So, you’ve been planning a trip to Vietnam for a while and now it’s finally a time to fly to the capital of Vietnam – Hanoi? It’s natural that you have thousands of questions before arriving in Hanoi, but don’t worry as we’ve already traveled around the country and had a chance to explore the cultural center of Vietnam.
What to Expect When Arriving to Hanoi?
The capital’s population has officially reached a whopping 8 million citizens. The craziest fact is there is around 4 million registered motorbikes in Hanoi! It’s a perfect place to start your trip since the culture is still strong, but the Western influence is slowly taking its part.
The city is often called ‘big village’ since there are many neighborhoods with extreme local vibe and architecture. Old Quarter is the part located in the strict city center where all the action takes a part. If you’re looking to really dip into the culture and enjoy local cuisine with friendly locals or simply meeting other like-minded travelers, it’s the place to be.
Here’s everything you have to know before arriving to Hanoi.
Airport Guide in Hanoi
Noi Bai is the name of Hanoi’s airport and it’s about 15 km away from Old District or West Lake (expat area). In recent years, the Vietnamese government invested a whopping amount of money in building Nhat Tan bridge that cut the distance to the airport by half.
Once you arrive at the airport, everything is pretty straightforward. The advice is just to follow the crowd all the way to the visa counter. You can read more about the Vietnamese visa in the following text.
Once you’re done with documentation and you have a visa in your passport, it’s time to figure out the most affordable way to reach your accommodation from the airport.
There are a few transportation options and your choice totally depends on your budget and time you have:
- Public bus from terminal exit: Two public bus lines connect Noi Bai airport with Old Quarter on a daily basis (weekends included; 5 am – 10 pm). You should catch a line 7 or 17, depending on where your accommodation is. For instance, line 7 drops you to Kim Ma bus station, while line 17 ends to Long Bien bus station. One way ticket costs only 5,000 VND and the whole ride takes up to 1 hour, depending on traffic (rush hours can be tricky!).
- Airport Shuttle: At the moment, only Vietnamese air companies offer the shuttle from the airport to the city. You have to go to arrivals at domestic terminal. Just head to arrivals exit gate and you’ll notice the shuttle. The shuttle costs 40,000 VND from the airport all the way to the city center. You don’t have to fly with Vietnamese air companies to get to the shuttle.
- Grab: Before getting outside the airport, be sure that you get a local SIM card and install Grab app. You have to use your phone number to make it work. It works like Uber in Asia, and it’s pretty easy to book a drive (motorbike or car) that won’t cost you a fortune. The car drive costs around 200,000 VND and you can see exact details of the ride before accepting, so you can avoid scams.
- Taxi: It should be your last option since it’s known that many scams in Vietnam happen while taking a taxi ride. Anyway, if you decided to get a taxi, never accept the first price and bargain with drivers. The usual rate for the ride from the airport to Old Quarter is around 350,000 VND.
Process of Getting a Vietnamese Visa
If you’re not a passport holder of 24 countries that have visa exempt, then you’ll have to pre-arrange an appropriate visa for your stay. Don’t worry as getting a Vietnamese visa is almost effortless and very affordable.
You have to be granted an invitation letter that usually costs up to $25 and usually only takes a couple of days to get. I suggest going through www.vietnamvisa.com to apply for your letter. Be sure to have the letter printed prior to arrival whether you’re flying or crossing by land as there many not be places to have it printed once you arrive.
Basically, you present the invitation letter with your passport (be sure it’s valid for at least 6 more months and you have at least 4 blank visa pages), passport photo, filled visa form and $25/$50 for a visa sticker. The whole process should only take a few minutes but depending on the lines can take up to an hour or more.
There are a few Vietnam visa options:
- single/multiple entry tourist visa
- single/multiple entry business visa
Changing Money & Getting a SIM Card
The official currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong (VND) and you can buy everything with VND. In rare occasions, you can pay in other currency, but don’t rely on that (tours and shuttle drive in touristic places).
You can’t get Vietnamese Dong outside the country, so it’s advisable to get into the country with some USD or EUR in cash. Always have a handy mobile app called XE Currency Converter, so you know what’s the current rate. Vietnamese culture is very prone to bargaining, so don’t be shy to show your bargaining skills when changing money.
