Let’s get straight to the point, you only need 2 days in Hanoi, Vietnam. We wished we’d known that before we booked a week in Vietnam’s capital city.
Our experience allows us to offer you one simple piece of advice….
Do not squander vital days that are relentlessly ticking down on your 15 or 30 day Vietnam tourist e-Visa. You have a lot to see in stunning Vietnam with unfortunately not a lot of time.
Hanoi offers many great things to do, but it does not justify consuming any more than 2 of your precious days in Vietnam. However, the 2 days you do spend in Hanoi should be jammed packed full of sightseeing.
The point we are trying to make is your time will be better spent in more relaxing and other beautiful parts of Vietnam.
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty about why 2 days in Hanoi, Vietnam is enough.
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Two Day Hanoi, Vietnam Itinerary
After reading through this guide, be sure to read our 2 days in Hanoi itinerary.
This Hanoi Itinerary features 21 of the best things to do in Hanoi and we have tabulated those ‘things’ into an extremely achievable 2 days of touring.
Hanoi was battling for the top spot on our big cities list when we first visited Vietnam in 2018. We had poured over stories and articles waxing poetic about a magically wonderful city with tons of attractions.
Being honest, we will say we didn’t love Hanoi, but we didn’t hate Hanoi either. It’s true, Vietnam’s Capital city took some time to grow on us.
But looking back, we are extremely happy we visited Hanoi because we have some great memories as backpackers we will never forget. Beer street anyone?!
And the bottom line is we would still recommend Hanoi to friends and family. But if you are a new traveler to in Asia, the city may just drive you mad by the end of day one.
Getting A Visa For Vietnam
You will most likely need a visa prior to entering the country of Vietnam.
There are currently 80 countries allowed to apply for an e-Visa prior to arrival so you may have a little bit of work to do before you arrive.
You can use the National Web Portal Immigration link below to check countries that allow e-Visas as well as ports allowing foreigners to enter with an e-Visa.
There are two common types of visa in Vietnam, the e-Visa or a Visa on Arrival. However, both of these options require approval before you arrive in the county.
The easiest option if you are planning to visit Vietnam for less than 30 days and do not need a multi-entry visa, is the e-Visa.
But if you plan a trip longer than 30 days or need a enter Vietnam multiple times, then you should consider a Visa on Arrival.
Follow These Steps To Obtain A 30-day Single Entry e-Visa:
- Go to the National Web Portal on Immigration
- Click the selection: ‘For outside Vietnam foreigners’
- Upload passport data page and passport photo (straight looking without glasses)
- Pay eVisa fee ($25)
- Your application will be processed in 3 working days (sometimes sooner)
- Look for an email with a registration code to check the status of your eVisa
- Once approved, be sure to print your e-Visa and save one copy to your phone as well
Travelers with an e-Visa do not need to line up at the Visa on Arrival counters and can advance straight to the immigration counters at their point of entry.
Travel Tip: If you do not apply for the 30 day e-Visa, you will only be allowed to stay in Vietnam for 15 days so your time will essentially be cut in half. It pays to be prepared!
History Of Hanoi
It certainly hasn’t been easy for Hanoi over the years.
In modern history, Hanoi was occupied by the French from the late 1800’s until WWII when Japanese forces took control of Hanoi in an attempt to block China importing fuel and weapons.
Following the end of WWII, the French re-assumed power in Hanoi and so began the French Indochina war lasting 9 years, ultimately ending in the demise of French rule.
Unfortunately, war was very quickly upon Hanoi once more just a year later and would last 20 years until 1975.
Hanoi has even retained much of its French influence, particularly its colonial-era architecture. So much this capital city in Vietnam is often dubbed the ‘Paris of the East.”
But Hanoi is not your typical modern, skyscraper heavy, state of the art shopping mall type of city. Far from it.
It’s more like a rat run of thousands of narrow alleyways and passages all intertwined, creating a labyrinthine network perfect for motorbikes.
Tired looking two, three and four story buildings filled with restaurants, tour agencies, massage parlors and cafe’s spill out into these alleyways.
Hanoi has a unique atmosphere and we mean that as both a positive and a negative. It’s a city you truly need to experience at least once in your lifetime.
Tourism Booms In Vietnam
Did you know Vietnam’s 2019 tourism statistics show an increase of 16.2% against 2018. This growth made Vietnam the 7th fastest growing tourist destination in the world for the year.
There is certainly a buzz going around in Vietnam and we could feel it when we were there. Huge things were expected for 2020 as tourist numbers hit record highs.
