This Hanoi Budget Trip Guide Covers Basic Itinerary and Things to Know If You Travel to Hanoi (and Is Based on the Personal Experience)
Before I move on to Hanoi budget trip details, I have to say one thing. This city has one very valuable quality to it that may just make you fall in love with it – …
…Hanoi comes with no pressure, whatsoever.
Do you know that feeling when you come to, let’s say, Paris. Or London. Or Budapest. And you have only three days or so to check out everything the city has to offer, so you try to squeeze everything into the travel agenda. As a result, you get so stressed out about the itinerary and logistics that you spend more time worrying about missing out on something rather than just enjoying the experience.
Well, Hanoi brings back balance and harmony. It is all about enjoying the experience. And it’s not that there is nothing to see or do in this city. On the contrary, the capital of Vietnam has a rich historic and cultural background and hence, lots of attractions.
But (and maybe it was just in our experience) because the city’s vibe is so different from many other popular travel destinations, the first thing we wanted to do the morning we stepped out of the hotel and onto the streets of Hanoi was to throw away the to-do list and to just wander. This is exactly what we did.
I do, however, understand that having a plan to lean on is important. So, I’ll go over some of the most important things worth knowing when visiting Hanoi. I will also outline what are some of the best things to do and see in Hanoi during a two- or a three-day stay. All of this is based on our journey, mine and Natalie’s, and I do hope that our Hanoi budget trip review will be helpful for you.
Table of Contents
The Perfect January Travel Destination
It was already evening when our plane landed at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi. It was the first few days of January. Natalie and I were still at the beginning of our BSEAE, as I now call it – the Big South-East Asian Escape. I had just quit my long-term and major big job as the chief screenwriter at the local TV channel. My sister was struggling with adjusting to life in Kiev after running from the war-torn Donetsk.
Both of us were in desperate need of getting a reboot. So we embarked on our journey to South Asia, which started in Hong Kong. At this point, I must admit that not only Hanoi but Vietnam was not on our initial travel agenda when we planned this budget trip. Bali was a big dream. Thailand was on the wishlist. Angkor Wat in Cambodia was an absolute must because both of us dreamed of exploring the temples ever since we were little girls.
Vietnam, however – not so much.
Vietnam May Just Offer The Right Flight Segment
I remember playing with the flight segments while on Skyscanner, moving the destinations and dates back and forth, trying to find the best tickets to get to Cambodian Phnom Penn from Hong Kong, but nothing seemed to fit. Or, which is worse, it did fit, but the commute was too expensive. By that time, I was still a newbie to the SEA logistics, budget airlines to Hanoi, connections between the countries and whatnot.
So I thought about a connection flight, as these usually help to reduce the cost of tickets. What was the one in the middle? Hanoi… Let’s see if it fits? It did. Not only that…
…the price of the ticket dropped down by about 15%. That Hanoi segment contributed massively to making our budget trip happen. As I am writing these words I go back in time thinking about our then financial struggles with gratitude. If not for them, we would’ve missed Vietnam.
Meanwhile, I googled a thing or two about Hanoi. Instagram-searched the city too, of course, trying to figure out what do all those awesome and glamorous travel influencers do when in the Vietnamese capital. I talked to Natalie, and we decided to give the city a try and to stay for three days.
If we were to go there now, we would’ve reserved at least five days. It is amazing how Hanoi resonated with both of us.
Getting a Visa at Noi Bai Airport
To visit Vietnam, most of us, travelers, need a visa. Visitors from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany can use a 15-day free visa exemption.
The good news is, most of us can also get this visa on arrival, at the Noi Bai Hanoi airport (or any other major airport in the country; the main rule for visa on arrival is you have to come by air to qualify for it).
Here’s some more news, though. In order to be able to get a visa at Noi Bai, you will need to first apply online. So, when at the airport and heading for the visa stamp, you will be asked to provide the following documents:
- A pre-approved letter from the Vietnamese authorities.
- Two passport-sized photos.
- A visa fee, which is from 18 to 135 USD, depending on the selected stamp.
