Living in Vietnam: Pros and Cons to Life in Hanoi

Making the decision to move to a country on the other side of the world is a big one for most people. And if you are like us, it’s a move to a country you have never actually visited.

Before we left we read every post about life in Vietnam and built a not so accurate picture of the country in our minds. To be honest, life here is different for everyone. Pros and cons definitely differ person-to-person depending on what you are hoping to gain from your experience. 

We’ve found pros and cons to almost every aspect of life here. But if you really think about it, you can apply them to most aspects of life anywhere in the world.

Pros to Living in Hanoi  

Street Food in Hanoi
Street Food in Hanoi

Food

It is no secret that the Vietnamese have absolutely nailed street food. It is cheap, delicious and absolutely everywhere!

Street food restaurants generally specialize in one dish alone and they absolutely master that dish.

Banh Mi

Essentially this is just a filled baguette. But we love it.

You can choose from fillings such as pork, sausage, egg and pate. The baguette itself is warmed or toasted and it is delicious.

A good quality Banh Mi will set you back about $1. You can’t argue with that.

Banh Mi
Banh Mi

Bun Cha

This dish can be found on most streets in Hanoi.

If you are craving a western fix or a hangover cure, then this dish is perfect. Delicious charcoaled BBQ pork patties are served on a bowl of cold rice noodles or on sticky rice.

On the side of this dish you will receive a big plate of herbs and salad.

Pho

Vietnam’s national dish. You cannot visit Vietnam and not try Pho.

Pho consists of flat noodles in a chicken style broth flavoured with chilies, coriander and ginger.

Different meats are added to the mix, such as chicken (Ga) or beef (Bo).

Traditionally the dish is eaten for breakfast, however it can be enjoyed at any time of day and is served in most Vietnamese restaurants.

A bowl of pho only costs around $0.50!

We’ve found it’s actually cheaper to eat out everyday in Vietnam than to cook at home. How crazy is that?!

Pho Ga
Pho Ga

Café Culture

If there is one thing the Vietnamese know how to do well, it’s to open awesome café’s and sell strong as coffee.

Cafés line the streets here in Vietnam (a bit like pubs do back home). In the cities it is hard to find a street that doesn’t have a café on it. There really are some very impressive independent cafes decorated with flowers and houseplants hanging from every corner.

Coffee is also produced on mass here in Vietnam and is some of the strongest we have ever tasted. It really does knock your socks off!

Hanoi Social Club
Hanoi Social Club

A personal favourite of ours is the Ca Phe Cot Dua (pronounced carfey cot zua).

Coffee served over frozen coconut cream. Probably extremely bad for you, but it’s delightful in the 35 degree heat.

Vietnamese Culture

Welcoming doesn’t even come close to describing how generous and hospitable the Vietnamese can be. Back home you wouldn’t say boo to a goose in the city. Here you find yourself nodding, waving and smiling to many of the people you pass.

We’re often approached by youngsters who are fascinated about our lives and where we are from. All are taking the opportunity to practice their English as it means so much to them here.

Hospitality aside, the Vietnamese are also extremely relaxed. Sometimes frustratingly so, but we are learning that frustration doesn’t get you anywhere.

Students at Hoan Kiem Lake
Students at Hoan Kiem Lake

Being more relaxed is a positive. It’s healthy.

When it’s taking forever for someone to fill your petrol tank, for someone to scan your items in the supermarket or your Grab driver to decide if he’s going to wake from his nap, remember to breathe slowly and practice a bit of mindfulness.

Everyone is V chill. So take advantage of it and become V chilled too.

Keeping Busy

There is literally always something to do and always somewhere new to explore.

Hanoi is filled with endless markets, streets and lakes that are always worth visiting. Markets are busy and bursting with life. There is never a dull moment on a Vietnamese market.

Each and every street is packed with cafés, small shops, street food stalls and restaurants. Just walking down a new road is a whole new experience in itself. You never know what you might find.

Numerous lakes break up Hanoi’s mayhem. The most famous being Hoan Kiem.

Popular with tourists and locals alike, this lake comes alive at weekends and during holidays. The busy road surrounding the lake is pedestrianised during the weekends, making it the idyllic place to stroll and find a slice of tranquility.

Street Sellers in Hanoi
Street Sellers in Hanoi

In the evening markets around the lake begin to thrive and the streets become packed. Locals play street games and children drive toy cars (often into the ankles of pedestrians).

The lake itself comes alive after sunset when it is alight by lanterns, streetlights and colourful floodlights. Which creates an incredible atmosphere and one that is hard to forget.

Hoan Kiem Night Market
Hoan Kiem Night Market

Tay Ho (West Lake) is Hanoi’s largest lake. The lake has acquired its name from the number of Westerner’s who choose to live on it.

The district itself has many different Western style cafés and restaurants. As an expat in Hanoi, you become a regular in this district, even if you don’t choose to live there.

Many of the bars and cafés hold events each week that are popular with expats and give newcomers an opportunity to mingle.

You’ll always have something to do!

Weather: 4 Seasons

This one definitely depends on you and only applies to the North.

In the North, Vietnam experiences 4 seasons. Much like we do at home. This is possibly the number one reason we chose to live in Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh.

WE LOVE WINTER and WE LOVE SUMMER. We had to pick somewhere that had both.

Summer

The heat here during the wet summer months is extreme to say the least. 37 degrees and humidity of 90% makes life pretty uncomfortable. Between June and September the country experiences it’s hottest and wettest season.

 It isn’t as bad as you’d think though.

