Vietnam is a country of many surprises and its 1,000-year old capital, Hanoi, is robust in history, culture and delicious cuisine. Just when you think you’ve gotten to know the city, it offers up a contrasting view. Spending ten days in Hanoi and its surrounding villages allowed me a peek into all of its stimulating sights and smells. Somewhere between motorbikes weaving around women in silk pajamas and pungent cuisine cooking on the streets, there were quiet, breezy coffee shops and day trips to remote rice fields and limestone mountains appearing to float on emerald water. I found many reasons to love Hanoi and I can’t wait to share all of my favorite things to do in the city (stay tuned!) but Vietnam is often a misunderstood country. To be completely honest, the opportunity to go on this trip came a bit last minute and I didn’t have a ton of time to research like I normally love to do before a big trip. It turned out to be delightful to explore and discover things on-the-go, but there are actually few things I think would be helpful for people to keep in mind before traveling to this region. Here's what to keep in mind:
Crossing the street means walking into traffic
Need to cross the street to get to your destination? Traffic really doesn’t stop, so you just have to learn to cross anyway. Motorbikes and cars will weave around you, so move quickly when there’s an opening in street traffic.
Here’s a compilation video of Hanoi’s traffic if you want to get a feel for the organized chaos that Vietnam is known for.
It’s really hard to be vegetarian or vegan
I typically eat vegetarian when traveling to avoid stomach bugs, but meat is a LIFESTYLE in Vietnam. During a street food tour, our guide shared that his people learned to eat everything because they were a very poor country. I appreciated this insight, though it was hard to stomach walking past rows of raw meat slopped on the floor in thin baskets. Note: tons of raw meat + intense humidity = a smell I’d really love to forget. I’ve recently been eating mostly vegan and found it was almost impossible to maintain this diet. I completely expected this and was fine with it - I even thought I might be able to eat some meat and be fine with it (I wasn’t, but I tried). I still wanted to taste local delicacies and also I didn’t want to be difficult, but it definitely took some work and flexibility (aka sometimes just eating around meat in dishes). If you’re a meat lover, Vietnam will be your country!
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can still enjoy many of Hanoi’s culinary delights! The keyword you'll want to remember is "rau" which means vegetables. You can use this word to ask for a dish to be made vegetarian, but most times my servers understood if I asked for something to be made vegetarian.
Pack light: clothes can be laundered for cheap
Carry-on is the only way I like to travel and a lovely thing about Vietnam is how easy it is to have your clothes laundered. Many hotels and local shops can wash, dry or press your clothes for an extremely low price. I was able to have a bag of clothes washed halfway through my trip, which was especially nice after a wet day trip kayaking in Ha Long Bay.
Unexpected rainstorms are the norm
Looking at the weather report the week before my trip I noticed thunderstorms were basically on the forecast everyday. While you might be tempted to be bummed, don’t fear! Despite the gloomy forecast, most storms were very brief and easily avoided. If you’re worried about being caught in a storm, there are thin, foldable ponchos for less than a dollar on many of the streets you can pop into you bag on the go.
Expect intense humidity in the summers
I’ve never experienced such intense humidity as late summer in Hanoi, so forget anything other than loose, light clothes and a hair tie. I don’t spend a ton of time getting ready normally, but it was refreshing to not have to worry about it at all. My advice: pack very minimal makeup and don't even think about bringing any hair styling tools.
With all of this said, travel isn't always predictable and that can be half the fun. I loved visiting Vietnam and it's absolutely a country I would go back to. Next up: my must-see and do list for Hanoi, Vietnam.
And in case you missed it, here’s Hanoi on video!
Have you ever been to Hanoi, Vietnam? Do you have any recommendations for travelers?