How to Get the Pre-Approved Letter?
There are plenty of websites that process requests. We used the services from this site: www.vietnamvisa.govt.vn. The process is quite straightforward. We filled in the details about our full names (as in the passport), dates of birth, nationality, passport numbers, and date of arrival. This is also where we paid the first fee – the services fee, which is based on the duration of the visa that you request (I decided not to list prices here, as these may change with time, so it’s better to check directly with the service provider).
Allow three to five days for the application to be processed. Also, you can pay a little extra for speedy approval. It takes about 8 hours. Once the request is processed, you receive a confirmation letter that you will need to print out and present along with the photos and a stamp fee directly at the airport.
We did all of that, and straight from the plane, headed to get our visas. Fun observation based on the shared pain of everyone with the post-Soviet background (pointing at ourselves). People from Ukraine are spotted easily in the visa line. We are the only ones who have a full package of additional ID and travel documents with us.
Why? The level of bureaucracy in Ukraine is extremely high. There is this ridiculous folder with scans and copies of all the documents that I’ve accumulated throughout the years, which I just store and carry to any appointments related to official matters (reissuing the passport, paying taxes, etc). Well you know… just in case. Because there will most probably be a case.
At Noi Bai, however, we received our visas quickly, just as it was described at any other Hanoi travel blog. We presented the letters, pictures, and passports, paid a fee and boom, within about twenty minutes or so we were out in the city, looking for a bus to take us downtown.
How to Get From the Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi City Center?
There are three options to get from Noi Bai airport to Hanoi: by taxi/private mini-bus, by a public bus, or by a shuttle bus.
For us, it was a no-brainer since in Hanoi we were on a budget trip. There is a shuttle bus #86, which drives from Terminals 1 and 2 to the city downtown, and from where it stopped, Google maps showed that it was a 15-minute walk to our hotel.
Back in 2016, it was considered a public bus, and a cheap one, too. As I am looking through forums four years later, it is upgraded to being called the shuttle bus. This did not reflect on a price much, though, so I still recommend it.
Bus #86 from Noi Bai to Hanoi City Center
The bus is convenient for travelers as it has lots of room for baggage, and stops are announced in Vietnamese and English. There are 8 stops on its route. The single one-way ticket cost 30,000 VND (about 1,50 USD) back in 2016. I don’t think the price changed much since then. When we were getting ready for our Hanoi budget trip, we did not find any information about booking bus tickets in advance. We bought them directly from the controller, so this was not a problem.
The buses run every 20 to 30 minutes, from 5:05 AM to 23:00 PM, and it takes around 50 to 60 minutes to get to the city center. It is also not hard to spot the bus stop at the terminal. At Terminal 1, it is marked with the orange sidepost that says 86. At Terminal 2, it is on the other side of the stand 02.
This looks like the official Facebook page of the bus 86 route, but it is in Vietnamese. Alternatively, you may also want to consider using bus shuttles from the airlines that you used. Check your airline, and if it is a Vietnamese one, you might just be able to hop on one of such shuttles.
From Noi Bai to Hanoi City Center by Taxi
Neither a taxi or a mini-bus is that expensive in Vietnam, though, especially if you can split a cost of a ride between several people. Today, this would’ve probably been my first choice, but it is always good to have options.
As it often is in the airports, getting a taxi may be a bit hectic since it requires bargaining, sorting out all the details, and agreeing on a price in advance. The price is about 15 USD from the airport to the hotel in the city center. As I was scanning through numerous Hanoi travel blogs looking for the best way to reach the center, I saw the locals advising on using Grab or Uber.
From Noi Bai to Hanoi if You Are Really-Really On a Budget Trip
There are also public buses #7 and #17 running every fifteen to twenty minutes. This is a very authentic experience, and a very cheap one, too. The commute on either of these costs 10,000 VND (about 0.50 USD).
I remember looking at those when I was weighing my options. But neither of the buses offered a commute convenient enough, as both required some additional walking or a taxi ride from their final stops. Bus #7 drives to the Kim Ma bus station, from where it’ll be about 30 to 40 additional minutes worth of walking to the Old Quarter. Bus #17 arrives at the Long Bien bus station, and it is a 20-minute walk from there to the Sword Lake.