The rain comes and goes pretty quickly and it generally clears the air and the storms it brings with it are amazing! We have never before heard thunder that has made our bones shake. Not to mention the lightening that lights the whole street.

Trill Rooftop Cafe, Hanoi
Trill Rooftop Cafe, Hanoi

We love that stuff.

Autumn-Winter

Between September and November the temperature begins to drop and the weather is incredible. The heat is a more bearable 20-30 degrees and the sun shines almost constantly. It’s a beautiful period in the North.

November to February brings the colder, cloudier period. And what the Vietnamese would call winter (although it’s pretty much the UK 24-7).

Most days are overcast and temperatures drops as low as 15 degrees. A coat is necessary during this period, but it isn’t exactly what we would consider cold.

The lack of sun can be draining, but the atmospheric mist is spooky and fantastic for anyone who enjoys a bit of winter.

Spring

The North begins to warm again during March and the weather remains incredible until wet season starts again around June. Sunny days with average temperatures of around 20-30 are ideal. Spring is in the air!

 

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

For those who love the heat, Ho Chi Minh offers all year round temperatures of 25-35 degrees. The city only experiences a wet and a dry season.

Living Costs

Compared to most places in the world, the day-to-day living costs here are very low.

For an expat working in Hanoi you can live for as little as $500 a month. This is appealing for most Westerners who choose to live here.

Read about the cost of living and pay for an English teacher in Vietnam in our post about why we choose to teach in Hanoi.

Cons to Living in Hanoi

Organisation (or lack of)

This comes off the back of the Vietnamese’s relaxed approach to life. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be frustrating.

Be prepared for the majority of things in life not to be organised.

If you teach, your children will often be late. They can arrive anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes late for class and this is 100% normal. And it’s accepted.

This goes for any meeting you might have with anyone. Just be ready to wait.

Building Work in Hanoi
Building Work in Hanoi

Here are a few personal examples:

#1

When we moved into our apartment, we were told it would be completed (building completed) before our arrival. It’s safe to say it wasn’t.

The whole place was covered in dust, we didn’t have a boiler and it wasn’t fully furnished in the slightest.

2 weeks and numerous phone calls later, we finally had a (sort of) finished fully furnished apartment.

#2

We bought Viettel sim cards when we arrived in Vietnam. We used our numbers over a few months for various things, such as bank accounts and work.

Out of the blue we received a text from Viettel saying that our numbers had been changed from 11 digits to 10. With no explanation of how or why, we out the blue had new numbers.

Typical.

#3

Building work in Vietnam is carried out 24-7. Somebody may be drilling into your hotel wall at 5am on a Sunday morning. And yes this actually happened to us.

It seems buildings are constantly being knocked down and put back up at any time of day.

Traffic/Pollution

It really is as bad as everyone says. In fact it’s worse in real life.

Be prepared to have a small heart attack every time you cross the road or get on your bike. Every man and his dog (seriously dogs on bikes are quite common) are speeding around trying to get from A to B in the most unorganised way possible.

As a result Hanoi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. It’s a real shame.

Saturday Night Traffic at Hoan Kiem Lake
Saturday Night Traffic at Hoan Kiem Lake

You can buy affordable pollution masks from most shops and we would definitely suggest you do. If you ride a bike without one, you may as well be smoking a pack of cigs a day.

Avoid travelling at all during rush hour. There just isn’t much point. Your journey time and risk of crashing will be doubled.

You can read about our daily battle with the roads in our post about riding a bike in Hanoi.

Haggling

It’s not in our nature to haggle. But it’s something we are slowly learning how to do.

Street Sellers Hanoi
Street Sellers Hanoi

It’s tiring to say the least. When shopping in a market or a small shop you should always haggle. If you are Western, you are almost 100% being ripped off.

Always offer less money. Be confident when you do. Just don’t pay the first sum that comes to their minds.

Hygiene

In our experience this hasn’t been too bad. More just something you have to get used to living in Asia.

They love to spit here. Really hock back a load of flem and just spit it right out in the middle of the street (or in a restaurant).

The toilets aren’t always clean. In fact they rarely are. In some more rural places you’ll be lucky if there’s even a door on the toilet.

Also, you’ll regularly see men using the side of the street as a toilet in the middle of the day. Luckily we’re yet to see a number two.

To be honest, any of the more western style cafes and restaurants have completely clean and normal toilets. So if you want to avoid squatting over a hole, you can. It’s just a bit boring if you do.

Also if you’ve ever been to a big festival, you’ll find the toilets here won’t shock you at all. We’ve seen 10 times worse at Leeds Fest.

Always carry hand gel and learn to use the bum gun. Your body will thank you for it.

Home Sickness

It’s shit. If it’s your first time away from home for a long period, you’re most probably going to experience it in some form.

Everything here is hard. It’s different. It’s unfamiliar.

Luckily, if it’s the Western life you’re missing, there are plenty of places in Hanoi where you can experience a slice of home.

We’ve found planning monthly Skype calls home really helps us. It’s a real godsend and something you should consider.

In Summary

The pros outweigh the cons in every way.

Overtime the cons have become more pet hates. We’ve found it quite difficult to describe life here as a con at all.

We’ve made the decision to live here, so we need to accept that this is how it is. It’s not a con, it’s just part of life in Vietnam. 

It’s all about learning to accept and just going with the flow. Definitely a motto the Vietnamese follow in everyday life. And one we have began to adopt.

In all of this mayhem, we are more chilled than we ever have been.

We love you Vietnam!

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