Some tips to survive in Hanoi
You can pre-arrange a visa on arrival online but you run the risk of waiting up to 90 minutes in Hanoi airport while the visa officers decide whose turn it is to do some work. Better to get it sorted before you leave, through your local embassy or travel agent.
Don’t book your flights too soon, but don’t leave it too late either. Airlines tend to jack their prices up six months before the travel date, slowly bring them down until two to three weeks before travel, then start to raise them again.
When you do book, best options from Hong Kong can be found at these carriers:
Hong Kong Airlines
Hanoi cabs are cheap and pretty decent. A ride into town from Noi Bai airport costs around VND 350,000 (US$17) and a 10-minute ride in-city around VND 30,000. Your hotel may also arrange a pick-up and drop-off service from and to the airport.
Most reputable cab companies are Hanoi Taxi (+84 (0)4 3853 5353), Taxi CP (+84 (0)4 3826 2626) and Mai Linh Taxi (+84 (0)4 3861 6161).
5. Shuttle buses
Are cheaper: VND 40,000 (US$2) from the airport to the Old Quarter, but drivers may try to persuade you into staying at “their cousin’s hotel” by saying a typhoon in Halong Bay means your chosen hotel is still full. Don’t believe them.
Are cheaper still, VND 5,000 (US$0.25) from the airport to the Old Quarter, but they won’t take your baggage unless you offer a small “luggage fee.” In town a ride costs a standard fare of VND 3,000.
7. Scooter taxis
The best way to experience the rush and blur of daily Hanoi life, just make sure you are equipped with a helmet. And as they don’t have meters make sure you know what you’re paying before you set off. A typical 10-minute ride should cost around VND 10,000-15,000 (US$0.50-0.75).
Most locals speak a few phrases of English, but don’t count on it. You could try your luck with a Vietnamese phrase book, but it’s a tonal language and so your pronunciation may not be quite up to it. Best bet is to hire a personal tour guide or just wing it with the international language of wild bodily gesticulation.
Everywhere offers guided tours, but one of our favorites is an innovative concept from a student-run NGO: Hanoi Kids Tours. The idea is for tourists to get a flavor of the city by being shown around by local children. www.hanoikids.org; firstname.lastname@example.org;
There are around 20,000 Vietnamese dong to one U.S. dollar, so don’t freak out when the bar tab comes along. U.S. dollars are also widely accepted.
Cash is king and cash dispensers are everywhere. International ATMs include HSBC and ANZ Bank but many have a maximum withdrawal of VND 1 million (US$50). If you need more head to the ANZ ATM near Hoan Kiem Lake, which has a limit of VND 9.9 million.
An intolerable mix of heat and humidity in the summer (June-August) reaching 40 C, a pleasant shower-splashed spring (March-May), a gorgeous walking-in-the-park-every-day fall (September-November) and a cold yet humid winter (December-February).
Travelers are always advised to get themselves protected against the most common diseases, including: Hepatitis B, tetanus-diphtheria and typhoid. Also wise to take anti-malarials if you’re spending long periods outside the major urban areas or traveling in the hot and humid months.
To be continued…
For the next article and more Tips for backpackers, please return to our front page.