Hanoi was the final city I visited in South East Asia, and after six months exploring the region, it quickly became my favourite. For me, Hanoi was a city I’d love to live in. The old district is beautifully falling to pieces in the most elegant way possible, there’s a series of gorgeous lakes, amazing food and shopping galore. I used Hanoi as a base to explore Sapa and the far north of the country, as well as Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island. Each time I returned, I loved this crazy little city even more. Unfortunately, it’s a city which is often given a flying visit by many travellers, and therefore I feel it is very much misunderstood. So if you’re planning a trip to South East Asia anytime soon, here’s some reasons why Hanoi is the place to be!

  1. This is old town Asia as you always imagined

Arrive in Bangkok and you are blinded by big city lights, mega malls and sleazy night life. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bangkok, but it’s hardly the old-worldly Asia you might have imagined. Hanoi might still be a capital city, but the old town is very well preserved, still holding the traditional atmosphere of times gone by. The walls are painted dusty yellow, temples appear around every corner and it’s pretty easy to get helplessly lost in a maze of backstreets and feel like you’ve entered another world.

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2. It’s the perfect mix of ancient culture and backpacker ease

While there are heaps of temples, local markets, cathedrals and lakes to keep you well and truly absorbed in Vietnamese culture, anyone who has been on the road for a long time knows how important those backpacker conveniences are every once in a while. Hanoi has great hostels, coffee shops and Western eats, without chains of McDonalds and Burger King obstructing your view of the Hoan Kiem Lake.

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3. It’s super, super cheap!

A great surprise for me when arriving in Hanoi was the low prices of everything! When you think  of capital cities you usually expect a bit of a price increase, but not in Hanoi! Here, it’s perfectly reasonable to get a dorm bed for under £5 a night including free breakfast, a meal will set you back around £1, and see if you can find the 50p beer stands! If you are in need of a little city time but don’t want to fork out the cash you might expect to pay in Bangkok or Singapore, Hanoi is a great choice.

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4. There is a whole museum dedicated to women

Every Travelette loves to learn a little about the lives of the local women, and in Hanoi they have an entire museum dedicated to just that! The Vietnamese Women’s Museum focuses on the history of women in Vietnam. You can read about how women are viewed in tribal cultures, how they fought in the Vietnam-American War and also about the lives of women today in the country. The focus of the museum is not only to preserve the heritage of women in Vietnam, but also to promote gender equality in society. We love it!

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5. The food is amazing and varied

Vietnamese food has a reputation around the world for being pretty incredible. Hanoi is a display of the best of this, Pho’s, spring rolls, iced shakes and many more Vietnamese delights are on sale at the stalls and street markets around the city. Hanoi is also a great place to try something new, and I was particularly impressed with the range of vegetarian restaurants in a city which otherwise doesn’t cater too well for us non-meat eaters. For something a little different, check out the Zenith Yoga Studio and Cafe which is a little sanctuary from the city heat, and serves delicious Hummus Pizzas and Raw deserts.

6. Every street seems to be a living market

Hanoi is one of those wonderful cities where most of the life of the city exists out on the streets. Each narrow lane of the old city is filled with food stalls, clothing or speciality products. See if you can find the beautiful flower market, the fresh fruits around Phuong Hung, or the huge weekend market which stretches along Hang Dao.

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7. It’s got some of the best boutique shopping in South East Asia

As well as the huge, eccentric market places, I found Hanoi to be a great place for cute Asian boutiques. Seemingly inspired by Hong Kong and Taiwanese fashion, Hang Non street is full of boutiques owned by local designers selling beautiful, unusual clothing at great prices. Be warned though, unless your ‘Asian sized’ (short and petite), you’ll be sticking to window shopping!

8. From the city you can easily access the amazing natural wonders all around

Hanoi is a great place to access some of Northern Vietnams most beautiful sites. Many tours to Halong Bay start from here, and it’s easy to take the night train up to the highlands of Sapa. You can also take day trips to Tam Coc and the Mai Chau areas which will give you a glimpse of Vietnamese rural life. It’s very easy to arrange tours in the city, and most hostels will offer you a selection of good value packages.

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9. The ‘night life’ is a little more adventurous

One of the reasons many backpackers complain about Hanoi is because of the midnight curfew, which is imposed on the streets and night life areas of the city. You might not be raving until 6am like you might in Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City, but for many visitors, this only encourages you to be a bit more adventurous with where you find your night time fun. Many nightclubs open until way after the curfew, but it’s all done behind locked doors, by finding secret clubs under railway bridges or in the back of ‘closed’ bars.

If you fancy something a little different, the incredible Long Bien wholesale market runs from 1am to sunrise under the Long Bien Bridge just outside the main city. It might not be an all night rave, but it offers a unique glimpse into a side of Hanoi many other tourists might miss out on.

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10. It’s the perfect spot to begin or end a trip to South East Asia

Thinking about an extended trip around South East Asia but not sure where to begin? Hanoi is a great choice! With an international airport, easy flights around the region and transport to other spots in Vietnam and Northern Laos, its a very convenient city to begin or end a trip. It’s also a beautiful and unique, and unlike any other capital in the region. With a whole heap of things to do, a convenient backpacker atmosphere, and some of the best food and shopping in SE Asia, it’s time more people added Hanoi to their bucket lists!

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Have you visited Hanoi? What is your favourite city in South East Asia?

All photographs taken by Annapurna Mellor @annapurnauna