In Northern Vietnam’s ancient city of Hanoi, life is truly lived on the streets. Shop wares spill onto pavements and street stalls inch into the roads against a cacophonous backdrop of incessant traffic.
The city’s labyrinthine streets and alleys are unique for harbouring individual specialties, be it the silver goods of Hang Bac, or the haberdasheries of Hang Bo. If you really put your mind to it, you will be able to find your international creature comforts, albeit at a premium.
Going local is the path of least resistance and the secret to a happy life in Hanoi. For example, local food sellers often boast the best (and freshest) delicacies. You’ll quickly discover that pulling up a pew at the roadside with the locals is an experience worth repeating.
Finding housing here is relatively easy and you can secure anything from an executive apartment to a garden apartment, or even a French colonial villa. The city escaped the bombing during the Vietnam War, and much of its colonial heritage has been left intact.
The city offers a handful of excellent international schools boasting vibrant multicultural communities. The healthcare here is decent, too. The high humidity (and serious mould issues), coupled with heavy air pollution, will probably elicit a few doctor visits, which is a good reason to double check that you have decent medical coverage.
Cars here are expensive for locals to buy, which is why the streets are positively crammed with motorbikes. While a car may seem the safer option, the impenetrable throng of two-wheeled vehicles will probably make you opt for the latter.
Those moving to Hanoi are in for a wonderfully rich cultural experience. When life in this noisy, hectic city becomes overbearing, hop over to one of Vietnam’s bountiful, breath-taking and largely unspoiled beaches to recharge your batteries.
What is special or unique about your city?
Hanoi is the perfect foil for the seething mass of humanity that is Ho Chi Minh City. With a population of four million and area of 920 square km, Hanoi is the cultural capital of Vietnam and its heart and soul.
Hanoi is now the country’s centre of economy, politics, culture and society.
Hanoi is also well-known for its four typical tropical seasons: fresh, green and cool in spring, a bit hot in summer, fine in autumn, and cold in winter.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
In 2010, Hanoi celebrated 1000 years of history. The city is packed with interesting little shops and lanes. When walking around the Old Quarter, newcomers will see street life going on at all times.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Not really; the city is developing at a reasonable pace but every day you can spot or find something you have never noticed before.
What is the local language?
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
Most Vietnamese people are friendly. However, a foreigner will sometimes find challenges in communicating with the Vietnamese people because of the language barriers. Day-to-day communication with Hanoi's locals should not be too difficult as with most languages, trying is appreciated and even a little will help you get by. Within Hanoi's expatriate community, English is widely spoken.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
The Vietnamese appreciate when foreigners show respect and interest in the local culture. It is also important to note that the Vietnamese are conservative in their dress. The less bare skin, the better, particularly when visiting a culturally sensitive area such as a temple or pagoda.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Hanoi has typical North Vietnam climate, with a cold and dry winter (when temperatures can drop to as low as 6°C – 7°C) and a hot and extremely humid summer (temperatures can climb up to a maximum of 35°C). Spring is characterised with light drizzles while the summers bring heavy rain.
The best weather is around September to November or from March to April.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
It is important to pay attention to the way you address someone in Vietnam. This can vary, depending on age, relationship and social ranking. Titles go beyond "Mr." or "Mrs." Other ways to address a man and a woman include "ong," "chu," "anh," "em," "ba," "co" and "chi."
Crown Hanoi can answer specific questions about this topic, or even arrange language or intercultural training to help you make the most of your stay in Vietnam.