Shawn Standiford, lives in Living in Hanoi, Vietnam (2014-present)
Mise à jour il y a 40w
Living in Hanoi, from 2014–2018 (maybe longer).
I like living here, and could maybe live here longer, but these are the things I think about now that the honeymoon phase is over:
The climate here is a little gentler than the south. Fall and Spring can be fantastic, but short-lived. Summers are sweltering, and the winters can be cold and wet. As in, cold-to-the-bone. The humidity in the air makes everything feel hotter than it is or colder than it is. I am glad I brought a variety of clothing for the changing weather, and really glad I brought a set of Frog Togs rain gear. Be prepared to spend a lot of time trying to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
In the winter, everything feels wet, all the time. Your clothes, furniture, bedding, just cold and damp. From about November to….whenever the cold humidity ends and the hot humidity is in full swing, mold will be a big problem. Especially if you live on the lower floors. And the walls sweat through the month of March. You can conquer the mold, but it’s a daily job.
The air is never fresh, so there’s rarely a refreshing breeze to mitigate the heat. It’s just soup that you can kind of feel moving around, and it won’t cool you off. Heck, a hand-held fan is no match for the thick Hanoi air.
Another thing about the air quality: it’s borderline hazardous. I check the air quality index regularly to see if I’m going to develop respiratory infections. Hanoi has become one of the unhealthiest places to live, right up there with Beijing and New Delhi. A few factors contribute to this: Hanoi is in a basin that receives air from places like Indonesia, where there is always a fire burning. Also, people burn a lot of coal to bbq and do other kinds of cooking. There are at least 8 million motorbikes and cars on the road at any time. And construction is just off the chain, meaning there is always a lot of dust in the air. In the fall, be prepared for at least 3 weeks of added smoke from the field burning that takes place after the countryside finishes harvesting rice. Everything smells like soot. Wear a mask if you can stand to.
The traffic has gotten more complicated since I’ve moved here. There are so many more cars on the road now that the automobile tax has been lifted. It used to be that there was tons of just motorbike traffic, but it usually flowed along rather smoothly. Not the case any more. Cars will drive simply wherever they want, down impossibly narrow alleys, sidewalks, whatever. One car will clog up 100 motorbikes, and they don’t really have the kinds of roads in place to handle all the extra space that automobiles take up. The cars are just going to kill this place.
Oh, and, I always tell people that, if you are going to ride a motorbike, it’s not IF you will get in an accident, but WHEN. I made it over three years before getting hit by a car that ran a red light. I’m lucky to be alive.
If you ride a motorbike, DON’T RIDE DRUNK. Too many young expats get into accidents because they drink and drive. Don’t do this, even though the locals consider it a competitive sport. If you are in an accident, it is highly likely that you will be blamed, even if it wasn’t your fault (I got extremely, extremely lucky, praise God). So don’t make it worse by riding drunk or stoned.
If you ever hit a bicycle, even though they can be the worst riders on the road, you will automatically take the blame. Just be super careful whenever you see a bicycle (if you can see them). Sorry to say but the older ladies are generally the most dangerous and will swerve out in front of you at any time, with no warning, and certainly no looking. No, YOU look out for THEM.
Also, driving habits are extremely laid-back, casual, and lethal. Every minute on the road includes at least three of the following (mix and match): people coming down the wrong side of the road (because it’s 30 seconds faster than going down to the next safe place to make a U-Turn), people swerving in front of you, people zooming up behind you and then swerving, or stopping directly in front of you; motorbikes with enormous loads, motorbikes with enormous loads coming directly at you on the wrong side of the road, motorbikes loaded with mom, dad, grandma, 2 babies, 2 toddlers, 3 ducks and a teenager coming at you on the wrong side of the road; motorbikes driving on “sidewalks”, motorbikes and cars running red lights at every intersection, motorbikes stopping smack dab in the middle of a busy thoroughfare to talk on the cell phone, people talking on cellphones while practicing any of these other habits; motorbikes turning right in front of you (the right of way here is always up for grabs), intersections with conflicting green lights, people trying to overtake you on the right, people jumping the red light (it’s de rigueur to start going when there’s about 3 seconds left, so don’t try to beat a yellow light. You will die). Also, might is right on the road, meaning anything larger and heavier than you will do all of these things and expect you to get out of their way, whether you have time to react or not. If it is Tet season, then prepare to dodge motorbikes loaded with kumquat trees. The trees can be quite large and straight-up wipe out unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians. If you have never ridden a motorbike or motorcycle before, you might want to just skip it altogether.
