Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and also one of the most backpacker-friendly destinations in Asia. The unique cuisine, architectures, history, people and of course, the price have kept travelers coming back wanting for more. And today, we’re going to look deeper into Hanoi and find out 8 cheap things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Traveling in Vietnam is very comfortable for backpackers with a tight budget, like me. You can rest assured that as long as you’re not too reckless, you’re not likely to get scammed. Almost everything there is affordable and there’s not a lot of emotional rollercoasters.
Also, Hanoi is generally safe for solo travelers. Tourism has been playing a big role in Vietnam since the past decades. But still, it’s your job to be careful of your own belongings. I’m pretty sure you’ll find this Vietnam backpacking guide useful, which includes all things to do, safety tips, things to expect and everything you need.
Without further due, let’s dive into the main topic, and see these 8 cheap things you can do in Hanoi, Vietnam. US$1 is approximately VND 20,000 at the time of writing.
Dining in Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is home to a wide variety of Vietnamese street foods. No, I’m not talking about all the fancy restaurants located at the main part of the Old Quarter.
Since Hanoi’s Old Quarter is the best place to stay in Hanoi, as it’s close to most of the attractions, and it’s best to make Old Quarter as your “base of operation”.
In the early morning, head down to the Old Quarter and you’ll find plenty of local restaurants or stalls with plenty of customers. While you might be confused about which restaurant to pick, my advice is going to the one with crowds of locals. You’ll never go wrong there.
While you’re walking in the street, you might also be approached by vendors on a bicycle selling snacks. Feel free to support them by buying some.
Overall, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is perfect for a morning walk. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Hanoi for your first day because you get to see the way of life of the Vietnamese people.
Now let’s talk about the prices of the dishes. If you dine in some random local restaurants, for example, and grab yourself a Chicken Pho. It will cost around VND 20,000 to VND 30,000. Most of the dishes in the Old Quarter cost roughly the same, within the range of above.
But it’s highly recommended that you at least learn how to say chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian in the Vietnamese language to make communication easier.
Walking Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is the pride of Hanoi city, and one of the most happening places in Hanoi. The temple in the middle of the lake, Temple of the Jade Mountain has been around for more than a century.
It’s probably also the most photographed location in Hanoi. So, what makes it so special anyway?
Every weekend, the streets around Hoan Kiem Lake will be sealed, prohibiting entry of all cars. That transformed the area into a huge square where locals come to spend their evening. You’ll see people playing guitars, badminton, skating, or just chatting around.
You’ll also see street performances, and vendors selling their artwork. You could easily spend a few hours here.
With as little as 30,000 VND, you can pay a visit to Temple of the Jade Mountain. Inside, you’ll find a preserved carcass of a giant turtle in a sealed glass chamber. There’s a legend behind the turtle, which eventually gave the name to this lake.
Visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
If you’re visiting Vietnam, the first person you should know is Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Revolutionary Leader. Often regarded as Uncle Ho, he’s very well-respected throughout the whole country.
I’m not going to give you a history class now, but I personally think that the Vietnam War is one of the most interesting modern histories in Asia. It’s definitely worth checking out, there are plenty of YouTube videos on this topic, as well as books.
There is no entrance fee required for visiting this attraction.
To get the best out of it, visit in the early morning before the arrival of tour buses. The square is often flocked by huge crowds of tourists unless you’re visiting early. You might need to queue up to take a photo of the mausoleum.
Walking from Hanoi Old Quarter to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum takes around 40 minutes. If you don’t feel like walking, feel free to take the cab there.
Try Out the Egg Coffee in Giang Café
This might be something new for most travelers. But it’s not like what you imagined, with a raw egg in the middle of black coffee, or anything else. Well, at least that was my case.
During the war period, when milk is not easily available throughout the country, the Vietnamese people innovated a little and substituted the milk with egg yolk. And it tasted way better than you could imagine, with the intense aroma of Vietnamese coffee with a smooth, creamy texture.
