1. Change your money at your local money changer
It is difficult to find moneychangers in Hanoi and according to the locals they tend to give lower rates than the bank. In addition, there are few rare moneychangers around. The best option would be to change your money at the bank (Eg. Vietcombank). Places like Sapa and Halong Bay do not have moneychangers. However, these places usually accept Visa or Mastercard. Take note that card payments often incur extra charges (3-5%) on your bill.
2. Book free tours early
There are various free tours conducted by locals who are university students or volunteers. These tours are popular especially for backpackers and budget travellers and engaging one will save a lot of time and money. Some of the attractions and places of interest tend to be close by and more often these locals know their short cuts through the city. Road signs are quite confusing in Hanoi and getting to one place can take a lot of time. Book your tours at least 1 month in advance to secure a place. All of these tours are English and other languages such as French, German and Korean.
3. Travel adapter
Most of the places in Hanoi use a two round pin plug for electricity charging points. Ensure to get the right travel adapter. Getting a universal travel adapter would be the best option although it will cost you more.
4. Avoid taxi scams
Ask your hostel/hotel on which taxi companies are reliable. In most hostels/hotel, the staff would be kind enough to hail the taxi and help you tell the taxi driver your destination. Some of the more trustable taxi companies include:
Taxigroup (Taxi CP and Hanoi Taxi)
Mai Linh Taxi
Phu Dong Taxi
To transfer from Noi Ba Airport, contact your hotel first as they some offer free transfer while others would be able to arrange the transport for you. Airport taxi charges a fix cost of about USD15 for a 5-7 seater. The travelling time to the city takes about 45-60 minutes depending on the traffic.
5. Be brave and just cross the roads!
The traffic in Hanoi is quite messy and sometimes confusing. Cars, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians come from any possible direction in a one-way street. Sometimes you can even spot motorcycles driving on pavements. The locals also tend to park their scooters/motorcycles on the pavement. Thus, it leaves no space for people to walk and you have to be brave and walk side by side with the vehicles on the road. The traffic rarely stops so you just have to cross the road and try to avoid the vehicles. In most cases, they will stop for you because it is part of their culture. So don’t be scared to cross and there will never be the “right time” because the traffic never stops.
6. Don’t overpack – just buy them there!
The Old Quarter area has tons of things to shop around for every age group. If you go during winter season (November – January), buy your winter clothing or accessories there. Original branded shoes are made in Vietnam and the prices are super cheap. The quality is superb. You just need to practice on your price haggling skills. Try to walk into the alleys further inside as they sell similar products as those outside ones but at a much lower price. Look out for the name of the alleys as they often sell specific things in each alley. Brands include Nike, Adidas, Vans, Northface, Salomon, Timbuk2 etc.
7. Dogs are food, not friends
Gasps! For dog lovers, be warned that they do sell dogs on the street. Most of the locals eat dogs in some of their meals and some are served barbequed. Don’t be alarm if you do see dog meat displayed by the roadside. They eat other bizzare food as well such as cobra and rats just to name a few.
8. Bring your own toiletries for hostels
Hostels in Hanoi are often cheap and it is not surprising that they do not provide basic toiletries such as shampoo and soap. Some hostels provide towels for free while others rent their towels. Bring your own or get some at the local mart.
9. Street food – “the dirtier the place, the nicer the food”
The Old Quarter area is basically a street food heaven for food lovers. A street food stall can be seen any place possible. Food sellers also walk around selling their food to locals and tourists. Be adventurous and try any of the stalls. However, most of these stall vendors do not speak English thus it would be a challenge to know what you are ordering. Alternatively, you can engage free street food tours in the city and be able to try all the street food while knowing what goes into your tummy!
10. Explore outside Hanoi
Get out of the hustling city life and explore the beautiful nature around Hanoi. Popular places like Halong Bay and Sapa are easily accessible by tour bookings at the hostel or any of the tour agencies you see around the Old Quarter. Other places include Ninh Binh, Mai Chau, Perfume Pagoda, Hoa Lu, Van Phuc silk village and Bat Trang pottery village. There are so many travelling agencies around; in every corner you will never miss it. Most tours are quite similar in terms of activities but the price and service may differ. Stick to the ones that meet your needs and budget. Do not panic if you have landed in Hanoi and have yet to book any tours. The tours in Hanoi are very flexible and you can book one today and head off the next day!