Of course, you can always take a taxi or another bus from either of these stations to your destination.
Why We Liked Bus #86
Our feeling that Hanoi would be a fun stop started right at the Noi Bai stop for the route #86. This is a shuttle that many travelers choose, so you find yourself on this short trip with people from every corner of the world, all chatting about where they’re coming from and what their list of things to see and do in Hanoi includes.
Our acquaintance on this bus was the Brazilian backpacker Matteo who spotted our huge backpacks and approached to chat. He asked, which hostel we picked on our stay in Hanoi and teased us for booking a hotel:
– Mmm, so this means that you’ll get to have the entire room to yourselves, – he smiled. – Big spenders.
We admitted then that after our hostel experience in Hong Kong, we needed to take things a bit slower (plus, the hotels in Hanoi are very cheap).
– Wow, – looked like we could hope for some rehabilitation in his eyes. – Chungking Mansion in Kowloon? Say no more. I almost booked a room there myself. I got out the last minute and praised myself for doing so when I got to Kowloon and saw the place.
(In all honesty, Chungking Mansion is not that bad. It is a bit shocking for an unprepared traveler, but quite an authentic experience).
Matteo also shared some SEA-traveling wisdom that I feel the need to pass along. The wisdom is to always (always) count personal clothing items before giving them to laundry services. The fact that he lost half of his backpack to laundry on his previous travel stop, in Sri Lanka, however, did not upset our new and optimistic Brazilian friend much.
Luckily, on his last day in Colombo, he managed to get some new T-shirts, socks, and even underwear (which he took out of his backpack and happily demonstrated to us, as well as to the rest of the travelers). Fun times.
Best Budget Hotels: What Part of Hanoi to Stay at?
For the most part, Hanoi is one of those cities that is great for walking tours (we list some of the best locations to visit in our Hanoi Travel Guide). Unlike for example Bangkok where it is crucial to pick the right area to stay at or you’ll end up taking two metro lines, a boat, and a tuk-tuk to get to all the main attractions, here each of the three main areas that I’ve included into the post is conveniently adjacent to the main sightseeing destinations. It is either a walkable distance or a short and cheap cab ride.
The three areas that we researched and eventually visited are Ba Dinh, Hoan Kiem, and Hai Ba Trung (there is also Truc Bach and Tay Ho, but I know little about those).
Reasons to Stay in Hoan Kiem Area and Budget Accommodations in Hanoi Old Quarter
This is the part of the Old Quarter that Natalie and I picked as our base for the three days that we stayed in Hanoi on our budget trip. Located around the Hoan Kiem Lake, it is the heart of the city. This is also where the bus #86 has one of its stops.
The area is crowded, loud, and very much alive. It is home to numerous hipster coffee houses, colonial architecture, and street markets. Located south of the district is the iconic French Quarter.
Everyone who counts each cent will be able to find a suitable accommodation here. The area offers lots of hostels, 2 and 3-star hotels and quite a few apartments.
The budget per night starts from:
- 7 USD for a bed in a hostel
- 14 USD for a room in a 3-stars hotel
- 16 USD for an AirBnB apartment.
Reasons to Stay at Ba Dinh Area in Hanoi
This may be an alternative for everyone who tries to avoid the hectic and chaotic city center and is always looking for a balance of close proximity to all the action along with a quieter surrounding.
Ba Dinh is located North of the center, next to the picturesque Lake Ho Tay. This area is home to some of the major attractions. The list includes Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, Temple of Literature, Presidential Palace, and One Pillar Pagoda.
Travelers enjoy this area for its laid-back atmosphere. As to the budget itinerary, prices per night start from:
- 14 USD for a bed in a hostel (you won’t find many in this area)
- 19 USD for a room in a 3-stars hotel
- 16 USD for an AirBnB apartment.
