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Why I Won’t Be Visiting Hanoi Again

Why I Won’t Be Visiting Hanoi Again

For a long time, I had dreamed of visiting Hanoi and Vietnam in general. In 2012, I even had my visa and plane tickets ready, but I had to cancel my trip at the last second. This is why I couldn’t skip Vietnam on my trip to Asia in 2014.

I only had a little bit more than a week in Vietnam, which was definitely not enough to see everything. This is why I chose to explore only the northern part of the country. I spent a few days in Hanoi, cruised around Halong Bay, and hiked in Sapa. While I obviously can’t speak for the entire country, since I haven’t been to Saigon or Da Nang, this is what I experienced in Hanoi.

Why I Won’t Be Visiting Hanoi Again

This post refers to my experience in Hanoi and only Hanoi. Before commenting, please keep in mind that nowhere have I said this refers to an entire country – I haven’t visited enough places in Vietnam to say that.

As the trip was approaching, I started hearing and reading horrible things about Vietnam, especially the northern parts. Other travel bloggers were either in love with the country (That Backpacker, Legal Nomads), or listing it as definitely not their favorite destination (Nomadic Matt, Chasing the Unknown, Alex in Wanderland).

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I was prepared for the possibility of getting scammed. Scams happen everywhere and this alone wouldn’t destroy my opinion about the entire place. After all, the ratio could be one bad person to ten good people.  But, it turned out that no matter how prepared I was, there will always be a way that you can get screwed over when visiting Hanoi by many, many locals.


Food in Hanoi

I grew up on Vietnamese food. After the war in Vietnam, a lot of refugees went to Poland and opened small Vietnamese diners. The food was cheap and tasty, so my family was going there at least once a week.

When I finally went to Vietnam, I couldn’t have been more disappointed with the food. After living in underdeveloped countries, I learned to love street food and I understand what cooking conditions might be.

I often eat food cooked in strange conditions in the middle of nowhere in Mexico and love it, I definitely didn’t expect Michelin-star dining in Hanoi.

Cooking on the street.
Cooking on the street.

I expected what I read about Vietnam: street food is prepared on the spot and consumed while sitting on small blue plastic chairs usually outside. I didn’t expect to see my food being prepared next to a kid taking a shit into a plastic bag, or my plate being rinsed next to a pile of garbage!

I felt like if I stepped into a puddle, I wouldn’t be so sure if I didn’t step in somebody’s pee. Did I get unlucky? Maybe. Maybe not.

No matter what I ordered in Hanoi, it was super dirty and served on a dirty plate. I was constantly sick after eating anything. And trust me, apart from horrible food poisoning in Sri Lanka I NEVER ever got sick abroad.

Every time I went out to eat I felt unwelcome by vendors trying to charge me double what they were charging the locals. They asked me to give them 50, but right in front of me, they asked a local man for 5. I know that everyone wants to make money off tourists, but why not humor the tourists and do it discretely?

visiting Hanoi
Your plate is somewhere out there.

I asked some friends who have been to Hanoi for a recommendation and they pointed us to a place called Quán Bún Chả Hàng Mành, where I went for dinner.

I got a bun cha, a cold Vietnamese soup with pork served with vermicelli and crab rolls. Everything would have been fine if I didn’t feel the sand or dirt in my teeth after eating the salad.

Almost clean
Almost clean salad
Pho served with some fried fat dough.
Pho served with some fried fat dough.

Scams in Hanoi

As a white person in Hanoi, you’re being scammed pretty much all the time. It’s just that sometimes you might not know it, or you don’t want to admit that you know it.

The worst part of it is that when you actually do pay attention to the behavior of the locals, you’ll notice they laugh about scamming you in Vietnamese right in front of you. Scam me, but humor me and laugh about it later.

The problem with scams in Hanoi isn’t just scamming tourists. I’ll pay more and get mad, but I’ll go back home and make up for the money I lost. However, Hanoi locals are scamming fellow Vietnamese people which I described in a separate post.

This corn would be great. If it wasn't 60,000 VND!
A kid who wouldn't leave without a certain amount of money.
A kid who wouldn’t leave without a certain amount of money.