The best place to try out egg coffee is at Giang Café, which is a small local café in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It was crowded most of the time especially in the morning, so you might have to queue up a bit.
It would be great if you know some basic Vietnamese terms because the friendly boss does not speak English. The waiters might be able to help you with English though.
Each egg coffee costs VND 25,000. Not so cheap, but definitely worth a try. (Or a few tries, because why not?)
Shopping in Dong Xuan Market
Built back in 1889, and having undergone multiple times of renovation, Dong Xuan Market is the oldest market in Hanoi city. Despite its age, the market still welcomes hundreds of locals every day.
Inside Dong Xuan Market, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of vegetables, groceries, clothes, everyday appliances, tools, and whatever you could think of. And of course, Vietnamese food.
Do yourself a favor and grab yourself some local Vietnamese dishes for breakfast before walking around in the market. The prices of foods there are slightly cheaper than those you find in Hanoi Old Quarter.
Ride a Motorcycle Around Hanoi
Vietnam has a total population of 95.54 million, and 8 million of them inhabited in Hanoi. That makes Hanoi a huge city, which is almost impossible to explore every corner if you were to use your feet.
Renting a motorcycle in Hanoi can be effortless, as it’s not really that hard to find motorcycle rental shops, especially if you’re living in Hanoi Old Quarter.
If you’ve never tried riding a motorcycle, I wouldn’t recommend doing it for your first time in Hanoi. The traffic there is chaotic and might be dangerous if you’re new to it.
But if you’re going to do it, here are a few things you should know. First, your passport will be kept as a deposit by the motorcycle rental shop. Your helmets will be provided at no extra charge, but the quality is often not as good. And lastly, you have to pay for your own gas.
Police in Vietnam never bother to check foreigners, so it’s not really necessary to have an international driving license. I would recommend having it though, just in case.
Renting a motorcycle in Hanoi costs around VND 100,000 ($5) for the whole day. One last tip, never rent a motorcycle from the locals, always rent it from a proper rental shop.
Visiting the Perfume Pagoda
Now time to shine the spotlight on the Perfume Pagoda, which is located 60 km outside of Hanoi city. Located in the Huong Son Mountain range, the pagoda was built in the 15th century, making it one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam.
The one thing that most visitors do is praying for their wishes to be granted. The stalactites and stalagmites in the cave were named according to the blessings they can bestow.
What can you find inside the cave? To name a few, Lord Buddha statue and the Buddhist Goddess, Quan Am statue.
The perfume pagoda gets really crowded and busy from January to April thanks to the Chua Huong Festival.
The entrance fee to Perfume Pagoda is VND 78,000.
Appreciate the Architecture in St Joseph’s Cathedral
Somewhere around the Hoan Kiem District lies a historic church. Surviving over more than a century, the church is still standing strong, welcoming visitors every day. Yup, I’m talking about St Joseph’s Cathedral.
Built in 1886, St Joseph’s Cathedral is one of the earliest structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina. That makes it the oldest church in Hanoi city.
The main gate of the cathedral only opens when the mass is conducted. So you’ll most likely be using the side doors. There is a complex main altar inside the building, fitted with stained-glass windows. Also, the structure features two square-shaped towers, some say structures resemble Notre Dame in Paris.
The church is also surrounded by various cafes, making it a perfect stop before your lunch.
Do pay attention to the opening and closing hours before your visit. And note that there will be lunch breaks every day so plan your visit accordingly!
The entrance is free of charge.
Here you go, 8 cheap things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam. Enjoy your time in this amazing country!
Yen is a full-time university student who always takes full advantage of his holidays to travel for new experiences. He’s been to New Zealand for a Working Holiday before taking his road trip, volunteered in Kathmandu, Nepal and exchanged in California along with several backpacking trips through Southeast Asia. Having spent months in foreign countries, he gives in-depth travel tips and guides in his travel blog, Wandering Journal.