5 Must Try Foods in Hanoi

When you think of Vietnamese food, what comes to mind first?

Pho? Banh Mi?

I thought so.

And yeah, those are in fact quintessential Vietnamese foods, but there’s so many more Vietnamese delicacies that you simply have to try from all over the country.

But since I’m currently living in Hanoi, I figure it’s best if I start with a list of my 5 must try foods in Hanoi, in the capital city of Vietnam.

This isn’t an exhaustive list (I mean, I only picked 5 dishes) and it’s my own personal favorites, so please don’t be surprised if there’s a ton of awesome foods I didn’t mention. If there’s a Hanoian dish you’re obsessed with that I didn’t include, let me know - maybe I haven’t tried it yet!


My Favorite Foods in Hanoi

1.Phở 

Pho Bo Hanoi
Pho Bo Hanoi

You didn’t think I was going to make this list and not put the most raved about Vietnamese dish in the world on it, did you?

Phở - Vietnamese beef noodle soup - originated in Hanoi, but variations of it exist all around the country. But if you’re looking for the closest thing to the original, you better try Phở at one of the bazillion street stalls around Hanoi!

The popular soup consists of a specific type of flat rice noodles, a broth seasoned with a variety of Vietnamese spices, and typically either bo (beef) or ga (chicken). It is served with a heaping pile of herbs and greens for garnish and chili paste, garlic, and black pepper to taste.

Phở is an extremely common meal for any time of the day, but is often eaten as a breakfast food.


2. Bun Cha

Bun Cha served with nem, the spring rolls commonly eaten alongside it.

Bun Cha served with nem, the spring rolls commonly eaten alongside it.

Bun Cha is another extremely popular Northern Vietnamese food and an absolute must try food while you’re visiting Hanoi.

In fact, President Barack Obama enjoyed a delicious bun cha while visiting Hanoi, and the restaurant he ate at - Bún Chả Hương Liên - is now fondly known as Obama Bun Cha. How’s that for sweet restaurant marketing?

Bun cha consists of grilled pork in a sweet and savory broth with a heaping pile of vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs and greens on the side.

To eat bun cha, you slowly add in vermicelli noodles and greens into the pork and broth. Much like most other Vietnamese dishes, bun cha can be topped with chili paste, garlic, black pepper and more to taste.

Bun Cha is a Vietnamese foodtraditionally eaten for lunch, but can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

If you’re going to Hanoi, you’d be crazy not to give bun cha a try.


3. Bánh cuốn

A tray of banh cuon from one of my favorite banh cuon restaurants in the Old Quarter, Banh Cuon Ba Hanh.

A tray of banh cuon from one of my favorite banh cuon restaurants in the Old Quarter, Banh Cuon Ba Hanh.

Bánh cuốn is a fantastically unique melt-in-your-mouth recipe originating from Northern Vietnam.

Bánh cuốn are homemade rice noodle rolls stuffed with ground pork, wood ear mushrooms, and topped with crispy fried shallots. It’s typically served with a light fish sauce for dipping.

The dish is typically consumed by Vietnamese for breakfast, but it’s offered throughout the day at most establishments.

My favorite part about Bánh cuốn - aside from eating it of course - is watching the women in the food stalls cooking the delicate rice rolls on a circular griddle.

The first place I ever had the pleasure of devouring Banh Cuon is Banh Cuon Ba Hanh in the Old Quarter - and it’s still my go-to spot.


4. Bánh xèo

It’s awesome having a delicious Banh Xeo restaurant right on my street.

It’s awesome having a delicious Banh Xeo restaurant right on my street.

If friends were to ask me the one unique Vietnamese food to try during this visit to Hanoi, I’d probably say Bánh xèo.

So what is it?

Bánh xèo literally translates to sizzling pancake due to the noise the batter makes as it hits the skillet.

It’s a crispy pancake filled with little shrimp and beansprouts and served with the standard heaping pile of herbs and lettuce and long thin strips of cucumber and something resembling unripe mango and eggplant (would someone please verify this is what I’m eating?!).

But what makes banh xeo fun, at least to me, is that it’s sort of a build-your-own-roll. The Vietnamese pancake is cut into strips and wrapped in a thin rice wrap with your choice of greens and veggies then dip it in the provided light dipping sauce.

Banh Xeo is often eaten alongside Nem nướng, or lemongrass barbecue pork skewers, which can be eaten off the stick or cut up and rolled into the banh xeo wraps.


5. Bánh mì

Delicious banh mis from Banh Mi 25.

Delicious banh mis from Banh Mi 25.

Okay, fine, Bánh mì actually originated from Southern Vietnam, not the North, but it’s still become a staple dish and must-try food while in Hanoi as well.

Banh mi, which literally means bread in Vietnamese, can refer to any baguette sandwich with a variety of fillings, or even just the crispy baguette itself.