The City of Hanoi

In spite of my horrible culinary experiences, I wanted to give this city a try. I wanted to discover Hanoi and find something that I could enjoy.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy drinking my black coffee while watching the locals skillfully maneuver their scooters under the webs of electric cables.

Hanoi Nightmarket
Hanoi Nightmarket
Cables. Cables everywhere.
Cables. Cables everywhere.

However, the city itself didn’t have anything that would make me want to go back. The famous lake in the center doesn’t look nice at all, not because it’s green, but because it looks abandoned.

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I went to every museum in the city in only a day. And during the rest of my time there I felt like I was just wandering around.

War Museum in Hanoi.
Museum in Hanoi.
visiting Hanoi
Poor frogger 🙁

Vietnam has only a 5% return rate. In comparison, other Southeast Asian destinations like Thailand, have over 55% (Source: The Economist). Hanoi people simply fail to understand that by scamming the visitors left and right, and laughing about it in their faces, their tourism won’t increase.

During my time in Asia, I met a lot of travelers who shared my views on Vietnam and in the end, I left earlier than expected.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Vietnam, especially since I know there are many beautiful spots around the country. I would just skip Hanoi.

I loved Halong Bay and as long you don’t book your tour with a company in downtown Hanoi, you’ll have a great time. I also didn’t go to Saigon which I heard has a much more friendly atmosphere.

P.S. Keep in mind that if you want to send me an angry email saying that Hanoi was awesome, save us both some time. One person might like the destination, other will not. Also, since 2014 some things have changed in Hanoi and quite frankly the city became cleaner for sure.

David Wong

Saturday 6th of April 2024

Me and my family just had a 7 day trip to Hanoi and Ninh Binh. The one thing not many people mentioned in this forum is that the air quality in Hanoi is absolutely horrendous. It was constantly around 160 AQI which is way above unhealthy level. Personally i dont understand why would tourists wanted to cone back to sightseeing and slowly killing your self at the same time with those poisonous air. As many people mentioned there are lots of other reasons why tourists wont return- traffics, scams, visa, lack of proper hotels, lack of English etc. For me personally Hanoi hasn’t really got anything interesting places to visit unless you enjoy motorbikes and counterfeit stuffs at night market. Food variety is limited and really dirty like many others mentioned.

Finn

Wednesday 6th of March 2024

Couldn’t agree more with your article. Just wish I read about it visiting Hanoi 😂. I love Asia but have cancelled the rest of our time in Hanoi and lost all our bookings we paid for but it’s worth it to get out of this hole. It’s absolutely repulsive. One night here is too much. I will never return!

Zuzanna

Saturday 2nd of March 2024

so I came across this post while browsing for confirmation of my odd dislike for Hanoi and northern VN after spending here a week. Glad to hear I'm not the only one being aggresively scammed (aka I'll push a donut into your hand and will pull your arm to pay for a whole bag) or appaled by the awful hygiene standards of rooms and food spots. If I give it 1 more try, definitely going south :(

Alex

Tuesday 9th of January 2024

I'm an American who has spent most of his life in the USA but has lived outside the US and lived in 2 other countries - Poland and now Vietnam for 3.5 years so far. I agree that Vietnam has its challenges. But its also got some major plusses.

(1) The cuisine is better than Poland's where so much of it is greasy, fattening, and just not that healthy. I do enjoy bigos (especially the czerwony ones), kotlety, pierogis, and plenty of other dishes. I should avoid having too much lody and serek waniliowy as that'll make me fat.

(2) Poland, like the US, has too many people that are obese. Vietnamese cuisine is better for health.

(3) I do wish they'd have more meat food options in Vietnam without heads, feet, bones, and other parts of the animal.

(4) Oh boze - OMG - both languages are terrible with putting these turds all over the letters in their alphabet. You get these dorky looking rat tails on letter A and E in Polish. Then they do some heil hitler hand signal on the letters C, N, O, and Z; and they've got 2 forms of L & 3 forms of Z. Well, at least they have a letter Z in Polish as they don't have Z or F, J, or W in Vietnamese. And the Poles go crazy with W but seldom use V which the Vietnamese use so much. In English we have a few retarded conventions on our alphabet like the stupid dot over the lowercase letter I but we don't get a terrible so many of these letter turds like the Poles do. And the Vietnamese are even worse with their tones and apostrophes everywhere. Another problems with the Poles is that they make their sentence structure of subject, verb, and predicate so complicated by mixing up word order & using word endings to confuse foreigners. I will never be in love with the Mianownik, Dopełniacz, Celownik, Biernik, Narzędnik, Miejscownik, and Wołacz cases & they keep me horrible at writing & saying proper Polish language sentences & whoever came up with these 7 cases is one of the most annoying characters of world history. At least with Vietnamese its more simple to write proper sentences (as long as nobody notices me leaving the tone marks off). But talking Vietnamese correctly is very difficult. The folks who came up with Vietnamese tones are likewise annoying characters of world history.