The police in Hanoi generally leave expats alone, which came as a surprise to me. However, your luck will vary wildly if you leave Hanoi and travel through any of the adjacent towns. You hear stories about dealing with the cops, and in general, whenever possible, try to avoid them. Again, in the accident, I was incredibly lucky that the police were decent and fair. Your best bet is to come with a license bearing a motorcycle endorsement, and then see if you can get it translated, and an international driving permit doesn’t hurt either. Most police know that expats don’t have a Vietnamese driver’s license, but you should have something current with you at all times. If you can get a Vietnamese driver’s license, it is good forever and will be your best protection. There are some agencies who will help foreigners obtain a license, but the process is arduous and drawn-out. The driving test part of the process consists of you riding a semi-automatic motorbike in a figure-eight around some traffic cones, without touching the ground with your feet. That’s it. Personally, I think they need to really up their standards given how homicidal everyone is on their motorbike. Also, you need motorbike insurance. It costs about $4 a year for a card, and if you are stopped outside of Hanoi, they may ask you for it. If you don’t have it the fine is somewhere around $350 or so. Weirdly enough I have never seen a place to buy them in the city, but tons of places lining the highway as soon as you leave the city. Take someone who can translate and help you get this card.
Entertainment options get a little stale after awhile, I’ve noticed. There is not much nightlife here, so if you like going to clubs with big ol’ dance floors and parties until dawn, Hanoi is not your place. It has venues, but they are small. There is some live music, but I’ve never found much that was appealing. There IS a growing collective of experimental and electronic musicians doing some really cool stuff, but if you’re just here for a visit you’ll not really find them easily. The movie theaters show the main popular Western movies, and you choose your seat in advance, which is nice.
The food options are decent, if you know what to look for. In general, Hanoi food is not intensely flavored like it is in the South. Pho originated here, but it is different than what you’d get in a Vietnamese restaurant in the States. I think it’s a great breakfast. However, if you’re going to eat street food, get some help from a local friend, if you’ve made one. You can get extremely sick from the food here; it’s a widespread complaint. Food hygiene and safety are just not a priority, and a fair number of expats land in the hospital with severe food poisoning.
Hanoi is a cafe kind of town, literally thousands of places to get coffee and/or juice. The coffee here can be really good, but you need to find places that sell real coffee. Yes, there is apparently fake coffee here. But there’s also egg coffee, which is a straight-up miracle.
It will be vital to find at least one good friend here, who speaks your language well enough. Living abroad can be lonely wherever you go, and this seems to be especially true here. It’s a transient population bubble you will be living in, and the local population does not speak much English. It is said that the Vietnamese are much friendlier and more open the further south you go, and it’s probably generally true. I’ve found that if you win over a Hanoian, they will never forget you. But they are quite selective and can often seem closed-off. Just smile, be your best self, and be very patient. Don’t show anger or irritation when things don’t go your way (a valuable lesson I’ve learned), and you’ll find that they will quietly really appreciate you. There are a lot of rude foreigners living here, sorry to say, so if you can remember your manners you will do just fine with the locals. They will look at you with unrestrained curiosity and will talk about you, just take it in stride. Foreigners are quite strange-looking and acting to Hanoians, so I’m told.