But the most typical Bánh mì usually contains pork or egg, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrot and mayonnaise and chili sauce. What really makes a banh mi delicious, in my opinion, is the addition of high-quality pate. Yum!

The most famous banh mi spot in Hanoi is Banh Mi 25 located in the Old Quarter, and I’m not ashamed of being cliche in recommending it because even after living here a while, it’s still the best banh mi I’ve ever had in Hanoi due to the generous portion of fillings and consistently crispy baguettes.


Hanoi Foods Honorable Mention

  • Xoi (glutenous rice served with a variety of savory or sweet ingredients)

  • Pho Xao (Stir-fried pho noodles)

  • Pho Chien Phong (Fluffy Fried Noodle Pillows served with beef and veggies in gravy)

  • Bun Oc (Snail Noodle Soup)

  • Cha Ca

So there you have it for my list of 5 must try foods in Hanoi. Have you been to Hanoi? If so, let me know what your favorite must try Hanoi foods are in the comments! xx

Where To Go From Hanoi

Wondering what the best day or multi-day trips are from Hanoi? There are a number of captivating destinations which are easily accessible from the Vietnamese capitol. From the rice paddies of Mai Chau and Sapa to the extreme motorbike loop that is Ha Giang to an epic sail along Ha Long Bay, no matter which places you decide to visit from Hanoi you will be blown away by the incredible scenery Northern Vietnam is famous for. There are many destinations to visit from Hanoi and each have its own unique beauty to discover.

So enjoy this quick guide to the top destinations to visit from Hanoi:


  1. Mai Chau & Pu Luong National Park

Travel Time From Hanoi: 3+ hours

A typical view whilst trekking and wandering around Mai Chau

A typical view whilst trekking and wandering around Mai Chau

Imagine observing Northern Vietnamese rice farmers dotted along a scenery which almost looks too beautiful to be real. If meandering along idyllic rice paddy views and the opportunity to enjoy quiet, authentic moments amongst the locals appeals to you, a trekking tour of Mai Chau and/or Pu Luong National Park is the perfect destination for you to visit from Hanoi. The region is about a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi.

Since Mai Chau is a much less popular destination than the world-famous Sapa, tourists have the opportunity to indulge in a much more “authentic-feeling” experience, and depending on where you stay, you may even be one of the only tourists in the area.

which, for better or worse, is likely to change soon as the tourism infrastructure grows rapidly there. My advice? Book your trip to Mai Chau before it actually becomes the next Sapa.

mai chau

Whether you choose to book a multi-day tour (recommended if you’d like to do a guided trek) or book your own homestays and motorbike around the region yourself, you will likely be sleeping in stilted houses amongst the rice paddies, eating delicious family-style meals and even doing rice wine shots with the locals. And did I mention the views? Travelers can easily book a trip from various travel agencies or hotels/hostels in the Old Quarter. Don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal or a tour that suits you best.


2. Ha Long Bay & Cat Ba Island

Travel Time From Hanoi: 3+ hours

ha long bay

As a UNESCO Heritage Site featuring thousands of limestone karsts jutting endlessly from the sea, it’s easy to see why Ha Long Bay is a top tourist destination from Hanoi. Travelers can book a number of different of cruise tours to fit their travel style and budget, from cruises geared towards the younger backpacker crowd (Castaways) to luxurious cruise liners with gourmet meals onboard. To get to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi, one takes a 2.5hr bus ride to the port.

ha long bay

Also accessible from the Ha Long Port is Cat Ba Island, which is often the final stop on a Ha Long Bay cruise tour but can easily be visited in its own right via a frequently running ferry. The island features a nature preserve where one can bike along or camp in. It also features some hostels and a small town area which in and of itself is not notable, but Cat Ba National Park is worth a visit. I recommend staying in a homestay and renting out bicycles to cycle around the national park.


3. The Ha Giang Loop

Travel Time From Hanoi: 5-6hrs

ha giang loop

The Ha Giang Loop is my absolute favorite trip to take from Hanoi, but it’s not for the weak of heart! I have already written an entire article on The Ha Giang Loop, which you can access here, but I’ll give a quick summary. Ha Giang is a province in the northernmost part of Vietnam, about a 5-6 hour bus ride from Hanoi. It’s famous amongst travelers for the Ha Giang Loop, a motorbike loop which starts in the city of Ha Giang and features stunning cliff views, rugged roads, ethnic minority villages and the incredibly scenic Ma Pi Leng Pass. Travelers spend their days motorbiking along the loop and their evenings in various homestays and hostels dotted throughout the route.

To learn more about the Ha Giang Loop, click here.