Once you’ve passed the passport control on the airport, head down to the exit terminal and there will be a few money exchange offices. Don’t rush in the first, but instead check the rates and change only the amount you’ll need for transport to the accommodation (around 500,000 VND).
For the rest of the money, we recommend exchanging in gold shops or hostels around the city. Debit cards can be used in every ATM around the city and the rates for withdrawing start from 25,000 VND.
If you’re planning to stay more than a month in Vietnam, then check out Timo. Everyone can open a Timo account and you can withdraw money on any ATM without any fees. It’s pretty handy and saves a lot of money. The whole process of getting the working account and physical card only takes around 30 minutes.
SIM card can be bought with USD, EUR or VND and it usually costs around 300,000 VND with data plan included. We advise going to Viettel or MobiFone counter next to exchange counters at the airport.
Getting Around Hanoi
In the city of 8 million people and more than 4 million motorbikes, it’s very easy to figure out the main mean of transportation.
Since Hanoi is pretty developed compared to other Vietnamese cities, there are quite a few options when it comes to getting around the city:
- Motorbike: Many travelers decide to travel around the country by motorbike and Hanoi is usually a starting point. If you’re comfortable with chaotic traffic and have enough skills, then buying your own motorbike to get around the city is the cheapest, most convenient, but not the safest option. The liter of fuel costs around 20,000 VND and it’s enough to drive around 40 km.
- Grab: It’s the most convenient and affordable way of getting around the city. There are many options including a car (2 – 6 people) and motorbike. Install the Grab app, create a profile and enjoy the ride. We really can’t recommend more getting a motorbike Grab drive during the night or rush hour to experience that chaotic traffic in Hanoi!
- Taxi: Since there is a Grab, taxi isn’t a very popular mean of transportation. There are many scams when it comes to taxi drives and it’s quite expensive. Anyway, if you still want to get a taxi drive, just wave on the street to a driver and you’re all set. The biggest and most reputable taxi companies are Mai Linh and Thanh Cong.
- Public bus: This is a very convenient way of traveling around Hanoi since there are dozens of frequent lines and the price for one-way ride is only 7,000 VND. Have in mind that bus lines stop driving after 10 pm.
Culture in Hanoi
Depending on your native culture and number of times you’ve been to Asia, there is a huge possibility that you’re going to experience quite a few culture shocks while setting your feet in beautiful Hanoi.
Firstly, you’ll probably experience a shock when it comes to traffic. It seems there is not a single traffic rule, but somehow, people just drive in a flow. Traffic in Hanoi is crazy, especially during rush hours since there are about 4 million registered motorbikes in the city. If you decide to drive your own bike, be sure you have enough skills, experience and that you feel comfortable in traffic.
Communicating can be tough since Vietnamese is a vocal language and even if you learn basics, it may be hard for locals to understand you. You should still learn the basics since people tend to respect foreigners speaking or trying to speak Vietnamese. Many of the locals will try to use English, but it is not the first or second language even so be prepared to use a translator tool like Google Translate.
Delicious street food is on every step. From diverse noodles, crunchy baguette sandwich (Banh Mi) all the way to fresh fruits and barbeque, Hanoi will definitely satisfy your belly. Street food is so diverse and fresh, which makes it very hard to get used to it since there is so much food to try.
People usually say for Thailand that it’s a land of smiles, but once you land in Hanoi, you’ll figure out that Vietnam isn’t far away from it. Of course, you’ll get more laughs and relaxed vibe outside the city, but it’s inspiring to see relaxed and positive people in all of bustle and hustle.
Bargaining is a must! It’s not offensive to bargain with locals, especially on the markets where the price isn’t listed. The unwritten rule is that sellers will always charge you more than locals and it’s up to you to figure out the prices of goods and negotiate the best price for both sides.
Vietnamese people love to drink and eat! Go to Old District and join locals on tiny chairs while sipping a fresh beer and eating local delicacies.
Have you ever been to stunning Hanoi? What is the advice you’d give to newcomers?