Hanoi, Vietnam was absolutely one of my favorite cities from my trip through southeast Asia. It is such a hectic city, and while that usually stresses me out, the buzz of the city electrified me! Traveling there soon? Here are 16 things you need to know before visiting Hanoi, Vietnam:
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1. Hanoi's Traffic is Hectic
The traffic seemed to have no real flow. Want to cross the street? The local’s advice is to just walk at a steady even pace and don’t hesitate. Yep, that’s right, just walk out in the middle of oncoming traffic. The crazy thing is that it actually works!
2. Motorbikes/Scooters Rule The Road in Hanoi
There are over 45 million motorbikes registered in Vietnam, they are everywhere! You’ll especially seem them all over the road in Hanoi.
You will often see entire families (sometimes up to 5 people!) on a motorbike.
Including little babies!
3. Be Cautious Eating Street Food
Upon going to Southeast Asia I was so ready to hit up every street food vendor Anthony Bourdain style (RIP), but when I actually got there and saw the condition of some stalls, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.
Unfortunately, I got really sick in Thailand, so was hesitant at being adventurous and trying foods by the time we got to Vietnam.
A good rule of thumb is that if there are a lot of locals there, it’s a pretty safe bet.
Also always watch your food being cooked in front of you. Never eat something, especially meat, that has been sitting because you never know how long its been there.
4. The Fruits and Vegetables are Beautiful - But Make Sure They're Fresh Before Eating + Wash Them
Despite the street food being questionable in some places, the fresh produce in Hanoi is beautiful!
Vietnam has such a diverse agricultural offerings, so many exotic fruits and veggies!
Just be sure to wash off all producs with bottled water (see more on that below) before eating it.
5. Avoid Tap Water
If there is one thing you need to know before visiting Hanoi it’s that you cannot drink the tap water. This is one of the most known rules when traveling in Southeast Asia, but I had to say it anyways!
That includes brushing your teeth, many people don’t think about that and instinctively rinse of their toothbrush with the tap water. Use a bottle of water instead.
6. Take Precaution Against Pickpockets
I’ve had my PacSafe Camera Backpack for over a year and a half and I refuse to travel anywhere without it. I know my gear is safe because it has such awesome anti-theft features:
- eXomesh Slashguard stainless steel wire mesh embedded into fabric helps protect against slash-and-run theft
- RFIDsafe Blocking Material built into pocket helps protect IDs and credit cards from hacker scanning
- Smart zipper security attaches zipper pullers to discreet hooks (there is no way for a thief to easily undo these on the fly)
- Adjustable wire-reinforced Carrysafe Slashguard Strap helps prevent cut-and-run theft
- Built-in rain cover
- Mine is specifically for cameras so it has cushioned, adjustable compartments for all my lenses.
7. You're Going to Be a Millionaire
Wait, what? Okay, not really a millionaire, but it seems like it! One US Dollar = 22,700 Vietnamese Dong (yes, their currency really is called a “dong.” And yes, I still giggle at it hehe). So if you take out $100 USD, that mean’s you’ll have 2,270,000 Dong!
8. Use Cash Over Card
On the note of currencies, it’s a way better plan to use cash as versus a credit card in Vietnam as a whole. Unfortunately, card cloning is very prevalent in the country and especially in major cities. It’s better to be safe than sorry and just use cash.
9. Street Vendors are Everywhere
Everywhere you look in Hanoi, people are selling one thing or another! They line the streets and set up shop right on the sidewalks!
Other vendors sell goods right from their bicycles!
It’s amazing to see people balancing these massive baskets piled high with fruits and veggies!
10. You're Supposed To Haggle
I struggled with this when I first started traveling since it’s not a thing in the US, but it’s actually expected that you haggle in many countries all over the world — Vietnam included!
11. Dress Appropriately
Appropriate dress code is very important and something you need to know before visiting Hanoi or anywhere in Asia. Vietnamese people typically dress very conservatively. When visiting Vietnam, keep that in mind. Typically in bigger cities like Hanoi its more relaxed, but it’s still important to be respectful.
Be especially considerate when visiting temples and religious places. Many of the temples require women to cover their shoulders and knees — sometimes even ankles as well.
I suggest bringing a sarong or something similar with you if you are a woman. It is HOT and humid in Vietnam in the summertime. I typically would wear shorts (not too short) and then cover my legs up with a sarong when entering sacred places.
12. The Thang Long Water Puppet Show is Surprisingly Good
I was hesitant to go see a puppet show, but after seeing all the skill that goes into putting it on, I think its definitely worth seeing when you’re in Hanoi… I mean, where else are you going to go to a water puppet show?!
The tradition comes from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would entertain each other by standing waist-deep in the fields with the puppets performing over the water.
The shows tell the story of Vietnamese legends and folk tales and are accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals.
13. Prepare Yourself Before Visiting Hoa Lo Prison
It is really difficult to see what used to go on in Hoa Lo Prison. Before Americans were imprisoned here during the Vietnam War, it was used by the French colonists for political prisoners. Hoa Lo, commonly translated as “fiery furnace” or even “Hell’s hole” and from the looks of the conditions and torture prisoners had to undergo, the name seems fitting.
After the French left in 1954, the prison closed and was left to mark its historical significance to the Vietnamese.
During the Vietnam War, American POWs were kept here (Senator John McCain was one of them). Due to the miserable conditions and poor food and sanitary conditions, it was sarcastically nicknamed “Hanoi Hilton.”
As an American, it was especially hard to tour this prison and see everything that went on, despite the Vietnamese trying to spin it in a much more positive light at the prison itself. Just know before visiting that some of it might be hard to see.
14. Spend Time Walking Around Hanoi's Old Quarter
Many of the photos I’ve already posted in this blog were taken in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It’s a beautiful part of town to walk around and explore.
It’s interesting to see all the French influence.
15. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Didn't Live Up to the Hype
Ho Chi Minh is one of the most respected and revered people in Vietnam history. But visiting the Mausoleum was one of my least favorite things we did in Hanoi.
First of all, it was hot as hell, and as a woman, you have to be totally covered up to enter. Second, the lines are atrociously long to get in so you’re standing in the sun for hours.
Thirdly, you have to turn in your bags and they hold on to them while going through the Mausoleum. As someone who’s prized possession is their camera, I was NOT happy about having complete strangers in a foreign country holding on to my photo gear and all the rest of my belongings.
You then line up again (see above, photo cred M M on flickr) to go into the actual Mausoleum itself where the apparent corpse of Ho Chi Minh is laying all lit up in the middle of this giant tomb/temple room kinda thing. Armed guards quickly shuffle you around the entire perimeter of the room and then that’s it.
I would have rather visited a museum and learned more about his history and the impact he had on Vietnam.
Other Major Attractions to Know Before Visiting Hanoi
Hope these tips help and tell you everything you need to know before visiting Hanoi, Vietnam! Have a question? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!