My recent trip to Hanoi really opened up my eyes to the cultures and lifestyle of this capital city of Vietnam. It was my first ever visit to this country, so I thought I would list down some of my observations and lessons learnt about Hanoi..
1. Get a Local SIM card when you are there.
Mobile SIMs are surprisingly very cheap over there. I bought a Viettel SIM with 600MB data for only VND150,000, which is about RM25. I even had some credits to make about 10 minutes of international call as well!
2. Traffic rules do not apply in Hanoi
Traffic lights, roundabouts, road signs, zebra crossings, etc. are absolutely meaningless here. It’s ALL-WAY traffic where motorists moves in whatever direction they want!
3. Motorcycle Helmets in Hanoi are also meaningless…
Although all motorcyclists and scooterists wear them, it is as good as wearing a toy helmet! The material used is so thin I doubt if it offered any protection to the wearer at all!
4. Getting 5 seconds of peace is like striking lottery!
The streets of Hanoi is constantly noisy with horns blaring and motor sounds. If you are a light sleeper, you’d best find a hotel with near-perfect sound proofing…:-p
5. You cannot survive the streets without your HORN!
With fellow motorists to your left, right, front and back almost all the time, it is essential to HONK-AS-YOU-DRIVE/RIDE. Horns is Hanoi are therefore SO essential here they should just engineer it to honk automatically every 3 seconds. Seriously.
6. Hanoi riders and drivers are possibly amongst the most skilful in the world!
Moving around these streets with these kind of chaotic traffic on an everyday basis is proof of their incredible road skills!
7. Rubbish is naturally thrown on the roadside or just about anywhere at all!
Dustbins are hardly seen in the streets of Hanoi. So it becomes quite natural for them to just throw rubbish on the floor. every 2-3 hours, some cleaners will come around with a push-cart garbage dump to clean the streets…
8. Be prepared to HAGGLE
When going shopping, always remember that the opening prices is always marked up. So, be prepare to haggle and get the best bargain possible. Most shops in the same area sells virtually the same stuff. So don’t feel bad by declining one shop and testing out the prices of other shops. My tip is to counter the opening price by 40-50% and work from there.
9. One needs proper strategy just to cross the road.
in Hanoi, forget about the universal Look left, look right, look left again…cross. Here, the proper strategy is to simply PRAY, CLOSE YOUR EYES and CROSS THE ROAD! Hanoi motorists will somehow do extremely well to avoid hitting you! Don’t worry, about a first few crossings filled with heart attacks, you should be able to get used to it.
Here’s a sample video clip of a junction you need to cross in the Old Quarters…
10. Beware of street peddlers
There are certain groups of people hanging out around the streets who are always on the look out to make a quick buck. One are men armed with some small tools who will always try to persuade you that your show needs to be fixed. I was approached by these people no less than 5 times during my visit. The other group are lady peddlers who are a carrying fruit baskets. They would offer you to take a photo with their baskets….for a price, of course.
11. Secret meaning of XE OM
One of the cheapest ways of getting around Hanoi is by motorcycle taxis, or better known as Xe Om. You can spot them at most street corners on their bikes and a spare helmet. They will usually promote or offer their services by calling out Xe Om! After trying out their services for my customised city tour, I believe Xe Om secretly stands for Xtreme Entertainment On Motorcycle! Thrilling, heart-stopping and cheap! Definitely a recommended ride – since I don’t think they have any entertainment parks in this city…
12. Vietnamese coffee if STRONG
Since I am not really a coffee lover, I cannot confirm if Vietnamese coffee is the best in the world. It does however, tastes stronger than most coffee I’ve tasted. And anything hot and strong is surely good stuff to have in the chilly, breezy weather of Hanoi. And if the coffee here is strong, they also have Vietnamese tea here which is also just as strong!
12. Best way to LEPAK in Hanoi
Find a restaurant along the streets that serves arguably the cheapest beer on the planet, Bia Hoi (usually on sale at VND5000 (about only RM1!!!), pull up a stool, sit on it next to a small table, order your Bia Hoi, some food, and watch life pass by on the streets….
13. Sandwiches are HUGE!!
Before coming here, I knew a bit about the Vietnamese sandwich or Ban Minh. Wehen I reached here, I noticed another similar dish that was just as popular was their KEBAB. And the size of it just blew me away!
14. Be amazed with their telecom lines
If your free, try turning your head upwards and admire the stretch and bundles of telecom lines running (not very high) around the city area. Although the Government has plans to put them all underground sometime in the future, the telecom lines is a sight that has to be seen and appreciated.
