Bustling and vibrant, Hanoi is the city that you do not want to miss. This French-Colonial city along the Red River is known for its ancient pagodas, delicious cuisine, rich history, artisanal goods, and electric nightlife. Whether it’s using the capital city as a jumping off point to visit the famous Ha Long Bay or tranquil countryside of Ninh Binh, there is plenty to do in and around Hanoi.
So how does one stay healthy in a city filled with endless, mostly deep-fried food options? I’ve detailed out below where to enjoy the must-try local dishes, but also where to find healthier options to balance them out. And while Hanoi is quite walkable and easy to get around, I also found the best spots to practice yoga and do resistance training.
“But isn’t walking enough? Why should I practice yoga on my vacation?”
Practicing yoga is not only a detoxifying activity, but also my secret tip to finding secret travel gems. I typically take a yoga class on my first day to stretch out the tightness in my body from traveling. This also doubles as a way to meet locals and ask them for recommendations on where to go and eat. I found the best Bun Cha place from my yoga teacher and wouldn’t have discovered it if I didn’t take the yoga class. Plus, traveling tends to stress both the mind and body and yoga provides a space to ground and adjust to the new setting faster. Sounds like a great way to start your trip, if you ask me!
“Okay, but why resistance train? Yoga and walking sounds like enough.”
However much you can move while traveling is better than nothing. But if we break down the science of how food is metabolized into the body, we learn that resistance training is the most effective way to prevent glucose (sugar broken down from all the rice noodles and carbs you will be eating) from being stored as fat on your body. Whether it’s lifting weights or doing bodyweight calisthenics, resistance training will utilize those consumed carbs to feed your muscles instead. Tip: compound movements like lunges, squats, and pushups will be most effective, but anything that challenges your muscles and gets you breathless work.
Before I provide recommendations on where to workout, I’ll share where the best places to stay are so that you have a central spot to explore, sweat, eat, and repeat. Happy Hanoi Adventuring!
Where to Stay:
The Old Quarter District – the historic old quarter is where you will find most of the action. It’s very walkable, with shops, stores, and street food a plenty. It’s also very close to the Hoan Kiem lake, where you can find a nice retreat from the city. The Old Quarter is a great district to set as your home base since tours leaving for other spots typically pick up here.
Recommended Hostel for the solo traveler/budget backpacker:
Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel – I’ve stayed in a lot of hostels and this was by far the best overall. Everything exceeded my expectations with the friendliness of the staff, nice bathrooms, comfortable beds, strong wifi, substantial free breakfast, location, and perfect blend of being social, yet quiet when you need it to be.
Recommended Hotel if you are traveling with someone/want your own space:
Splendid Pearlight Hotel Hanoi – The location of this hotel scored it a 10/10 rating on Booking.com, with it being in the heart of Hanoi. Bright, clean rooms, a buffet breakfast, and an extremely friendly staff makes this hotel a top choice for your stay in Hanoi.
Where to Sweat:
The Fitness Village – located just north of the Old Quarter, this gym offers a wide range of fitness classes to suit anyone’s interests from yoga to spin to weight training, as well as a fully equipped gym and swimming pool to do your own workout. Drop in prices are very reasonable and weekly memberships are also offered if you’re planning on staying in Hanoi longer. This gym has a good mix of expats and Vietnamese locals here, so it also serves as a great way to meet others and escape the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter for a couple hours.
Energy Fitness – just south of the Hoan Kiem Lake, this gym is pretty central in the city and located at the top of a high rise building. Upon entering, the front attendant provides you with a key to a locker so no need to bring one, but bring a towel if you get sweaty like I do. Although it’s only one floor, I was very impressed with the variety of equipment offered including battle ropes, a weighted sled, machines, and free weights. I went on a Sunday afternoon and had the whole place to myself and it was glorious.
Om Hanoi Yoga – this was by far my favorite yoga studio in the city. Mats and yoga props are provided in this cozy, inviting space and classes are offered twice a day, six days a week. Take a class with Thuong – she’s the best! And as I will mention below, there’s a vegan/vegetarian cafe downstairs serving healthy bites! I recommend the avocado mango spring rolls.