Tripadvisor also included Hanoi in the top destinations to visit in 2019. This is a place turning heads and receiving accolades.
The popularity of tourism in Hanoi plays a major role in Vietnam’s economy. The city received 28 million visitors in 2018.
Include a part of the 16.2% increase for Vietnam in 2019 and you’re looking at around 30 million tourists visiting Hanoi in 2019.
So, why all these statistics?
We wanted you to feel good about where Vietnam is going. Seeing positive statistics automatically feeds back success and optimism, right?
And with travel reopening after the pandemic, we are going to make an educated guess that Vietnam will quickly become a popular tourist destination once again.
But we’ve saved the most important statistic for last. Although this data is a few years old now, the point remains true and it is thought provoking:
As little as 6% of visitors to Vietnam return to visit again.
Compare that to Thailand’s 60-70% return tourist rate and you find yourself in trouble. Now, that number represents Vietnam on the whole and not just Hanoi.
However, if you’ve been to Vietnam you will know that other parts of the country are more worthy of a second visit when compared with Hanoi.
In addition, while the 30 million visitors figure is huge, it’s important to note that just 5.5 million of those were international tourists.
The majority of tourists come from China with a smaller number from Europe and North America.
Just some food for thought.
Why Only 2 Days In Hanoi, Vietnam?
Hanoi can be a culture shock. Plain and simple.
If it’s your first time visiting Vietnam and you just landed in Hanoi, there may be a slight adjusting period required. It could be mild or extreme but you will be taken aback in one way or another.
A lot of people complain about Hanoi. We can fully understand their complaints. As much as we enjoyed the buzz at first, we ultimately found it to be an exhausting city by the end of our full week.
Overall, we loved traveling through Vietnam and we met some truly amazing Vietnamese people. We have many incredible memories from our time in Vietnam, but we also had some negative experiences too.
This post is about Hanoi in particular and the reasons we believe you will only need 2 days for your visit. But going back to our original point, the lack of time is a big reason why you only need 2 full days in Hanoi.
The following list includes a compilation of issues we as well as other travelers experienced in Hanoi.
Please do not take these as reasons to stay away from Hanoi, but as an understanding of what you will be experiencing in the capital city of Vietnam.
Our goal is to help you enjoy every second you spend in Hanoi as well as the country of Vietnam.
1. Effective Visa Time Management
Time is the major problem for every traveler going on any trip.
As soon as you land in Vietnam, the clock begins ticking. You need to carefully think about your time management and underestimating the sheer size of Vietnam can be an easy thing to do.
Thirty days also seems like a lot of time, but it can go quick especially if you are enjoying the beautiful countryside in Sapa or Nihn Bihn.
The point we are trying to drive home is that spending more than 2 days in Hanoi is not a good use of your time.
We believe you can easily see everything Hanoi has to offer within 2 days without feeling like you have missed anything.
When you visit cities like London, Paris and New York City, there is an endless list of activities and attractions you can do. Not in Hanoi. This is more of a drink coffee and watch the world go by kind of place.
Your time would be better spent in more beautiful parts of the country. Vietnam is not a country to visit the big city. It’s a country to get in touch with nature and see unique landscapes.
We would recommend allocating some of your days to the places we have listed below:
- Ninh Binh
- Hoi An
- Phong Nha
- Halong Bay
- Ho Chi Minh City
Heading to Vietnam? Don’t miss our popular guide featuring the best places to visit in Vietnam including the best things to do in each place as well.
2. Relentless Honks In Hanoi
There is an electric atmosphere in Hanoi. The city is an assault on your senses. At first, we remember the chaos to be exciting.
But it can get old fast, especially if you are attempting to work remotely.
Thousands of scooters honking all day every day breaks you down very quickly. The inescapable cacophony is loud and irritating.
The traffic situation in Hanoi needs to be seen to be believed. But it’s not the traffic that wears you down, it’s the never ending stream of honking that begins to make you question your sanity.
They will honk as they turn corners, they will honk as they overtake and they will honk if they are overtaken.
They will honk at pedestrians, they will honk at the sun and they will honk at their own reflections in the wing mirrors.
It will comes as no surprise that they honk the second they get on before they even start the damn motorbikes just to check if the horn is working.
After spending some time in Hanoi, you will begin to wonder why horns were ever put on motorbikes in the first place as you begin to dream about honking in your sleep.
This is what our time in Hanoi began to look like:
Grabbing a quick coffee in the morning? Honking.