One way you will prove your value here is whether you agree to help folks with their English. This is true whether you’re a teacher or not, and if you want to pick up extra work, there is tons of it. People will ask you to help them, and in my opinion it’s a good opportunity, even if you do it for free. Living here as a foreigner means we are successful, perhaps more so than many of the people living here. It doesn’t hurt to give back whenever possible, it will help you form relationships with the people here, and will make you feel good. You won’t need a lot of teaching experience, just some patience, clear speech (heavily-accented folks who speak English have a harder time securing teaching jobs), and above all, cultural sensitivity.
Other posts have recommended branching out of Tay Ho for places to live, and, this is more viable if you live here long-term. When you first arrive, you’ll be hard-pressed to settle into any of the outlying areas. A lot of areas outside Tay Ho are just off-limits to foreigners in one way or another. Tay Ho has a large selection of places to live, a large community of expats, and a lot of businesses that cater to expat needs and interests. It is a “bubble”, but once you get established, you can find much cheaper dwellings on the fringe of Tay Ho, in areas with less congestion.
Wherever you choose to live, though, be prepared for construction to happen right next door. It will be loud, it will be dusty, and it will happen at all hours and all days of the week. They don’t take the weekends off. I have yet to live in an area that wasn’t affected in some way by someone tearing down an old house and building something new. This seems to be a booming area financially, with people making more money to improve their property, and outside investors coming in droves to erect new apartment complexes, shopping malls, and business buildings.
Shopping options are decent for things like furniture, household goods, and electronics. Electronics are about as expensive as the States, but other things are more reasonable. If your a taller Western guy like me, you will have a hard time finding manufactured clothes and shoes. You’ll want to visit one of the hundreds of tailors in the area, and if you have something you really like to wear, bring it to them. They will make copies to match the cut of your favorite clothes. This has saved my life more than once.
You cannot order things from Amazon directly, but there is Lazada (with a more limited selection but fast delivery), and Amabuy, which ships an approved list (since some things on Amazon are illegal here) of goods, but takes 2–3 weeks.
Cancel your Prime Membership if you move here. It’s not good for anything, as not even the movies will stream here, even with a VPN. Netflix works, though, and there are dozens of Vietnamese websites with current movies and huge selections (type the name of the movie you want, followed by the word “vietsub”, into Google). Most of the time they upload HD versions of things as soon as they are available.
Hanoi is the capitol, so you will notice a much bigger government presence here. In general, as a foreigner it won’t concern you much, but it really shapes the character of this city. You’d just have to live in it to see what I mean. Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place is here, and you can visit the Mausoleum and see his preserved body.
Very important: Tet. This is the biggest holiday in Vietnam, and occurs in late January/early February, depending on the lunar calendar. If you choose to stay in Hanoi at this time, you must prepare for it about a week or so in advance. Stock up on extras of everything. Hanoians leave in droves to go back to their hometowns (which are just hopping at this time, get out to one if you can, you’ll never regret it). They load up grandma, 2 babies, a couple of ducks, and a huge Tet tree, and motor on out of town. The day before Tet it’s just motorbikes and kumquat trees on the road as far as you can see. It’s best to just stay home at this time, lest you get wiped out by a tree while you’re just trying to walk down the road. The area begins to almost completely close down for up to a week. Some restaurants in Tay Ho stay open, but think about it. These are people working through the biggest holiday in their culture, and they are stuck in Hanoi. Do you really want to be that foreigner who shows up on the day of Tet, expecting to be served? Give them a huge break. Stock up on groceries, water, and whiskey, and hunker down. It’s just good karma. Additionally, the time leading up to Tet is about like Christmas: hectic, bustling, lots of shopping, shorter tempers, worse traffic. And petty theft increases. People feel pressure to settle their debts before the Lunar New Year, and are more tempted to lift cellphones and wallets. Extra vigilance is needed at this time of the year.