OM Factory Hanoi – School of Yoga – dropped in here to take a look, but didn’t have time to take a class. This yoga studio offered 5-7 classes a day, everyday, so there’s something practically going on at all times which is pretty convenient. Classes range from traditional vinyasa, hatha, and yin yoga to aerial silk yoga and “weight loss” yoga. The studio inside was pretty warm, so bring water and wear loose clothing to avoid overheating.
Hoan Kiem Lake – looking for a free workout? Take it outdoors! If weather is nice, this lake makes for the perfect backdrop of an outdoor, bodyweight workout with the surrounding benches or perimeter jog/run. On early mornings you will typically see older Vietnamese women practicing Tai Chi and dynamic movements (maybe you can ask them to join?).
Where to Eat and Drink (now that you’ve worked up an appetite):
*Tip: type the names I provide below into Google Maps and “star” them to save them into your phone so that you can find them offline when walking around in the streets!*
If you want the best egg coffee…
Cafe Dinh – This secret spot guarded amongst locals is quickly becoming discovered by more tourists, and for good reason – it’s quite the hidden gem. Hanoi is known for egg coffee and while there’s plenty that you can find out in the streets, half the fun of drinking egg coffee at this cafe is the journey to get there. This is not a spot you accidentally “discover” while walking in the street, but rather a speakeasy-esque hunt where you have to go enter through an assuming luggage store, down an alley, up a steep staircase, and be rewarded with an intimate, hip cafe. The seats and tables are low, an English menu is available, and the prices are the best in town.
So what is egg coffee? Basically its a creamy, delicious Vietnamese drink made with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and strong coffee. It’s very rich and tastes similar to a tiramisu cake. To properly enjoy it, dip your spoon to taste the creamy top layer, then taste the coffee below, and then mix together to enjoy the velvety smooth concoction. What I loved about this magical place is that they accommodated my dairy intolerance by taking out the condensed milk and it still tasted amazing.
If you want the best Pho…
Pho Gia Truyen – this spot is cozy and usually crowded so if you go in a big group, expect to be sitting apart from each other and befriending the Vietnamese locals. Wouldn’t recommend this for vegans or vegetarians as they were only serving pork, but I highly recommend this Pho restaurant for my omnivore friends.
If you want the best Bun Cha (that’s better than the place that Anthony Bourdain took Obama on his tv show)…
Bun Cha Aka – I had multiple locals recommend me this place and it did not disappoint. TRULY THE BEST. Every single person I took here said it was hands down the best Bun Cha (if not best Vietnamese food) they’ve had in Hanoi. The entrance is unassuming as you walk down a narrow alley and pass the smiling chefs cooking away on the ground. Seating is located in the back on small tables and even smaller chairs, so wear pants that allow you to sit low to the ground comfortably. Expect to be served a small bowl of flavorful, grilled fatty pork, rice noodles, and fresh herbs and spices that combine together into this popular dish. Do not pass on the Nem cua be (sea-crab spring roll) either because they are also arguably the best I’ve had in Vietnam. This place gets crazy busy and is only open during lunch hours so plan accordingly or miss out on the best local bun cha you will ever have.
If you want something vegan or vegetarian…
Om Hanoi Cafe – Located within my favorite yoga studio in Hanoi, this cafe is cozy, casual, and a lovely treat for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone looking for healthier options. They serve a delicious glass noodle veggie and mushroom stir-fry dish, along with fresh spring rolls, nondairy lattes, and even kombucha!
If you want something low-carb or paleo friendly because you need a break from all the rice-based and fried Vietnamese foods…
The Hanoi Social Club – when you’re craving western food and want just a burger, go here. The staff speaks excellent English and are very accommodating if you want to do a bun-less burger or sandwich without the bread. They even substituted avocado for the bread at NO CHARGE. That would never happen in California. If you’re looking for a “healthier” dessert they also have an amazing gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake made with almond flour. It tastes like a brownie and hits the spot for the sweet tooth without making you feel weighed down.
If you want the best dark chocolate…
Maison Marou Hanoi – My philosophy is: if you’re going to indulge, do it right. This luxe chocolate shop serves high-quality, single origin Vietnamese chocolate in all forms from truffles to chocolate bars to decadent baked goods to lattes. The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about their chocolate and are constantly filling your water glasses. Make sure you walk to the back to watch the pastry chefs and chocolatiers prepare the desserts in real time behind a giant glass window!
Hope you’re able to enjoy Hanoi as much as I did with this healthy guide to one of my favorite cities in Vietnam!