15. Almost Impossible to tell the Originals from the Fakes
There are just so many FAKE stuff (handbags, clothes, shirts, etc.) in Hanoi that it is quite impossible to tell the real apart from the fakes. so the best thing to do is just to NOT go there with intention to get original stuff. Your expectations might just be crushed. 😛
16. Best Pho in the world
Personally, it’s just noodle soup with beef/chicken/pork to me, but many people seem to go ga-ga over Pho. Having said that, any trip to Vietnam would not be complete without eating this dish.
17. Making new friends during tours
Through the Street Food Tour and the Ha Long bay tour which I took, I managed to make many new friends from all over the world, like Germany, Chile, Uruguay, USA, China, France, Australia, Singapore and Japan!
18. Ha Long Bay tour guides are very good story-tellers and have creative imagination!
This is especially significant during the tour to the Dong Thien Cung, where one could see beautiful rock formations inside the caves. Trust me, after coming out of the caves, you’ll never look at any other rock feature the same way again!
19. Lower your sails of expectation for Ha Long Bay cruises
If you are planning to go to Ha Long bay during your stay in Hanoi, I’d bet you would have this picture of the cruise boat in your mind…
Do lower your expectations because more likely than not, you will board a boat without any such sails. When I reached the jetty area, I surveyed all the boats docked there and I spotted NONE with sails. Of course, having said that, try not to let the missing sails spoil your Ha Long bay tour. It is still a MUST-SEE tour when you go to Hanoi!
20. Standard of English is fast improving with the younger generation
I observed that whilst the older folk in Hanoi spoke almost ZERO English, it was encouraging to see most of the younger generation ably speaking the language. Most of these younger population would either still be studying or currently working in the hotel industry. Many of the English-speaking tour guides in Hanoi are actually university students working part time to get some side income. Even the young taxi driver that took me to the airport on my final day was happily listening to some techno-rock mash-up with shocking repetitive lyrics like “m***** f****** b****” Yes, the passion to learn English amongst the younger generation here is indeed very strong!
21. Get your hotel to help you get a taxi
Before coming to Hanoi, I had read many disturbing stories about the rampant taxi scams in Hanoi. There were cases of taxi drivers taking the unsuspecting victims for a free tour around the city before eventually reaching the destination for a higher price, obviously. Then there are also stories of taxis with ‘faulty’ meters that starts at a higher rate. My solution was to get your hotel (or any other hotel nearby where you are) to call a taxi for you. Give them your destination and request for the hotel’s assistance to be the spokesperson to tell the driver where you need to go. The wonderful staff at Paradise Boutique Hotel where I stayed even went the extra mile to check the taxi meter before giving the OK for the driver to leave. In addition, more often than not all hotels would have their list of reliable taxis they can call for their guests.
22. So many TV channels!
I was quite surprised to find the hotel TV with more than 80 channels!! Of course, the bulk of these are Vietnamese dramas…:-p
23. Exotic foods are quite easy to find here.
If you’re adventurous enough, you can quite easily find some exotic foods like dog, cat, snail, crocodile, etc.
24. No worries if you run out of Vietnamese Dong!
Whilst most shops in Hanoi readily accept USD and VND, I found out that they are also quite open to accepting just about ANY OTHER currency from tourists! Of course, you’d have to follow their ‘daily’ conversion rate. So at the end of the day, you may not need to convert so much VND t bring to Hanoi…
25. The weather is quite cold, chilly and breezy around Year End
Check the weather forecast before heading to Hanoi. When I visited this month, I was welcomed with breezy, chilly winds everyday. The temperature went down to as low as 12 degrees Celsius and only as high as 18 degrees Celsius.
26. Prepare to eat like a KID again!
Most of the tables and chairs in the Old Quarters seem like they were specially made for kids. My personal theory is that the stall owners don’t want table hoggers…haha…
27. Bring your own water to Ha Long bay
Most (if not ALL) of the Ha Long Bay tours will cover just the food, but not the water. Water (and Bia Hoi, of course) is happily served at a cost when the boat had already left the jetty. If you bring your own water, you could easily save some money here.
28. What souvenirs to buy home from Hanoi?
The top 5 popular stuff tourist buy from Hanoi are (i) Silk stuff; (ii) Coffee; (iii) Lacquer stuff; (iv) Pirated DVDs – around USD0.75 per piece!; (v) North Face bags!