Reasons to Stay at Hai Ba Trung Area in Hanoi
This is probably the right choice for everyone who comes to stay in the city for a while. Adjacent to the Old Quarter, the area is a modern site with Thong Nhat Park, Vincom City Towers, Pac Hat Pagoda, and Hom Market among its main attractions.
Per night, the budget starts at:
- 10 USD for a room in a 2-star hotel (neither Booking nor Agoda displayed any hostels in the area)
- 12 USD for a room in a 3-stars hotel
- 15 USD for an AirBnB apartment.
Our First Night Out and Food Prices in Hanoi
Our first night on the street of Hanoi was, well… refreshing. Soothed by the seamless commute from the airport to the city, we were caught off guard when we stepped out the bus.
My pre-downloaded Google map gave up the first two minutes into the route from the bust stop to our hotel.
I don’t know if this can be considered a budget tip, but this Hanoi offline Google map malfunction made me realize how crucial constant access to Internet is while on the road. I now always buy local SIM-cards at airports, when arriving in new countries. This allows me to save on roaming.
If I did not mention it before, I will now – both Natali and I borrowed our backpacks from a friend. They did not fit. They were of the wrong size and were placed incorrectly on our backs, and it was not possible to adjust them properly.
So, we got lost, and what should’ve been an easy 15-minute walk to a hotel, turned into a 40-minute quest with our adventurous spirit moving us forward, but our heavy backpacks dragging us back.
At the same time, we were stepping over numerous street food cafes, maneuvering between the sidewalk, the road, and hundreds of bikes – parked and moving.
Then we almost felt like retreating when we reached our first unregulated Hanoi crossroad. It had a crosswalk. Those of you who have been to Vietnam also know that its presence does not mean a thing. It is a concept that is very hard to squeeze into an unprepared European brain.
We then had to come back to that crossroad several times, as we were doing numerous laps around the area and looking for the correct address. At last, when we stopped near that deadly (I am exaggerating, of course) crossroad for the ???th time, my sister looked up and pulled me by the backpack.
We were here. All along, we were near the hotel all this time. We must’ve passed it least three times, we just did not notice its sign, which was buried under hundreds of other signs and banners on the building. The usual Hanoi deal.
A Well-Deserved Rest
I am still trying to figure out how the star system in hotels around the world works. For instance, you may book a 5-star in Egypt, and in reality, it will barely keep up with a 2-star level.
Our 2-star hotel in Hanoi was a budget one, but the experience we had was beyond expectations. The room was clean. The staff was friendly and welcoming. And those beds… after small bunks in a Hong Kong hostel, they felt like a true treat.
It did not take us long to find a nice place to eat next to our hotel (Did we get lost on the way back? Of course we did!). Together with Vietnamese hospitality, local cuisine became the highlight of our trip to Hanoi.
Food in Hanoi is very cheap, and at the same time very good. This is one of those cities where you’ll open TripAdvisor to see the highest ratings for simple street cafes with plastic stools and tables. Once, in Hoian, we decided to try trading a corner cafe for a fancy restaurant and had a good laugh when the waiter brought us menus. It was the same food that we would order from a street vendor, only four times more expensive.
There is also diversity to the cuisine, from soups to spring rolls, fresh salads, noodles, hotpots, and more. That first night in the city, Natalie and I got our big bowls of pho for under 3 USD for both of us. I remember being barely able to finish the bowl, it was that big.
Hanoi Budget Trip Itinerary
To sum up, Hanoi is very friendly to travelers on the budget, even in the areas that are considered more expensive (like Ba Dinh, for instance). Per day and per one person, the average budget for Hanoi can roughly start from 17 USD. This includes:
- A bed in a hostel starting from 7 USD, or a simple hotel room starting from 12 USD. Most of these will include a free breakfast.
- A meal in a local cafe or from a street vendor will cost around 3 USD or less.
- Expect to pay around 1.2 USD for Vietnamese coffee, and around 1 USD for the local beer.
- The budget for transportation varies between 0.40 cents for a bus to 1.5 USD for a short taxi ride.
These are the basics, of course, with prices for tickets to museums, or other attractions not included.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.