4. Ninh Binh

Travel Time From Hanoi: 2hrs

ninh binh

Ninh Binh is a province south of Hanoi featuring beautiful limestone cliffs amongst rice fields which has often driven compares to Ha Long Bay on land. A popular tourist destination for travelers and Vietnamese alike, Ninh Binh has a lot to offer. Popular attractions include catching a boat ride in Trang An, “hiking” up the hundreds of steps of Hang Mua to scout the stunning views below, visiting temples and visiting Cuc Phuong National Park nearby.

ninh binh goats

There are a plethora of accommodation options in Ninh Binh, from picturesque homestays to hostels primarily located in the town of Tam Coc. I found Tam Coc to be the most vibrant spot to stay if you’re looking for a bit of a social scene and more food options.

Speaking of food options, be prepared to see goat meat stalls everywhere. Trust me, they’re hard to miss.


5. Sa Pa

Travel Time From Hanoi: 5+hr

No list of places to visit from Hanoi would be complete without Sapa. While I must admit I haven’t been, it’s such a monumental destination that it’s almost shameful I haven’t made the journey yet! The region is famous for its trekking and of course, rice paddies. I’ve been told that it’s best to stay outside of Sapa town itself and in the surrounding areas as its quite overrun with tourists directly in town.

For more information, check out this Sapa Travel Guide which I found useful.


6. Ba Vi National Park

Travel Time From Hanoi: 1.5hr

ba vi national park
ba vi

For an easy day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, Ba Vi National Park is another option. Ba Vi National Park is only a little over an hour west of Hanoi city and features fresher air, lush greenery and a variety of accommodation choice from camping to homestays to luxury resorts like Melia. While it isn’t the most notable or exciting of destinations from Hanoi, if you’re looking for a quick city escape that won’t keep you on a bus for hours at a time, Ba Vi is a worthy choice.





7. Duong Lam Ancient Village

Travel Time From Hanoi: 1hr

dung lam ancient village

A quick trip worthy of a half day from Hanoi is Duong Lam Ancient Village, a typical old village in Bac Bo area featuring Mong Phu Temple. It’s also a quick stop on the way to Ba Vi National Park, so the two trips could be made into one. There isn’t an incredible amount of see there, but if you really don’t have much time to explore outside of Hanoi it’s worth it to get out of the city and see a more simple lifestyle in an ancient village in northern Vietnam.




4 Things that Could Set You Back While Traveling

Even the most carefully considered plans can be disrupted — and travel is no exception. But you don’t have to let it stop you from setting off. We can’t promise that your trip will be trouble-free, but we can write a list of the most common setbacks and how to deal with them (and minimize the chance of them happening). Here are four things to watch out for.

4 things that could set you back while traveling

(Photo by Jacky Lo on Unsplash)

1. Missed flights

Sometimes there’s a traffic jam and you don’t make it to the airport in time. Sometimes you get the details on your boarding pass confused. Sometimes you get to the airport and still don’t board the plane (find out why here).

Whatever the case, missing your flight is a common travel setback. You can reduce the chances of it happening by leaving for the airport in plenty of time, but here’s what to do if your plans go awry.

If you miss your flight:

  • Go to the desk of the airline and see if they can let you board the next flight. If there are no free seats, you may be able to get one with a partner airline.

  • Alternatively, you can research cheap last-minute flights on a price comparison website.

If you miss a connecting flight:

  • Go to the airline desk and see if they can let you board the next flight.

  • Ask the airline if they can keep your luggage stored safely until you arrive at your destination.

2. Illness

Getting ill is a part of life, so it’s not something you can avoid, but you can look after yourself to reduce the chances of it happening. Simple steps like washing your hands often, carrying anti-bacterial gel, getting your vaccinations done and drinking water from a bottle, not the tap, will all go a long way to keeping you healthy.

What to do if you fall ill while traveling:

  • If your symptoms are mild, stay in bed and drink plenty of fluids.

  • If your symptoms get worse, find out where the nearest clinic or hospital is, and be ready to go there if you need to.

  • If you’re too sick to do anything and your symptoms don’t improve, you may have to return home.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance before you go. According to TINZ, 28% of people fail to take out a policy — don’t be one of them. The cost of medical care abroad is very expensive, even for relatively simple conditions like dehydration.

4 things that could set you back while traveling

(Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

3. Lost or stolen possessions

Whether it’s baggage loss on a flight, theft, or just plain forgetfulness, lost or stolen possessions can be a huge source of stress while you’re travelling. Here are the steps to take if it happens to you:

What to do if your baggage goes missing

  • Speak to someone at the airline’s baggage claim counter and be sure to show them your baggage claim ticket. They may be able to track your bag’s location.

  • Ask for a Property Irregularity Report. You may not need it, but if you need to claim compensation you can use it as evidence.

  • If your baggage shows up: it’s the airline’s responsibility to get it to you as quickly and safely as possible.

  • If your baggage is declared lost: contact your travel insurance provider, who will help you claim compensation.

What to do if your wallet goes missing

  • Visit the local police station to file a report.

