Destin-Nation Vietnam: Hanoi, Budget Lover's Paradise

Destin-Nation Vietnam

When traveling to Vietnam, Hanoi cannot be overlooked. Vietnam's capital is especially fantastic for the budget traveler as it is cheap to get there from anywhere in Asia (great for a weekend swing for those traveling through Asia), cheap to stay there, cheap to eat, and generally just really damn inexpensive.

When traveling to Vietnam, Hanoi cannot be overlooked. Vietnam's capital is especially fantastic for the budget traveler as it is cheap to get there from anywhere in Asia (great for a weekend swing for those traveling through Asia), cheap to stay there, cheap to eat, and generally just really damn inexpensive.

A trip to Hanoi and Vietnam isn't going to be like visiting a MASH field hospital. Nor should travelers be shocked by the fact that, gasp, the Vietnamese people don't hate on Americans. Get over it quickly, forget about the Vietnam War and view Hanoi with fresh eyes.

That said, there are relics of the war to be found which could be interesting to American travelers, as well worth a visit for those wanting to witness some of the tumultuous history of the two countries. But those relics are definitely not the only reason to go, nor should travelers be deterred by the fact Vietnam is a communist country.

The only real deterrent should be traveling during the summer months when temperatures reach excess of 44 degrees Celsius, with high humidity. That's face-meltingly hot. Its doable, but isn't ideal for wandering around the city.

Best of all, Hanoi and Vietnam are dirt-cheap. One US Dollar is worth 20,530 Vietnamese Dollars. Travelers can drop one million VND Dollars on a dinner, but that's only US$48.

The shopping is fantastic (and cheap), the food delicious (and really cheap), the people hospitable (careful, the pickpockets aren't so cheap), and the tourist visa easy to get (also cheap.)

Getting there: Round trip tickets from the East Coast (JFK) can average about $1,400, and can go as low as $930 from the West Coast (SFO) Cathay, American Airlines, China Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Korean Air all offer flights usually routing through Hong Kong or Taipei. Three to four days is probably enough to see a good chunk of the city, then move on to other South East Asia destinations.

Where to stay: There are a multitude of choices for budget travelers. Hostels are the cheapest bet, but for those looking for a bit more privacy there's mid range options like Golden Lotus ($50 a night) which do the job and don't cost a fortune. For those nervous about booking a cheaper hotel, just book something for the first night and if its horrible, ditch it and find another for the rest of the stay.

Destin-Nation Vietnam: Hanoi
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Destin-Nation Vietnam: Hanoi, Budget Lover's Paradise

This place is a trip. It isn't so much about the Vietnamese army, but instead features mounds of old US Military hardware piled high in the middle of the courtyard in what appears to be a reminder that yes, the Vietnamese did win the war.

While the people have moved on, that history is there if you really want to find it. Much of it reflected in the rundown museum littered with bullet riddled artillery, helicopters, and jets.

Entrance to the Vietnam Army Museum is 20,000 VND, or US$1 and 5,000 VND per camera. If you're American, claim to be Canadian and you won’t have to pay an extra fee or risk your camera being taken away.

Hours are from 8am – 11:30am and 1 – 4:30pm. 28 A Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi. Website:

A visit to Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an adventure. The Quarter is no secret and there are plenty of tourists, but it simply cannot be missed. It costs nothing to wander the maze of streets and very little to try the street food. Pedestrians also get a free show when their lives flash before their eyes as scooters whizz past.

Scooter dodging is an art form choreographed to perfection by Vietnamese in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Tourists? Not so much.

A few hours wandering the streets can be exhausting , but well worth the time spent.

Inexpensive at less than US$1 (unless you go for the really foo-foo drinks), the coffee here is strong. Think Starbucks without the taste of burnt beans. Do like the guy in the photo is doing. Sit down with a glass on the street and relax.

Coffee shops abound and sampling ice coffee treats in Hanoi on hot days is a pleasure like no other.

We could choose five best coffee shops, but that would be pointless because there’s a huge selection of shops and narrow it down to a couple would do the rest a disservice.

If you go, you’ll find good coffee. Fact.

Free entrance. A similar looking cousin to Paris’ Notre Dame, the Nha Tho Cathedral is a stunning bit of architecture and worth stopping by for history and architecture buffs.

Halong Bay is gorgeous. Located about a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay is know for stunning scenery and house boat stays.

Its easy to find a travel agent in Hanoi that can set up travelers on a Halong Bay overnight Junk cruise. Take a few days to escape Hanoi's insanity and climb aboard. On the cheap of course.

This is where Senator John McCain had his “vacation” during the Vietnam War. A “welcome” mat at the base of the stairs leading up to what used to be the officers quarters is the icing on the mixed feelings cake.

According to the photos and text on the walls, American pilots and prisoners were happy as all get out during their time. Walk a few feet, turn a corner, and you find a guillotine or rows of lifelike dummies chained to benches.

Hoa Lo prison is located on Pho Hoa Lo and Pho Hi Ba Trung, hours of operation are Tuesday to Sunday 8 – 11am and 1:30 – 4:30pm and the entrance fee is 5,000 VND.

At 20,000 – 40,000 VND per ticket -- or in US Dollars approximately less than what one would pay for just about anything. Is there even anything that costs under one dollar anymore?

Water puppetry is unique to Vietnam and Hanoi, having originated nearby almost 1,000 years ago. Cultural history aside, be prepared for fart jokes. Some humor truly does cross cultures and decades.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater info: 57B Pho Dinh Tien Hoang, admission 20,000 - 40,000 VND, shows at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday - Saturday, 9:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, Tel: 824 9494, Website:

Typical cost: Under US$2. Man up and try some street food. True, it doesn’t look all that sanitary. Truth, it is possible to end up eating something that ill result in the complete failure of your bowels. But! There is some street food to be had that is the best in Asia.

The sweet pudding-like dessert Che is especially good in Hanoi, and comes in many varieties.

Typically it is a good idea to avoid eating meat or hard to identify foodstuffs that have been sitting out. Hanoi is a street food culture, so the locals are used to it, but outsider’s tummies might have a tough time. is the blog to check for any and all food and street food recommendations for Hanoi.

Free! Scooters are practically an extension of a person’s body in Vietnam. Everybody has one, and everybody rides them wherever they want. Crossing a busy street in Hanoi for the first time is akin to having a first sexual experience.

Your blood pumps, you’re excited, scared, and you want a cigarette after you’re done.

After the first crossing, it gets easier and you don’t have any problem with stepping out into four way crossing right in front of a scooter because you know they’ll swerve around you.

Just don’t flinch. Decisive movement is key.

5,000 VND to 10,000 VND for a trim. Corner barbers are found in the Old Quarter. For those who really feel like getting into the spirit of things, this is a cheap way to experience a bit of local life.


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