In general, Hanoi is a very Vietnamese city, compared to a more generic-looking Saigon. I love that about this place. A lot of mystery, a lot of charm, and tons of hidden gems to visit once you make a local friend. Hanoians are very proud to live here, and they should be. The negatives I’ve listed are surmountable, if you come properly prepared and are in reasonable health. There’s enough of a draw to bring new expats, as well as to those who like the funky, rough, gritty charm of this place and live here for years longer than they originally planned. The traditional way of life is still pulsing through development into a more modern city, and I hope that it doesn’t get lost.
Ellie Frato-Sweeney, lived in Hanoi, Vietnam (2015-2016)
Répondu il y a 67w
- Be prepared for crazy amounts of heat. Seriously, I just checked the weather for today in Hanoi, and it’s going to be a high of 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the humidity is insane. As in, 100%.
- Be prepared for how dirty it is. Hanoi (and Vietnam as a whole) lacks a lot of infrastructure, so trash will often just be dumped in the streets or on sidewalks. And speaking of sidewalks…
- The above picture shows a typical sidewalk in Hanoi. Actually, if it were a normal sidewalk, that massive, gaping hole wouldn’t be covered up. When walking, I often found holes like this one filled with trash and live electrical wires.
- There are tons of motorbikes. The above picture is a typical scene for a busy street in Hanoi. There are cars, but only rich people have them.
- This is your average sized street in Hanoi. Okay, this is a bit narrow than normal, but still conceivable. Now imagine cars trying to get through here. I bet you’re laughing to yourself a bit, right? Well, it actually happens. Imagine walking through a street like this during rush hour as I often did and being forced to the side of the road so a car could shoulder its way through.
- Don’t use Rosetta Stone to learn the language. My family tried this and it was horrible because it didn’t teach the tones. Mandarin has four tones, you probably know that. Well, Vietnamese has six. I recommend enrolling in a class, not online, but an actual class. I’m sure you can find one in your area, or you could go to Tay Ho (the expat district) and find one.
- Before going to Vietnam, my family and I got many different answers to “How much English is spoken in Vietnam?” Some sources said that everyone spoke English, some said that no one did. I’ll try and answer that for you here. Most people spoke a couple words of English, and most people (especially young people) were trying to learn more. Be prepared for everyone yelling “Hello!” as you walk by.
- I don’t know if you’ve found a place to live yet, but I recommend not living in Tay Ho. It’s a nice place, but pretty insulated. Tay Ho is where all the expats live, so you can find things like Mexican restaurants and American candy stores there. Those things are great, and we took advantage of them once or twice. But my family lived on the other side of town, where no other Americans lived (probably an exagerration, but we didn’t meet any other Americans). This meant we got a more authentic experience. (If you’re wondering, we lived in Cau Giay, down the road from Landmark 72.)
- Here’s some good news: everything will be cheap to you. A typical meal out for one cost me about a dollar. Yeah, I know. Awesome. (The funny thing is though, after living there for a while, those prices seemed normal. A bottle of soda in the convenience store at the bottom of our apartment building usually cost 7,000 VND - about 30 cents. It was a steal. After a while though, we’d balk at a price like 20,000 VND - 88 cents or so. Still a great price. But by that point, we were used to Vietnamese prices!
- You can haggle in Vietnam. Not in, say, a department store, and I’d encourage you not to haggle with little mom and pop restaurants on the side of the street (you have so much more money than them, it’s rude), but I encourage you to haggle with vendors in the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is the uber touristy place of Vietnam. It has that red bridge over Hoan Kiem lake you’ve probably seen in pictures, and it has a whole bunch of streets where people sell things. There’s a Christmas street. There’s even a street where all they sell is knockoff North Face jackets.
- In the Old Quarter, watch out for scammers. We got scammed a couple of times. Women will come up to you carrying something like this. They’ll put their non la on you (the traditional hat) and put the carrying thing over your shoulders and gesture that you should take a picture. Oh, cool! You think. My parents would love to see this! This lady’s so nice! You take a picture, and then the women will tell you that you owe her money, probably some ridiculous some like 200,000 VND - almost 9 dollars. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is.
