Welcome to Hanoi - The Motorcycle Capital!

In this series, I will be sharing with all of you about my ventures in Hanoi during my visit in October/November 2017. Hopefully, my experiences and itineraries will be able to help those of you out there who are planning to visit this charming little city with its unique kampong feel.


First Impressions

Hanoi is located in northern Vietnam and is the capital of the one of the last communist countries in the world. Also the capital of the former socialist state of North Vietnam, it is not difficult to see that communism is deeply rooted in the heart of this city – with the worshipping of their late leader at the symbolic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the statue of Lenin erected in the centre of the city and the stereotypical crimson red banners with familiar communist imagery.

Quyet tu de to quoc quyet sinh 
(Determined to die for the country)

Founded in 1010, Hanoians are celebrating their home’s vibrant history of more than 1000 years as we enter this new millennium. While this city may not be as famous as Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which is commonly mistaken as the country’s capital, it certainly has a totally different kind of vibe that will not fail to charm you. It is the motorcycle capital of chaotic yet oddly orderly traffic – every street you walk along, there will be motorbikes whizzing all over the place and honking to give you a shout-out that “I’m coming!” (Disclaimer: You may get a headache from all the honking on your first day here, but you will quickly get accustomed to it and find it rather intriguing and affectionate towards the end of your trip.)

Motorcycles whizzing past

You can also see stark contrasts of direct opposites in this city: the well-preserved historical monuments (like the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long) coexisting with the desire to speedy progress into a metropolis, the Western-inspired architectural facades (like the Hanoi Opera House and Saint Joseph’s Cathedral) juxtaposed against the Oriental temples dotting the entire area of Hanoi.

Language

The Vietnamese language mostly uses Latin alphabets (with inclusions of unique characters like đ) and is a tonal language where each tone changes the pronunciation and meaning of the overall word (pretty much like Chinese). Fortunately, as the language utilises the familiar script resembling English, it is easy to remember street names and find your way around. An interesting note is that Vietnam previously used Chinese characters (albeit pronounced in a different manner) in their day-to-day writing instead of Latin characters until the early 1920s.

During my short stay here, only the tour guides and a handful of store vendors managed to converse in basic English. Most spoke to me in Vietnamese (which I could not understand at all), though I did manage to guess that some were asking me if I was a local. No worries about bargaining though, the vendors will use the calculators on their phones or cash to illustrate to you the price of their goods!


Climate

Hanoi experiences rainy summers from March to September and dry wintry weather from October to February. I personally do not really like wet weather which can dampen the entire mood when you are ready to head out for a day trip or just to explore the city. Hence, I recommend visiting Hanoi from November to February for minimal rainfall and comfortable temperatures. (During my 6D5N trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay, I only experienced a mild drizzle on the last morning just when I was about to head to the airport.)

Costs

Hanoi, like most other Southeast Asian destinations, is a relatively inexpensive city to visit and travel to. You can satiate your appetite with local fare like banh mi or pho starting at an affordable price of VND 30,000 (S$1.90). Tourist attractions also have low admission fees at approximately VND 30,000 as well. Therefore, it is definitely possible to see a lot in this city for very little - perhaps, that's why Hanoi is attracting so many backpackers in recent years!

When you are doing your shopping at the night market, you may want to try your hand at haggling with the vendors. For me, I started the bargaining at 50% of the quoted price, which should give you some indication of the level of overcharging that is taking place here (and how much you can start bidding). Just so you know - I did manage to get the item at the price I quoted!

Night market outside Cho Dong Xuan

So what is there to see in Hanoi? What foods will you be able to savour in this city? More on my travel adventures in the coming posts! Before we embark on our journey through Hanoi, check out my tips on how to move around the city comfortably and conveniently here!

Are you inspired to visit Hanoi after reading this post? If so, please feel free to check out the affordable flight options which have been made available by Skyscanner in the link below. Download the Skyscanner app on your mobile device to have a one-stop station to compare airfares from the various airlines available! It also offers car rental, travel agent and accommodation in various travel destinations including Hanoi.


Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking at no extra cost for you. Thank you for your support!

Comments

  1. Thanks for a helpful guide! :) I didn't realize that Vietnamese used to be written in Chinese characters. Lucky for us that it changed. Being able to write down and read street signs makes such a big difference when navigating a new place.

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    1. Hey Grace, yeah I never knew that they previously used Chinese characters in their script as well.

      Hmm, not sure which works better for me, since I understand Chinese - I would probably be able to understand what they meant better with the Chinese characters than their existing Vietnamese script! :)

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  2. Being the capital of Vietnam, I would definitely want to see Hanoi. Didn’t know Vietnamese script is same as Roman script! November seems like a good time. I must plan a visit now. The fact that it is an inexpensive city motivates me further.

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    1. Hi Abhinav, it's definitely interesting to note that the existing Vietnamese alphabet using Latin script (with special characters) was actually inspired by the Portuguese Catholics who wished to transcribe Vietnamese into the Latin alphabet!

