Vietnam’s capital Hanoi is relatively safe city for visitors. But just like our advise in any other place, being aware of typical hazards and annoyances can make a difference.
Despite the city’s relative safety, income among the majority of its citizens is small, around $150, as wealth disparity is wide. So leaving your phone unattended or backpack open might be tempting to some people — not only in Hanoi but everywhere else. Furthermore, safety in Hanoi is not just about security, it also involves a traveler’s health and well-being.
- Bring mosquito repellant
Always use a strong mosquito repellant. The mosquito problem is everywhere and malaria and dengue fever traced from mosquito bites can be extremely dangerous.
2. Beware of some green taxis
The green taxis have a hidden button that the driver manually triggers every few seconds, which makes the meter jump. If you notice any clicking sound and that affects the meter, stop the car immediately and get off. Safest bet would be to flag down white metered taxis. They’re from bigger, more established companies and are usually driven by more honest drivers.
3. Be careful crossing the streets
One of the biggest dangers around Hanoi is bicycles, scooters or mopeds. The roads in Hanoi can come in different sizes but they always seem to manage to get a least two lanes of traffic on each side. Careless pedestrians or newcomers could get bumped and get involved in accidents. Take a look at a typical Vietnamese roads and notice how pedestrians deal with seemingly random flow of vehicles.
4. Be aware of pickpockets
Hanoi is relatively safe; however, it is important to take precautions, especially in the busy and crowded areas. Always put precious items in front of you or somewhere safe. Another problem was photo touts which ask you to wear their hats, hold some of their items to take photos and then ask for money. Be observant and check out how fellow tourists deal with such offers touted by locals.
5. Pickpockets doubling as postcard sellers
Some pickpockets may try to steal your wallet by pretending to offer you some maps, postcards or any ‘handmade’ souvenirs in Hanoi. While they’re showing the map, they try to reach your pants and your pocket.
6. Be careful with food being served.
Vietnamese people eat many animals that are not common in the western cuisine, so be prepared. One of the attractions in Hanoi is to try the many variety and delicious local street food, but do take note that the hygiene standard is not too high and bring some medication just in case such meals — no matter how we or our tourist guides judge them as safe or clean — can upset the stomach.
7. Bring bottled water
Always carry sufficient fresh bottled water. Beware of dehydration and lost fluids. Check that the “cap seal” is not broken and the bottle has been refilled with tap water. This is a common scam here. Also avoid ice, some ice are just tap water made frozen.
8. Vietnamese currency
The Vietnamese unit of currency is dong. The currency is hard to trade back into your home currency once you leave Vietnam so try to spend most or all of your cash before you depart Vietnam. Also, the dong denominations are not very clear to newcomers. as the notes appear not distinct. Neither are they color coded or size coded. The notes are not easy to add up. It helps to get familiarized with Vietnam’s currency long before you travel there.
When transacting and expecting change, be take time to count if it is right. Better yet, prepare the exact amount so you don’t have to worry about being shortchanged.
9. Pedestrian crossing
Rules of the road are rarely used and pedestrian crossings and to some extent traffic lights, are null and void. Aim to find a small gap in the heavy traffic and start to walk out at a steady pace – don’t stop! The traffic, especially the motorbikes, will gauge your progress and simply go around you.
10. Titanic Bar or Phuc Tan Bar
The area is one of the poorest of Hanoi. The two bars are still worth visiting and very popular by westerners living in Hanoi. Best to come by taxi or motorbike and leave the place the same way. Phuc Tan is well worth a visit in daytime if you want to get an impression of the less known parts of the city.
11. Dealing with touts
Touts come rowing to boats, laden with fruit, jewelry and other wares to sell, even on official tour, small rowboats pulled alongside. Some even work with oarsman to sell items. They generally offer affordable goods and do legitimate business. When it comes to looking for package tours, say for a day-trip to Halong Bay, it also helps to know how much is a package tour beforehand but when you’re in Hanoi, plenty of small travel agencies are available and prices can sometimes offer discounts. Compare a few offers and you should be able to know the standard rates and discern you’re not being ripped off at all.
12. Culture shock
Hanoi is all small storefronts, narrow, dust-covered streets, worn-off paint and beat-up cars. The Vietnamese people lack a worldliness that most of us come to expect as normal. The culture shock phenomenon won’t last for long as their per capita GNP threatens to surpass $1000 a year.
13. Be careful when taking pictures
Accidents happen when you’re not observant but some people would try to steal off you when you’re not paying attention. Wear belongings under the shirt or inside pants, and if you wear a back pack, secure the zipper with complicated locks. Don’t wear flashy jewelry.
14. English language
English is not widely spoken in some parts of Hanoi — let alone with most of other provinces. You can easily get a misunderstanding even when the people are friendly. Keep calm and explain yourself in an orderly manner. Knowing a bit of Vietnamese can go a long way.
15. Agree on fare before taking the cyclo
If you wish to take the cyclo or the three-wheeled transport regularly carrying tourists in Hanoi, make sure to agree on fare before boarding. Some unscrupulous drivers demand high amounts (up to $200) and threaten you if you don’t comply. Most drivers though are reasonable and honest, but it pays to pre-agree on what to expect to pay at the end of the journey.