This coming year, 40 years will have passed since the war ended in Vietnam. A political topic still sensitive here in the States, the occasion is all the more reason to dive in and learn more about what Vietnam is like today. And we can't think of a better place to start than the country’s capital, Hanoi.
Crossing the Pacific to get there is an upfront investment, for sure, but once on the ground, things get affordable in a hurry. With forty-cent beers and 5-star hotels for under $200 a night, even a traveler on a strict budgets can fully indulge here without worry.
Hotels: You can find shared hostels for just dollars a night, so that pretty much eliminates any stress lodging might impose on your wallet. But Hanoi is also a great place to treat yourself at a bargain. A room at a three-star property will run you under $50 a night; the Art Trendy Hotel, for example, includes breakfast, Internet, and an in-room laptop in its $39 nightly rate. Five-star properties are an even better steal. The Sofitel Metropole Hanoi with rooms as affordable as $180 a night -- one of the best bangs for your buck in the world, no exaggeration.
Eat: Whether served literally from street carts or from hole-in-the-wall cafés that double as the owner’s home, “street food” is pleasantly unavoidable in Hanoi. This includes the country’s flagship soup noodle dish, pho. At the majority of vendors, it doesn’t cost more than $3 for a generous serving. Be sure to try the local dry noodle dish, bun bo nam bo.
Drink: Bottled beers at most cafes and restaurants will run you anywhere from $1 to $3, depending on whether you’re at a location that hosts a lot of tourists. Generally, the closer you are to Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter, the more expensive beer, coffee, and food will be (although, depending on your budget, it may or may not be significant enough to motivate you to go elsewhere).
If you’re looking to have a good time in town for the absolute fewest dollars, the absolute cheapest way to have a good time in town, check out a cafe that offers bia hoi at the "International Corner" at the junction of Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien, and Dinh Liet streets. This local type of beer is served from kegs out of oversized steel refrigerators and is light at only 3 percent alcohol. One pour will run you only 4,000 to 8,000 Dong (20 to 40 cents). Because of the bargain price, these cafes are also very popular with area residents and a good opportunity to take in a local happy hour.
Learn: To truly get a sense of what life was like in Hanoi during the war, stop by Huu Tiep Lake for a free history lesson. In 1972, as America bombed the city, a B-52 bomber was shot down and crashed into it. On the grounds of the pond, the aircraft still rests today, visible above the surface just a mere feet from some residential buildings. The site itself is aesthetically interesting, but it's what's unsaid that speaks the loudest. The plane serves as both a literal and metaphorical representation of what people in Hanoi went through on a day-to-day basis, the physical remaining the tip of the contextual iceberg.