Walking to the next museum on the itinerary? Honking.
Eating in a restaurant? Honking.
Asleep at 3am? Nope. Honk Honk.
After just a few days of this our ears were bleeding.
So going back to our point, you can easily take the relentless honking in Hanoi if you minimize your time to around 2 days.
3. Ridiculous Traffic
We couldn’t decide which adjective best describes Hanoi’s traffic. Our shortlist consisted of ludicrous, farcical, preposterous and absurd. We went with ridiculous. But it is all of those things.
People might say something like ‘it’s all part of the fun’ or ‘you just have to be confident, walk slowly and they will go round you’. These are both correct statements but nothing can prepare you for the bedlam.
And it’s fine for a few days, until even those with the patience of a saint will find themselves with irrational feelings of hostility!
The best way to tell if a tourist is new to Hanoi or if they have been in town a few days is watching to see how they cross roads:
Exhibit Newbie: A newbie will nervously but excitedly attempt to put the first foot forward but then pull back as there’s a motorbike coming 10 feet away. With head turning on a swivel to take note of every incoming scooter and calculating the exact moment to strike then stopping half way across and panicking!
Exhibit Hanoi Veteran (Just 3 days in): The experienced tourist will walk up to the road and simply begin to cross without even looking, knowing that all motorbikes will maneuver around said tourist.
Jokes aside, traffic in Hanoi is annoying, fristerating and induces anxiety.
For the locals, this is their way of life. But the truth is it can be overwhelming. Constantly weaving through motorbikes becomes tiresome very quickly.
4. Being Ripped Off As A Tourist
We had read Northern Vietnam could be hostile for tourists at times. While this was true on occasions, most people were great. But sometimes all it takes is one to have a bad taste in your mouth.
We met several tourists who told us that locals in Hanoi had blatantly ripped them off at markets. We also had our fair share of locals trying to take advantage with photo opportunities.
The worst incident came when we were sat on a bench near West Lake when two women appeared behind us and just plonked a bamboo stick with a hanging fruit basket in our shoulders.
They demanded we instantly pay them for the photo opportunity and started yelling at us in the street.
From some of the locals in Hanoi, we certainly were on the receiving end of negativity. There is still an attitude or cultural agenda that needs to be addressed.
We Were Robbed In Vietnam
Unfortunately, after our many years of travel, the only place we have ever been robbed is Vietnam (knock on wood). Now this isn’t meant to scare you but only to prepare you.
An employee at the hotel we were staying at snuck into our hotel room and stole money straight out of our luggage when we were at the pool.
We blame ourselves on this occasion because we had gotten too comfortable and trusting by leaving money in the room. But our money wasn’t in plain sight and it was hidden well in a suitcase.
Someone had to give our suitcase a good rummage to find the cash.
Our hotel did not have a safe and the other option was to bring our money to the pool which also isn’t a great idea.
So we now always carry extra locking mechanisms for our suitcases and photography gear as well as find great hiding spots for anything of value.
The moral of the story is if you are starting to get comfortable, just try to remember you are still in a foreign place where things may not always be what they seem and never let your guard down.
Curious about costs in Vietnam? See how much we spent for one month in Vietnam.
The Future Of Hanoi
We are hoping this negativity changes as more tourists flock to Vietnam and tourism becomes permanently woven into everyday life.
But you begin to feel like a walking dollar sign. We were constantly asked to pay a much higher price compared to the locals or the prices would drastically increase as it was time to pay.
We must reiterate this did not apply to everyone, but just a small minority. However, when it happens everyday, it’s not a nice feeling.
The best advice we can give you to help address this problem is to understand the Vietnamese currency in depth. Do a little research and see how much a taxi ride should cost from point A to B before you get in the car.
Knowledge is power and if you stand your ground and be very direct, you will have a much better time in Hanoi.
5. Hanoi Isn’t The best Walking City
Because we are avid hikers, we try to walk a large part of each city we visit. This is the best way to get your bearings and understand the city like a local as well as build up your own internal map.
But Hanoi isn’t a fun city to walk around. In fact, Hanoi is a complete pain in the butt to discover on foot.
This isn’t just the Old Quarter we are talking about here, but all of the top things to do in Hanoi.
There is a constant juggling acts of concentrating hard on not being run over, dealing with the incessant honking, avoiding scams and dealing with the humidity.
We walked miles every day when we stayed in Hanoi which in hindsight, we might have been better off booking a tour or renting a bike.
Depending on what you what to do in Hanoi, just understand walking to all of the top attractions may not be the most comfortable option, but it is doable.