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  3. Hanoi is indeed an enigmatic city. One of the last citadels of communism makes it an interesting place to visit in itself. I have never viewed it as the Motorcycle Capital, but I understand why it can be labelled so.

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    1. Hey Sandy, it's really interesting to see the last fragments of communism and socialism in the world still being preserved so well in Hanoi. I absolutely enjoyed my stay there! :)

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  4. Two years ago I got married in Hanoi, so my memories of this city are fantastic. We rented a scooter and explored Hanoi on two wheels. Taking part in this crazy traffic was a real adventure. Thank you Nathan for this interesting post!

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    1. Congrats Adam, lovely to hear that! The road situation is really chaotic (in terms of the traffic volume) yet orderly (in a very weird way, like the motorists know when to make way and when they can go full speed).

      Must have been a wild ride for you! :)

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  5. Great place to stay, never been their but it's in my bucket list..

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    1. Hi Vian! Yes, Hanoi was a great travel destination - great to hear that you're keen to visit the country in the near future. I'm sure you'll enjoy the sights and sounds here! :)

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  6. This looks like a cool place to visit.

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    1. Hey Kasia, I really enjoyed my trip to Hanoi where I was able to take in new cultures and admire great natural scenery and lovely fusion of French and traditional architecture!

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  7. I have always wanted to visit Vietnam and Hanoi in particular! Your descriptions make my wanderlust worse.

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    1. Great to hear that my posts have inspired you to visit Hanoi even more! I'm positive that you'll enjoy yourself here and hope that my tips and itineraries will come in handy when you plan your vacation to Vietnam! :)

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  8. Just cannot wait to go to Vietnam 🇻🇳. Ur writing surely is making me book my tickets much sooner

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    1. Hi Karishma! I'm sure you'll enjoy Vietnam as much as I did - when will you be visiting the country, and where will you be heading to (in Vietnam)? :)

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  9. It sounds a lot like Thailand! All this motorcycles!

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    1. Yes, it does! It was really a surprise to me when I first landed and saw all those motorcycles roaring down the street and honking all the way :)

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  10. The traffic there sounds very chaotic! Haha.. and all the cheap eats and buys! Sounds like the place to go!! :)

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    1. Hey Claire, I literally had a culture shock as soon as I reached the city centre because the traffic felt like a free-for-all with vehicles moving everywhere all at the same time.

      Just walk straight and don't make abrupt stops, and the locals will know how to manoeuvre around you. Cool, isn't it? :)

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  11. Hanoi sounds like a great place to visit. As a brown man, bargaining is one of my favorite sports. It seems that I'll be able to have a field day in Hanoi.

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    1. Hey Denny, great to hear that! I'm sure you'll be able to put those haggling skills to the test here.

      As there are no exact price labels, the prices quoted by the vendors will be severely inflated once they know that you're not a local. Then starts the bargaining which I'm sure you'll enjoy! :)

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  12. Vietnam has been in my bucket list since forever now. I would love to visit Hanoi the way you have done. Visiting the architectural marvels and whizzing around on a rented motorcycle will sure be fun. Thanks for sharing a complete guide of Hanoi

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    1. It will be a fantastic experience for sure! Hanoi has preserved its local culture and heritage very well. Combined with mouth-watering local fare like pho and trung vit lon (balut, for the adventurous eaters) as well as breath-taking natural landscapes, it is a perfect destination that caters to every need and taste for travellers. I'm sure you'll enjoy it tremendously!

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  13. I was one of those people who thought that Ho Chi Minh City is the capital of Vietnam till read about Hanoi here. The city seems quite intriguing but the honking would definitely be challenging to put up with.

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    1. Hey Sindhu! Glad to hear that I managed to clear up the air on the capital of this communist nation - yes, it's Hanoi in the north!

      Well, the honking was quite an issue for me on the first day when I wasn't acclimatised with the atmosphere of Hanoi. However, I was able to adapt to the environment really quickly and was alright with the noise from the second day onwards. It even felt slightly welcoming (since the motorists were all so friendly and amicable to one another) and unique to Hanoi! :)

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  14. Everyone I know is talking about Hanoi right now (or maybe it's somehow suddenly on my radar and I'm noticing the content about it more keenly). Your intro is very handy on what to expect, and very practical.

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    1. Hey Kavey, perhaps it is due to the fact that Vietnam is opening up to tourism and travel gradually. You may wish to visit the country soon, since the prices are still very inexpensive. This is a massive pull factor for backpackers who are on a shoestring budget and want to explore Southeast Asia cheaply!

      Hope that you'll be able to visit Hanoi soon - I'm sure that you will enjoy this charming little city as much as I did!

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  15. Very interesting thanks for sharing

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  16. I really wish I had visited Hanoi when I went to Vietnam. I can't believe it's over 1,000 years old, that's incredible! I enjoyed my time in Ho Chi Minh City and remember all the motorcycles there! Will definitely return to Vietnam one day.

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