Although Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, it’s in fact not the largest city (that’s Ho Chi Minh City). However, it still doesn’t mean that Hanoi is a small city by any means. The capital city oozes of atmosphere and is one of the most vibrant cities in Asia. Once you’re in Hanoi, it’s difficult to leave because there’s so much to do and see. The city might scare you off a bit in the beginning but once you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll truly appreciate everything the city has to offer – attractions, culinary offerings, sights, and of course – really cheap beer. So if you’re planning a trip to Hanoi for the first time, check out this list of things to know before going to Hanoi.
Vietnam Visa Rules
The first thing to remember is to apply for a visa before you arrive to the country. Some nationalities are on the visa exempt list, but this usually means they can only stay for 15 days, sometimes 30 days, visa free. If you’re on the visa exempt list but wishes to stay longer, you must apply for a visa. Depending on nationality, there are three visa options to choose from: either you opt for either of the two online visas, Visa on Arrival or E-Visa, or you go via the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate and apply with them. It’s always advisable to choose the online visa since it’s much easier and faster to get. But if you’re arriving to Vietnam by land, you must go via the Embassy.
Traffic is hectic in Hanoi
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but it’s no lie – traffic IS hectic in Hanoi. Sometimes it even feels like there are more motorbikes in Hanoi than people. In fact, there’s over five million motorbikes just in the city! This means there’ll be lots of traffic. Your first impression of Hanoi will most certainly be that it seems crowded and a bit crazy, which is true, but that’s also part of the charm about the city. It’s always full of life, movement and people.
Crossing the road will most certainly give you a minor heart attack
You think people stop when the light hits red? Think again! The rule in Hanoi is that there are no rules. Don’t wait too long to cross the road because no one will stop and wait for you. Look at what the locals do – they cross it slowly, assertively and makes sure that they always keep their eyes on the road. Never stop once you’ve started to cross, this will only upset and confuse the drivers. Remember that most of the drivers in Vietnam are very used to people crossing the roads, so they’ll just drive around you instead of stopping. It’s completely normal though to shriek a little the first time you cross, it’s not the easiest thing to do. But after a while, you’ll just think it’s quite fun and challenging, and you’ll never think crossing the road is boring again.
Don’t drink the tap water
Perhaps obvious, but don’t drink the tap water. It’ll most likely make your stomach churn and you’ll have to rush to the nearest bathroom (which isn’t always easy to find in the city!). Instead, buy either bottled water or bring your water filtering system. Remember that plastic is excessively used in Vietnam and there’s a major problem with it. So what you can do is to bring your own reusable bottle, try to refill it in every place you can, or just go with your water filtering system. Try to avoid buying bottled water as much as you can. Most places these days have a water refill station.
You can carry everything on a motorbike
Hm, what’s that you see? A refrigerator on a motorbike? Animals being transported? Five family members in one motorbike? Yeah, you’ll most likely see that the locals carry everything on their motorbikes. It’s not uncommon to see multiple family members on one bike, plus their dog. It’s quite fascinating how they can carry all the weight on their motorbike.
You can find all kind of food in Hanoi
Hanoi is becoming more international and so is the food scene. If you’re getting tired of the local cuisine (who gets tired of it though?), why not head to a French, Italian, Indian, Mexican, you name it, restaurant instead and take a break from rice and noodles. The food scene in Hanoi is nothing but spectacular and you’ll find almost anything here. But it’s the local food that’s the main star here. Find a hole in the wall restaurant, order some delicious pho and pay anything between a mere 1-3 dollars for it. If you’re unsure of what you should order, why not join a guided street food tour in Hanoi? It’s an excellent way to meet people while tasting local food with an actual local.
The locals might seem rude, but they’re actually very warm and friendly!
One of the biggest misunderstandings about the Vietnamese is that they’re really rude. Of course you’ll come across some big scammers in Hanoi and you’ll notice how everyone is extremely loud and yelling at each other, but it’s mostly in good fun. The culture here is different and so is the way people talk to each other. But once you get used to their way of communicating, you’ll quickly notice how warm and friendly the locals are. They won’t hesitate to invite you over to their family for dinner, they’ll make sure that you’ll find your way in the crazy maze of Hanoi, and you might even find yourself having a few beers out on the streets with them. The locals are mostly curious about tourists and wants them to get a good impression of their country. So don’t be scared to talk to the locals, befriend them and get to know them. It’s one of the best ways to truly get to know a country!