  • Cancel any cards immediately to prevent unauthorised spending.

What to do if your passport goes missing

  • Have copies of your passport, another form of ID (like a driving license), your travel itinerary and a passport-sized photo saved on a cloud, just in case.

  • Go to your nearest embassy as soon as possible.

  • Let them know your passport has been stolen or lost — they should be able to issue a temporary passport.

  • Apply for a new passport as soon as you get home.

4. Being lonely or homesick

It feels like you shouldn’t be homesick when you’re exploring new places and are supposedly having the time of your life, but it happens to everyone. (Even TripSavvy describe it as ‘inevitable’ in their guide to dealing with homesickness.)

The best thing to do is be patient, accept you feel the way you do, and — most importantly — be kind to yourself. Have time to wallow, then go out and start exploring again.

Five Lessons Learned From Solo Traveling

solo traveling

1. Be Early. Be earlier than early. Be the earliest.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve missed more trains and buses while traveling alone these past few months than I wish to, well, admit, every time resulting in me feeling like a failed solo traveler and sulking in the nearest McDonalds (the Golden Arches are never too far away from a train station and bring me solace and comfort during my time of need, okay? Don’t judge me). 

When you’re traveling alone, you are solely accountable for getting to your next destination in a timely manner, and no one is there to wake you up when that alarm is blaring and you accidentally shut it off in a daze because you’re in ~vacation mode~. Add the fact that you’re in a foreign city and can easily take a wrong turn when sprinting off to the train/bus station and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The solution? Always give yourself ample time to arrive at the bus/train station so that there’s plenty of room for error and that you’re not living in a constant state of panic. I’d say being at least an hour ahead of schedule is sufficient. And always look up directions in advance. 

In other words, don’t be like me, friends. 

2. Be a “Yes” Person.

One of the greatest advantages of solo travel is that you have the freedom to do what you want when you want to - and a big piece of that is being open to spontaneous adventures with new friends. Take advantage of the possibilities this can open up for you! If someone greets you with a smile and asks if you want to join them at the museum or try that popular tapas spot with them, don’t hesitate to say yes! Sure, maybe you just met them, and maybe you were contemplating doing something different on your own, but why not take advantage of this moment and possibly make a new travel buddy in the process?

While you have become a bit too comfortable doing things alone or making your own plans while traveling solo, taking yourself out of your comfort zone a bit almost always pays off, and will take some of the pressure off making all your own decisions for once.

 

3. …But don’t be afraid to just chill, either.

Look, there’s a lot of pressure on us solo backpackers to always be doing something new and exciting. I mean, here we are, in a foreign land with little else but a passport and possibilities. 

But let’s be real here - that sh** is EXHAUSTING sometimes, not to mention overwhelming. I don’t care if it’s a Saturday night and everyone else in your dorm is headed out on a pub crawl - if you need a night to recharge over Netflix, DO IT. Yeah, you might feel some FOMO, but it’s so important to listen to your body. You’re doing so much, that mind-numbing 10 hour bus ride was exhausting, and maybe you’re feeling some travel sickness come on. Give yourself permission to chill and pace yourself.

 

4. Sometimes you will get lonely…

Let’s talk about loneliness for a second. It’s very real part of solo travel, and I think even the biggest social butterfly in the hostel is bound to feel it at some point. I find that loneliness tends to hit me the worst right after I make a new friend on the road and one of us, inevitably, has to head out to our next location. Goodbyes suck, and they happen way too often in the backpacking world. But it’s those fleeting moments of human connection that help forge lifelong friendships even after meeting for just a small sliver of time. It’s beautiful, really, how quickly two human beings can bond when separated from everything and everyone they know, while knowing that their time together will be cut short.

 

While it’s alright to feel lonely once in a while, try not to dwell on it too much. It’s so easy to get caught up in your head and think you’re the worst backpacker ever for not being surrounded by a million new faces every single second of everyday, but it’s that self-defeatist attitude that will keep you from going out and making new friends. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the person sitting across the room alone - there’s a big chance they’re feeling just as overwhelmed as you are. 

 

And if someone starts making small talk with you, try and challenge yourself to let the conversation go a step further. Yeah, asking them about their travels is a nice icebreaker, but why not ask them what inspires them, too? Oh, and while you’re at it, ask if they want to go grab a coffee or explore the city today. You never know where your next backpacker friend will be made! 

5. …but always remember, you’re doing something awesome!

Yes, solo travel isn’t easy or simple and you’re going to be dealt some challenges along the way, but that’s part of what makes it so awesome! You’re thrusting yourself into an unknown world without having the crutch of a familiar person’s constant presence. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone on a daily basis and you’re seeing the world. There are many people out there who wish they had the guts to do what you’re doing. Solo travel is a catalyst to personal growth and reflection. You go, wanderer!

 

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