(5) I got to hand it to the Poles on doing a good job with having a phonetic language that is easy to read. It's one of the reasons why Poles are so literate with good reading skills and they aren't plagued with so much functional illiteracy like we see in the USA. With English we have so many thousands of exceptions for spelling, pronunciation, and grammar that must drive students of English as a foreign language crazy. Vietnamese also seems phonetic, though as a Westerner it seems so difficult to ever get the pronunciation right. The Poles can all tell I'm a foreigner if I open my mouth, but they understand me. It's really hard to understand Poles though when they talk their native language because they talk bardzo szybko and if I say "proszę mówić bardzo powoli" they often just talk louder ;) A lot of times the Poles will be very rude to me when they find out I'm a foreigner until they find out I'm from Stany Zjednoczone Ameryki and then they are really nice. I wonder how they'd treat me if I told them I was from the Rosyjskie wojsko who came to Poland to give them brotherly protection. In Viertnam they just have to see me from a distance and they immediately know I'm a foreigner. And even if I covered myself up in a Muslim burkha then opened my mouth its an immediate giveaway. With time I'm slowly getting better pronunciation with Vietnamese. But Polish was definitely easier to learn how to speak understandably.

(6) Both countries are easier for getting around without a car than most places in the USA. But its best to use public transportation in the big cities and cars in the rural areas. Its ok to drive in Poland. Its best to hire driver/car in Vietnam and don't drive there as a foreigner. Warszawa, Ha Noi, and Sai Gon all have lots of pollution. Same for most of the Śląsk (pronounced something like Shloansk) region and cities like Wrocław (pronounced something like Vrow Tswaughv). I'll never be able to pronounce Wrocław correctly because of how the Poles make their /R/ sounds so much like the Mexicans do and my mouth just refuses to learn to do it correctly.

(7) In Vietnam its best to not criticize. So you won't see me loudly complaining about streets/sanitation, how people are about following traffic laws/signals, or saying anything about political officials past/present. I'll let the statistics speak for themselves on the salaries people get in Vietnam compared to other countries & other metrics. If any Vietnamese asks me for details I'll just point to the data. I do believe in sanitation :)

(8) Vietnam has many wonderful places I'd encourage people to go visit - Sa Pa, Phan Xi Păng, Ha Noi, Ninh Binh, Trang An, Hai Phong, Hai Duong, Ha Long, Thanh Hoa, Hue, Vinh, Quảng Trị, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, My Son, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Sai Gon, My Tho, Ben Tre, and Phu Quoc are some of the places I've visited & I've lived in Ha Noi & Da Nang.

(9) Poland has many wonderful places I'd encourage people to go visit - Warszawa, Łódź, Poznań, Kraków, Zakopane, Gdańsk, Sopot, and Hel are some places I've visited & I've lived in Warszawa in the Żoliborz district while working near the Park Świętokrzyski in Centrum. But don't live there from November to March unless you are a Polar Bear because it's very cold. I think the most important place for anyone to visit in Poland is Oświęcim. I really don't like Oświęcim because it reminds me of how horrible people can be to each other. I'm not a Jew but I respect their rights. If they want to do crazy things like blow tons of their own money on Bar Mitzvahs for their sons then let them do so.

(10) People who criticize Ha Noi usually haven't spent enough time in Ha Noi and Vietnam generally. Get out and meet the people and get to know them inidividually & you'll be amazed. Just because the villages in Vietnam don't have lots of bardzo ładne Polki doesn't mean they aren't worth visiting.

Minorkle

Sunday 10th of December 2023

I concur. My time as a tourist in Hanoi was problematic. I won’t be returning

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