Posted on May 12, 2014 by Amy Knapp
What every traveller needs to know about visiting Vietnam’s capital.
Hanoi has got lots to offer above and beyond Saigon. Because it is the seat of the government, the city is kept spick and span, and buildings and ancient sites are well-maintained. It’s also one of the best places in the world for food lovers. Compared to Saigon, portion sizes are a little smaller in most restaurants, which means you can eat even more dishes! What’s not to love?
Here are 10 things to remember when visiting Hanoi.
1. Hanoi is all about cash
Cash is king in Hanoi. You won’t be paying in plastic for a bowl of soup or a quick taxi ride. Most of the international ATMs have a maximum withdrawal of 1 million VND (about $50 USD), which can be frustrating. Keep your cool. A million VND will go a long way. If you need to really stock up, there is an ANZ ATM near Hoan Kiem Lake that will let you take out up to 9.9 million VND.
2. Eat soup for breakfast
You can’t come to Vietnam and not eat pho. It’s mandatory over here. Some of the best pho joints open early for breakfast and are closed by 8:30 a.m. Get out of bed and get eating. You won’t regret it.
3. Anyone can get around on the cheap
Hanoi has a myriad of options for cheap transit, including bus, taxi, scooter and shuttle. You needn’t walk unless you want to. Scooter taxis are by far the cheapest option; A 10-minute ride will set you back about 10,000 - 15,000 VND, or about 0.50 USD. Make sure your driver has an extra helmet. You need it.
4. Don’t expect to speak English
Many locals can squeak out a few words of English, but don’t expect it. Consider yourself lucky when someone understands you. A phrasebook will come in handy if you’re good at pronunciation, but since Vietnamese is mainly a tonal language, your curious attempts will likely only draw more confusion. Stick to hand gestures and pointing whenever possible.
5. Watch your back. Hanoi is a city of scooters
They’ll be hurtling at you from all directions 24 hours a day, particularly during rush hour. You cannot be an idle pedestrian in Hanoi, particularly if you have small children. Vehicles move fast here, scooters especially. Stay at attention at all times, particularly in the Old Quarter.
6. Eat in the street
There are those who say Hanoi has some of the best street food in Asia, and certainly the best in Vietnam. It’s also cheap and readily available, which can be a huge bonus after a long day sightseeing on foot. Try rice wrapped in lotus leaf to start, corn on the cob or mango on a stick. It’s hard to go wrong in Hanoi.
7. Stay where you planned to stay
The old story - a story you hear in many countries - is alive and well in Hanoi. Your hotel is full due to some unforeseen event in another district. But from the goodness of his own heart, your taxi driver will take you to a restaurant that a cousin or sister happens to own. Free of charge for the ride! Stick to your guns. Change taxis if you need to. Your hotel is most assuredly not full.
8. Negotiate fees ahead of time
Never get into a taxi or onto a scooter without first agreeing on the price and destination. You will be quite surprised what sort of unexpected mishaps may happen along the way that could cause the price to rise. This is particularly important when transferring from the airport, where the price can fluctuate a LOT. Get someone from the hotel to pick you up if you can.
9. Get lost in the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is undoubtedly the best place to start your travels around Hanoi. Try and get there early in the day when the streets will be less crowded. The Water Puppet show is an absolute must-see, and completely unique to Vietnamese culture. You will never see anything like it anywhere else.
10. People watch
Hanoi is an incredible place to people watch. The variety of people, the bright colours and the slow pace of life give it a major leg up on Saigon for this activity. Grab yourself a weasel coffee and cream and find a comfortable place to sit. You can easily lose a whole afternoon people watching.
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