000VND tag (less than 1USD, 45PHP); when he was about to pay for it, the seller took the price tag and changed it to 50,000VND. L O L
  • Bread Seller – I guess robby’s love for bread made us a little closer to the scammers haha. A lady was selling a piece of small bread (similar to karyoka) which can be bought in the Philippines for .50USD for around 2USD! Haha. We haggled because she was persistent and she gave it to us for 10,000VND (.40USD , 20PHP more or less)
  • Wrong Change – The same bread seller gave us incomplete change!! but we were able to count. We paid 50,000VND and she was giving us 4 1,000 bills as change. CHECK YOUR MONEY before paying, Vietnamese money is confusing. The bills look similar to one another.
  • Pushy Sellers and Old Beverages – (Ninh Binh and Ha Long) Our tour guide told us not to buy from boatmen as they are very pushy and they sell drinks that have been kept for years already.
  • Cyclo, Taxi and Transpo Scams – The cyclos and taxis may price you wayyyy high than the normal rate. Always agree on the price before riding on anything. Unless you take UBER and pay via credit card (best way!)
  • We still enjoyed the trip despite these problems! 🙂


  • Book a tour to avoid delays plus tours are cheap anyway.
  • Use UBER to avoid transportation overpricing.
  • Buy a Travel Sim Card – Around 650PHP, 13USD, 300000VND; 8GB data and calls good for a week already. Very convenient when navigating around Hanoi.
  • Do not ask for the price when you’re not really interested because some sellers are pushy and they overprice.


Must try in Ha Noi: Bun Cha

Che- Vietnamese Dessert

Pho Ga


DAY 0 & 1:

  • 1015 // MNL-HAN via Cebu Pacific (3 hours and 15 mins)
  • 1230 // Arrive Hanoi (-1 hr time difference). Take an uber/taxi to from Noi Bai to Old Quarter. Check-in.
  • 0800 // Wake up and have breakfast
  • 0900 // Explore Hanoi – Visit different locations at your own pace.

****  ALSO READ: 10 Free and Cheap Things to Do in HANOI, Vietnam


****OPTION A (Ha Long Daytrip)

DAY 2:

  • 0700 // Wake up and have breakfast
  • 0830 // Tour pick up for Ha Long with 30 min break in between the 3.5hr trip.
  • 1200 // Check-in Boat
  • 1300 // Lunch at the Boat while cruising Ha Long Bay
  • 1400 // Visit Floating Village and Kayaking
  • 1500 // Visit Cave
  • 1600 // Drive back to Hanoi
  • 2000 // Back to Old Quarter, Dinner

DAY 3: Ninh Binh

  • 0700 // Wake up and have breakfast
  • 0830 // Tour pick up for Ninh Binh
  • 1030 // Hoa Lu Temples
  • 1200 // Lunch at Tam Coc
  • 1300 // Boating at Hoang Long River
  • 1500 // Cycling for 1 hour
  • 1830 // Back to Hanoi. Rest
  • 1900 // Dinner
  • 2000 // Hanoi Night Market

DAY 4: Hanoi City

  • ****Refer to the points of interest above**
  • 2100 to Noi Bai International Airport
  • 0115 Flight to MNL

****OPTION B (Overnight Cruise)

DAY 2: Ha Long

  • 0700 // Wake up and have breakfast
  • 0830 // Tour pick up for Ha Long with 30 min break in between the 3.5hr trip.
  • 1200 // Check-in Boat
  • 1300 // Lunch at the Boat (Usually a 7-course meal) while cruising Ha Long Bay
  • 1500 // Visit Pearl Farm and Kayaking
  • 1700 // Swimming and Hiking at Ti Top island.
  • 1845 // Sunset Party (Complimentary Wine and crackers)
  • 1930 // Dinner
  • 2030 // Squid Fishing / Rest

DAY 3: Ha Long + Old Quarter

  • 0600 // Wake up and go to sunroof for Tai Chi Class
  • 0700 // Breakfast
  • 0800 // Sung Sot Cave
  • 0930 // Check Out
  • 1000 // Cooking Demo
  • 1100 // Early Lunch
  • 1630 // Back to Hanoi, rest then dinner at Old Quarter
  • 2000 // Water Puppet Show
  • 2200 // Hanoi Night Market

DAY 4: Hanoi City

**Refer to the points of interest above**


Note that this was not our actual budget since we decided to book a hotel. This is based on a  hostel booking to maximize budget and this does not include the overnight cruise**

  • Plane Ticket via Ceb Pac: 4,000/RT (promo fare!) 7kg hand carry
  • Travel Tax: 1,620
  • Hostel Accommodation: 200 x 4 nights: 800
  • Ninh Binh Tour via KLOOK: 1,900
  • Ha Long Bay Day trip via KLOOK: 2,500
  • Water Puppet Show: 250
  • Transportation: 1000/roundtrip via Uber / 4 pax = 250
  • Other MISC expenses: est 3,000

Can’t believe that it’s been more than 3 months since I last updated this blog! Been quite busy with work (How smes invest on websites already is a plus for me, yay!) and other personal matters and it’s only now that I got the chance and the energy to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to write an overdue travel guide. If you think this article’s useful, don’t forget to share!;)

Questions? Ask away!

I used my VIETNAM PRESET here.


  • Bryan Co says:

    Restaurants to try in Vietnam.

    Bun Cha is that a type of food or a restaurant? Found this in google – Bun Cha Ta Hanoi.

  • Myx says:

    This is very informative! i will travel to Hanoi this new year with a friend and I am super excited. Perfect timing that I found your blog. I’ve been eyeing on some of your posts and you are truly inspiring, can i ask, how to be you po? or it is literally disgusting. hihi. anyways, i love you and your blog. keep on rocking! 😀

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