Please just be super careful crossing those roads!
6. Infrastructure Problems
The infrastructure in Vietnam needs to be improved for the country to continue growing at this rate.
Vietnam is no longer viewed as a developing country by the US and its economy has been growing at an astonishing rate.
But while Hanoi received huge tourism numbers, it doesn’t appear to be making any obvious improvements in waste, cleanliness, tourist safety or transport.
Hanoi’s infrastructure certainly does not correlate with the positive financial impact on their economy from dramatically increased tourism.
Even Hoan Kiem lake which is the focal point of tourism in Hanoi, splitting the old quarter and French quarter as the gravitational heart of Vietnam’s capital city, is quite dull.
It is bleak and underwhelming. But it’s the only place you can remotely escape the traffic so there are regularly masses of people congregated.
A report from September 2022, discusses why Vietnam’s infrastructure is crucial for economic growth. Demand in the tourism sector has been increasing year on year but are the right building blocks being put into place to support that demand?
The key takeaway here is that infrastructure is behind increasing economic growth. Continued growth requires stability and we had yet to see that during our time in Vietnam.
We believe the area has an enormous potential and we look forward to seeing how Hanoi cleans up in the future.
The Truth About Hanoi, Vietnam
Perspective is a wonderful thing.
We first visited Hanoi, Vietnam as green backpackers on a life changing 18 month honeymoon and a lot has changed since then.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is our opinion about how to spend your time in both Hanoi and Vietnam.
Here are a few pros and cons to help you make a decision about how long you will spend in Hanoi.
Pros To Visiting Hanoi, Vietnam
- Low cost of living
- Lots of things to do in the city
- Easily accessible to other parts of the country
- Incredible cheap and delicious street food
- Decent internet compared to other places in Vietnam
Cons To Visiting Hanoi, Vietnam
- Insane traffic and crazy drivers
- Extremely busy streets
- Strong language barriers
- Can be difficult to make friends with locals
- Pollution and bad air quality
The bottom line is that Hanoi is definitely worth seeing, but don’t spend all of your time in the city.
In Hanoi, we loved the coffee shop culture, strolling around the Old Quarter and witnessing train street (which unfortunately has since closed down).
Hanoi’s energy as a city is fascinating and 2 days is all you need in this bustling capital city.
Popular Tours In Hanoi
To make the most of your time in Hanoi, you could consider booking a tour for activities in hanoi or for a day trip to other areas nearby.
A tour is a great way to meet other like-minded travelers and discover some hidden spots you would have otherwise missed.
Here are some of the top rated tours in Hanoi:
- Hanoi Army Jeep Tour – Explore Hanoi’s highlights and hidden gems in a vintage GAZ-69 while you eat delicious street food and learn about history from your local guide.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Enjoy a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and discover a unique aspect of Vietnamese culture.
- Hanoi Guided Street Food Tour – During this 3 hour street tour, you will sample 10 or more authentic dishes including sweet soup, papaya salad, sticky steamed rice and so much more.
And here are some top rated day trips from Hanoi:
- All-Inclusive 2 Day/1 Night Cruise – During this tou, you will spend 2 days cruising around Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay in an air conditioned cabin with private bathroom.
- Tam Coc, Hoa Lu & Mua Caves Full-Day Trip – A unique rowing boat visit to three caves, a Vietnamese lunch and panoramic views of the countryside as well as Ngo Dong River.
- Islands, Caves, Kayak & Halong Dragonfly Boat Cruise – Visit halong Bay on a shared deluxe cruise to Heaven Palace Cave, many islands, go kayaking and enjoy a bamboo boat ride.
2 Days In Hanoi FAQ’s
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most frequently asked questions about 2 days in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Yes, two days is enough for Hanoi if you plan your itinerary well. There is a lot to do in Vietnam’s capital city, but most of the museums and attractions are located close together. While Hanoi isn’t a very walkable city, you can use Grab, hire a motorbike, book a tour and walk if you really wanted to visit Hanoi’s attractions by walking.
Hanoi is considered to be an ancient city located on the banks of the Red River. It’s a very hectic city filled with ancient pagodas, history museums and well preserved French colonial buildings.
Hanoi is not really a walkable city due to crazy traffic and the fact there are not many sidewalks. However, the area around the Old Quarter is very walkable and pedestrian friendly.
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We hope our honest opinion about how to spend two days in Hanois helps you finalize your Vietnam itinerary!
Please let us know if you have any questions about Hanoi or Vietnam in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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