When in Hanoi: 8 Things That Shocked, Delighted, And Amused Me On My First Visit
Enjoy, but with a few precautions.
by Andy Flores | October 16, 2019
Nothing could have possibly prepared me for the adventure I had in Hanoi. An exciting city teeming in culture and history, it definitely doesn’t fall short when it comes to offering unique experiences, making it a fascinating destination for travelers, who wish to see and try something new.
Before you take a trip to this compelling destination, though, let me tell you about some things you may not have heard before but might want to know:
Crossing the street
The chaotic streets of Vietnam’s biggest cities are not unheard of. But I didn’t realize how terrifying crossing a street in Hanoi could actually be until I had to go through the ordeal myself. I was standing on one side of a busy street, waiting for cars and mopeds to stop speeding past me—they never did.
So how does one survive to tell the tale?
A Vietnamese friend of mine once quipped, “Close your eyes and just keep walking.” Another said, “Just take your guts and go!” Apparently, there’s no special trick or secret to successfully cross the streets in Vietnam, and even the locals could attest to this. You just have to wait for the volume of vehicles to thin out, walk quickly, and hope for the best, as motorists zipping by try to avoid you.
Hanoi’s street-side dining scene is actually exciting, especially at night. Small stools and tables are set by the street or alley, and people come and go as they please. The menu is nowhere close to sophisticated, but the food is fantastic nonetheless. A favorite of mine is nem chua rán, some sort of a deep-fried meatball that’s tender and chewy. Pair it with some garlicky French fries on the side, then wash everything down with a refreshing glass of trà chanh or lime tea.
The cops at Ta Hien
Known as Hanoi’s beer street, Ta Hien is where you’ll find a seemingly endless stretch of microbars serving Vietnam’s prized bia hoi (draft beer). Waiters and waitresses (literally) pull passersby left and right, in the hopes of seating throngs and throngs of customers for the night. When the indoors get packed, though, guests are provided seats outside, al fresco style. It’s all cool and fun…until the cops arrive, blowing their whistles, as guests and waiters alike scamper and cram themselves on the curbside. The cops make rounds a couple of times every night, but don’t worry—they don’t usually arrest people. They’re just there to ensure that everyone closes shop and goes home before the curfew. Bars here stay open until around 2 AM on weekends.
Taxi fares are relatively cheap in Vietnam, so I was surprised when a taxi driver, who stopped for us near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, asked me and my travel buddies to pay a few hundred Vietnamese Dong for a short distance. We knew we were being tricked because we’ve paid less for taxi rides going to farther areas in the city. Apparently, his meter was rigged, and after a hapless argument in Vietnamese and English, he gave up and we paid what we thought should be the actual fare. To avoid such scams, don’t hail a taxi near tourist spots. Keep a close eye on the meter as well. If it jumps up quicker than it should, ask the driver to drop you off immediately. Or, y’know… just use the Grab app—it works just as well in Hanoi.
Locals love having their pictures taken in the busiest places of the city! And, I don’t mean simply handing over one’s phone to a friend for a quick snap. Here, it’s all about getting dressed up, made up, and having portraits taken by a pro! If you’re camera-shy, maybe, being surrounded by people conducting their own mini photoshoots will ease your nerves. Just strike a pose and flash your best smile for the perfect #TravelGoals pic.
Dancing in the streets
Take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake in the afternoon or evening and you’re sure to come across a few groups of people dancing. There’s no special occasion—locals just really love dancing here! And the mood is too jovial to resist swaying to the music—from old-time Vietnamese tunes that get elderly couples dancing to the latest K-Pop hits that the younger crowd goes crazy over.
Free Wi-Fi (pretty much) everywhere
Hole-in-the-wall cafes, malls, supermarkets—I kid you not, most establishments in Hanoi offer free Wi-Fi! If you want to post a story of your mouthwatering bowl of bún chả or search for the easiest way to get to one point from a coffee shop you’re chilling at, you wouldn’t have much trouble trying to connect online.
Perhaps, the thing that shocked me most on my Hanoi trip was when I was stopped by a supermarket staff at the entrance of Lotte Mart. I was there to buy some pasalubong, and the Pinoy that I am, unzipped my bag and showed her what’s inside—I thought I was being subjected to a security check. But she shook her head, zipped my bag, and secured it with a cable tie so I can’t open it! They only cut the tiny piece of plastic when I was already about to pay for my purchase at the counter.
Still curious after my trip, I asked a friend based in Ho Chi Minh if their bags were being tied there, too, before entering supermarkets and he said yes. Apparently, it’s one of their efforts to curb shoplifting. However, some supermarkets have started to lift their cable tie rule to lessen their plastic consumption.
Got any more advise for first-time Hanoi visitors? Share them with us below!