- Also, don’t buy doughnuts from the women selling them in the Old Quarter. They’re expensive, not that good, and you’ll see about 20 women selling them all around, all in cahoots.
- Try phở, pronounced fuh, not foh as it is in the States. (I’ll forgo the proper accents from here on out because they’re annoying to type on my American keyboard!) I recommend pho tai chin. Mm. Delicious. Also, don’t try pho in the States, unless you’re in a neighborhood with a lot of native Vietnamese people, and even then be cautious. The Americanized version of pho is simply nasty. The broth is doux! I shudder just thinking of it.
- Learn about obscure societal rules.
- You’re going to have a fantastic time in Hanoi. It’s a great city, and I don’t mean to turn you off from it. I just want to tell you some things I wish I’d known.
Edit 07/01/17: Removed wrong statement. See comments.
Jacky Nguyen, lives in Hanoi, Vietnam
Répondu il y a 67w · L'auteur dispose de réponses 597 et de vues de réponses 348.9k
It seems that you were surprised by Hanoi in your recent trip. I hope it is not your last trip to our country. Hanoi is definitely very crowded City. We have total population of around 10 millions of people in very big area. And the given information is somehow correct:
- We have many motor bike (scooter) running on the street. You should always be careful when walking along the street especially in ancient streets.
- The streets are not all as narrow as the information you’ve given. We have big, empty road in other area of the city. The narrowest streets are in ancient center area only.
- Most of our people can speak English and it is really easy for you to ask someone in English. And, because our citizens are too friendly to say “hello” to tourists all the time,haha.
- Our food is very healthy with good taste,smells and various kind of food available .
- I suggest you book a small hotel in the most crowded city center which is so called “Hoan Kiem lake”. This is our cultural center. Millions of tourists are staying here every year.
- The weather in Hanoi is not very hot, except in Summer time. The humidity is terrible for EU cititzens but after 1–2 days here, it will become normal.
I wish you will have good trip to Hanoi and enjoy staying here.
Tran Bao Quan, lived in Hanoi, Vietnam
Répondu il y a 25w
The first thing foreigner should always remember while living in Hanoi is: It is the capital city of a DEVELOPING country. I can’t stress this enough.
Many foreigners came here and after living in Hanoi for a while, they hate the city since it is not as good as their country or previous residence.
So this is my good advice for you: Don't think of a place as better or worse, think of it as different.
Hanoi is a place that rises to meet your expectations. People who go to Vietnam with a pompous attitude, complain about every little thing, think they are going to be ripped off, etc. generally end up finding it. People who think Vietnam is an interesting place with great people and food will also find it.
Sure the city needs huge improvements on many things. However, if you can adapt to these problems, Hanoi can be a great place to live.
Siobhan Moss, studied at Manchester Metropolitan University (2015)
Répondu il y a 32w
My advice is be aware of the moving in costs. Most places will ask foreigners to pay three months rent when moving in as well as a deposit. I was lucky and found a place that was just two months and a deposit. But just be aware because in one lump sum it can be quite a lot. If you’re interested in moving I have some vlogs about life in hanoi and finding apartments. Here is the link
,I have lived here for about six months now.Another thing to note is the pollution, it can be rather bad at times.Overall though I've really enjoyed my time here, it has a spirit like no where else and a great expat community so you wont be alone when moving here. Teaching opportunities are plentiful too so if you speak English a job wont be a problem
Orange Wayfarer, studied Master of Business Administration Degrees at Christ
Répondu il y a 21w
- Beware, you shall fall in love with Hanoi easily if history intrigues you!
- Explore the old streets. There are old houses, cafes, streets full of magic and tale of days of the yore in volume.
- Take good amount of money alongside (SEA standard good amount) to enjoy a good life
- Lightlife is decent
- Explore the night markers
- Consider day trips
- Boire du café