I arrived into Hanoi via Taipei on a Vietnam Airlines flight at 9:35am. Hanoi was my first point of entry into Vietnam and I had no idea what to expect. Upon landing, immigration was my first stop. As I already had my visa (I got it at the Vietnamese Consulate in Vancouver), so I joined in the very short immigration line. Glancing over at the very long “Visa On Arrival” line, I knew I had made the right choice. A few seconds later, my passport was scanned and stamped and I was on my way into the baggage area. Once I collected my bag, I went through the sliding doors into the arrival hall. The sticky, heavy, humid air hit me like a brick wall. It was hot in Hanoi, in some ways a much needed change from the unusual cool weather we’ve been experiencing in Vancouver. I then began searching the almost overwhelming crowd, yelling at me for my arrival transfer. I was glad I had booked it in advance. Hanoi is notorious for taxi airport scams. Most guide books and websites recommend organizing a transfer through your hotel or making sure you use a reputable taxi company, your hotel or hostel can recommend the best taxi to use. As I was on an Intrepid Real Food Adventure tour, I booked my transfer through them. I finally found the Intrepid sign in the crowd with my name underneath.
The drive into Hanoi from the airport is about 30-45 minutes depending on traffic and where your hotel is located within the city. The traffic is crazy here, you need to have patience. The streets are not blocks, they weave in many directions. As it’s an old city, the modern and the antique cross over each other. Once I had arrived to my hotel (May De Ville City Centre 2), I freshened up in the main bathroom (my room was not ready until 2pm) and asked for a map. The map I was provided with had recommendations on what taxi companies to use, marks on the city map where the hotel was located and popular landmarks.
I headed out to check out the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake areas of Hanoi. I walked down one of the main roads, Hang Duong (pretty well one road from my hotel which was quite good), I passed many stalls and was taken back by the grungy beauty of the Old Hanoi. I did have my camera with me and felt safe with it. I heard about motorcycle snatchings, however they are more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I was able to take some amazing photos along my walk. I loved the people. The people here are somewhat friendly, the odd stranger will still glance a smile your way, if not only with their eyes.
Crossing the streets for the first time in Vietnam can be quite the experience. Look for a crosswalk first, if there is one, wait for the light, but then make sure there are no motorcycles looking to sneak through. When crossing where there is no crosswalk, just be deliberate. Walk slowly and don’t stop unless it’s a car (apparently they won’t stop for you, unless you are really giving them the sign you are crossing lol). The motorcycles will just go around you while you cross the street, don’t be intimidated, but don’t speed up, run or stop, that’s when the accidents happen.
Along Hang Duong, you will find many stalls of clothing, cell phone accessories and even different counterfeit items. Here, you will also find the Dong Xuan Market. I would say Hanoi and Hoi An is the place to buy typical Vietnam souvenirs. I found Ho Chi Minh City to be extremely overpriced, especially in the markets there. Hanoi is much more reasonable and had some pretty cute boutique style shops as well. Once at Hoan Kiem Lake its a really nice walk around the lake. On Saturdays and Sundays the roads around the lake are closed off to traffic so that families can easily enjoy family time near the lake on the roads and creates more walkable and useable space, its a great new initiative. The pagoda on the lake is quite beautiful, very picturesque.
The food in Hanoi is diverse and delicious. French influence is everywhere here, and the baguettes are so authentic you would think you were in France. Crispy on the outside and so soft and fluffy on the inside, makes the perfect Banh Mi. Make sure you try the following foods and restaurants:
- Banh Mi 25 – Amazing street food, small food stall in Hanoi where you line up among the locals for a delicious Banh Mi sandwich.
- Bun Cha Nem Cut Be Dac Kim – Bun cha is another type of noodle soup consisting of vermicelli, pork slices, pork meatballs (which are the best part) and a mountain of herbs. Another small restaurant where you will be eating along with the locals.
- Egg Coffee – Best egg coffee in Vietnam is found in Hanoi. There is a really good place just across the street from the Chau Long Market (the locals market), we were taken there on a street food tour. The egg coffee was amazing and the back sitting area was quaint.
- Pho Huyen – 31 Chau Long – Amazing pho! Was just around the corner from my hotel and directly across the street from the Hanoi Cooking Centre.
- KOTO – A social enterprise that helps disadvantaged and at risk youth by giving them training in the hospitality industry. The food was incredible. Make sure you visit this location or the one in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Hien Tra Truong Xuan – A traditional tea house near the Temple of Literature. Offers a traditional tea ceremony with lotus tea (bitter but good) and several other teas. My other favourites were the ginger tea and the peach tea.
As for safety, as a single woman, I felt quite safe in Hanoi and walked around with a cross body purse along with my Canon 6D camera with no issues. I did read up on the scams and saw most of them in play.
In Hanoi, the biggest scams to watch out for are:
- Women with the fruit baskets – they will try to put them on your shoulders and then take your picture, they typically overcharge for a photo and harass you until you pay them what they want.
- Cyclo tours – Cyclo touts cheap rides, but normally way over charge by the time you are finished. Some may even lead you far from where you want to actually go then ask for a crazy amount to take you back. Before sitting down in one, make sure you agree to a fare and if you don’t feel safe ask to stop immediately (an excuse to use the washroom, etc).
- Shoe repairs/shoe shines – Along some streets you will see some men sitting on the ground in cramped areas, they throw or dab disolvants onto your footwear and offer to fix your shoes, keep walking.
- Free samples – Vendors along the streets will offer you free samples of donuts, fruit or other items, however once tasted they will demand unreasonable payment.
- Taxis – Make sure they have a meter, also watch the meter and make sure it’s not going too fast. Speak to your hotel regarding how much it should cost to go to various locations around the city, most places should be within 15,000 to 75,000 Dong depending on traffic and location distance.
- Drink spiking – As with anywhere in the world spiking of drinks in clubs and bars is popular, keep an eye on your drink if you are planning to enjoy an evening out. Drinking out of a bottle and keeping your thumb over the top is more safe than a wide open glass.
I really enjoyed Hanoi. It is a very walkable city and quite safe overall. I’m so happy I was able to experience this city which is over 1000 years old. The architecture and sights are intriguing and I wish I had spent a few more days here to explore. If you have any questions about Hanoi or if you would like more recommendations, please contact me!