Hanoi, Vietnam — First Impressions

I started writing on Medium in 2020. I was basing my niche in mental health topics as I am a Licensed mental health counselor. However, I began to establish my lifestyle around traveling, and though I still practice as a therapist, I have been more interested in studying the world lately.

I recently paused my Medium since I felt like I could not provide value on this platform if I were not talking about mental health. Yet, I am not sure why I was stuck in that closed mindset.

The travel community is huge! So why not share my experiences on of my favorite platforms?

This piece is my first blog on travel, so I hope you enjoy it, but most importantly, I hope I can guide you and inspire you in your traveling experiences.

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One of the places I wanted to visit in Southeast Asia was Vietnam.

Here are the reasons why:

  1. Their nature made me so curious.
  2. I already knew I loved the food.
  3. I was interested in their religious beliefs
  4. I had heard great things about the people.

We were staying in Bangkok while I planned this trip, and for days I was in between Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang. I knew I wanted to visit Da Nang since it’s a beach town (and I love the beach), but I was not sure which was the best big city to pick. My boyfriend suggested we make it simple and visit the capital, so I said, “Alright, let’s just go to Hanoi.”

Our first stop in Vietnam was Da nang, and we loved it — honestly, I’m currently obsessed with the city. If you are curious, check out my YouTube video and travel guide. Then, a week later, we flew to Hanoi.

The truth is that I love telling beautiful stories about my travels, but for this one, I want to be honest about my experience because I feel like I owe that to my audience.

My experience in Hanoi was not necessarily positive, and I will share the reasons why. I will divide my reviews into different categories for better understanding.

The driving:

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I felt on high alert as soon as I got out of the airport. I thought the driving was scary in Da Nang, but it’s noticeably out of control in Hanoi.

As you go around the city, you will notice the lack of traffic signals, and even when they are present, drivers and pedestrians ignore them. Thus, people communicate via honking.

Surprisingly, there is no road rage. No one responds to others’ actions negatively. Instead, people drive very focused but also in a very unsafe manner. There are more motorbikes than cars, so it is essential to look in all directions before making any moves.

On another note, taxis will try to get more money out of you if they know you are a tourist. Thus, I recommend you use the Grab app everywhere you go. However, you must bring cash as not even the Grab app uses electronic payment in Vietnam.

The city:

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Unfortunately, the city is significantly worn out. I have been to several cities in developing countries like Tirana and surrounding areas (Albania) and towns in Mexico and Venezuela. I have even visited other small towns in Vietnam like Hoi An. I have seen the amount of dirtiness, disorganization, air pollution, noise pollution, and overall stress in the streets in none of these cities as I see in Hanoi.

I may have gone to the wrong places, but I felt like I did a lot of research on where to stay, and there has been no way to escape these factors.

Nonetheless, my negative impression could have been due to culture shock. After a few times of strolling the city, I am sure that you will get used to it. I still recommend you visit Hanoi city because it is very different from anything you have seen and experienced in your life as a western.

Airbnb experience/Stay:

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I rented at Airbnb in the area of Truc Bach, which I was told by a local it was a “good area.” Yet, it was hard to ignore the level of griminess.

The apartment itself was dirty (with hairs everywhere, including the beds, showers, floors, and sofa), unsanitized (with stained walls and toilers), and with some dysfunctions (shower drains were clogged, causing flooding in the house). In addition, one of my hosts was unfriendly from the very beginning and not helpful.

Thankfully, Airbnb recognized this apartment was not up to their standards and returned my money.

I relocated to what Google claims to be the best neighborhood in Hanoi, The West District or Tay Ho.

The community in Tay Ho seems cleaner and more peaceful. However, you can’t escape the poor air quality of this city. The city is going through a lot of construction, so there is dust everywhere.

Moreover, Hanoi ranked the second most polluted city in Southeast Asia in 2019. They have done what they can to improve it, but their air quality levels continue to be below the recommendation (World Health Organization). This issue makes me sad because this city has so much growth potential, but this factor seems to be a disadvantage out of their control.

The people:

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In my experience, the people here are not as lovely and welcoming as they are in the south — and I do not mean anything wrong with this comment; it is what it is, and though I accept it that way, this is something to know before you visit.

You may consider that I am judging based on a short stay — which is true. However, I must say that many people that live in southern Vietnam and Thailand warned me about this. Even Vietnamese people that watch my youtube channel confirmed this information.

I have met some locals in Hanoi, and they have a more challenging time accepting that their demeanor is more closed off and less welcoming, but after conversing, they say they feel sad to hear it because they have heard it before from other people.

Additionally, I have noticed a lack of interest in learning or speaking English. It has been significantly more challenging to communicate in Hanoi than in Da Nang.

Nonetheless, the truth is that I recognize that other countries need to be accommodating to tourists, and they do not need to speak English because I do!. However, I am trying to convey that these factors make a tourist feel less welcomed. It simply makes it more challenging to get to know the Vietnamese people.

Through my readings (to increase my understanding). I have realized that Vietnamese people hold pride in their country, and they want to keep things their way, which I respect. They wish to preserve their culture and manners intact, and that is okay! I reflected on this and realized that I would not want to have it another way.

It is fascinating to go somewhere when the culture has been maintained almost intact.

The city seems to accommodate locals more than tourists or digital nomads, and I know it’s not like cities need to prioritize us, but it’s just something to note if you are a digital nomad like me. Finding quiet coffee shops is rare, and co-working spaces are not super common.

I understand Hanoi is an important administrative center for the country of Vietnam. Moreover, being the capital makes it a suitable place for locals and matters of the government.

Nightlife:

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When it comes to the nightlife, I read that since they are less liberal in the North, many locals respect the night and don’t party super hard like people in Bangkok or NYC.

Coffee:

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On another note, coffee is a vital topic for me — they still make great coffee here in the North, but they prefer tea over coffee here. So everywhere you go, they serve you a complimentary cup of tea, which is a sweet detail.

Food:

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Hanoi is known as the food capital of Vietnam, as all of the ingredients that originate their traditional dishes are found here!.

Be aware that many places are not sanitized as you will find in the western world. There are several places where I did not love the food or the restaurant's ambiance.

In my experience, the best thing I recommend doing in Hanoi is a food tour. I did one with a fantastic tour guide, and I can tell you that experience is stamped in my heart forever. I have a youtube video about it in case you are interested.

How is Hanoi different than other places in Vietnam?

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Something important to keep in mind is that in southern Vietnam, you will find people who are more liberal, dynamic, creative, innovative, and even a bit westernized when it comes to fashion and business. On the other hand, people in the North are far more conservative, restrained, formal, and less hospitable.

Why visit?

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Hanoi is a critical location to know Vietnam’s culture, food, and history. To its credit, it’s the best base for extraordinary day trip adventures — like Ninh Binh and ha long bay.

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Hanoi is a unique place in the world. I left feeling more culturally enriched and honestly fascinated by Vietnamese people. I want to learn more about them, and I would like to study their history.

My only reservation is about doing long stays in Hanoi. I do not think it is a place that can offer quality of life in the long run.

I hope I do not want to come off as hateful or rude with this story. Instead, I intend to provide insight into my personal experience visiting Hanoi.

There is a place for everyone in this world so that you will feel more comfortable in one place or the other, depending on your personality and character. I prefer my people from the south, and next time I visit Vietnam, that is where you will find me.

As a final note, remember that what I say is based on my likes and subjective experiences. I am sure that if you have different tastes than me and go to Hanoi, you might enjoy the gritty capital. So do your research and make your own decisions.

I hope this information serves you!

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