Here are 11 more random observations from my first month living in Hanoi, Vietnam. See last week’s post for more impressions of Hanoi.
- Lots of people smoke
Smoking is a quite popular activity here. You can’t smoke everywhere, but it’s allowed in most public places like cafes and restaurants. As a non-smoker and air-breather, this is kind of a bummer.
- It’s safe
This was somewhat of a pleasant surprise. I haven’t felt unsafe here once, even while walking alone at night as a foreigner. I wasn’t actually too concerned about violence, but I thought there might be a greater risk of theft. I have heard isolated stories of people getting things stolen, but as far as I can tell this is not a huge risk. And I don’t usually feel paranoid carrying around my laptop. If you have common sense, Hanoi is probably as safe or safer than most big cities.
- Refreshing lack of advertising
This may be ironic because I make the majority of my income from (online) advertising, but I don’t feel constantly bombarded by commercials like in the U.S. This is definitely a positive.
- Not much or inconsistent English
Overall, the level of English here seems pretty low. It is also pretty hit or miss. Sometimes even the most basic communication can be a struggle but other times there is barely any language barrier. This has not been a problem because there are so few times I’ve needed to communicate anything complicated. Usually I am ordering, paying for, or looking for something. My go to move when looking for something (like a gas station or band-aids, for example) is to do a Google image search on my phone and show someone the results. They get the idea immediately and can point me in the right direction.
- A little Vietnamese is helpful
I learned about 100 words and phrases before coming to Vietnam, but the only words I use on a regular basis are “xin chào” (hello), “cảm ơn” (thank you) and “bao nhiêu” (how much). Knowing the numbers also comes in handy when dealing with prices and money. I haven’t made the commitment to learn more Vietnamese, but I would definitely want to if I was planning to stay here longer term.
- Street food will not kill you
I’ve eaten plenty of “street food” here and haven’t gotten sick once. I also haven’t heard of anybody else having any disastrous digestive issues. (Unlike in the U.S. with its $10+ billion of antacid sales.)
- Very few people are overweight
I suspect this is because there is not much of a fast food culture here and people eat a relatively traditional diet. (The first McDonald’s in Vietnam opened just last year in Ho Chi Minh City.) I would guess this will change in the future as cheap, processed food becomes more widespread.
- The food is good and cheap
You can get a big bowl of pho (rice noodle soup) for 30,000 dong (~$1.40) and a huge serving of bun cha for 60,000 dong ($2.80). For these prices the quality of the meat and other ingredients can’t be great, but hey, you get what you pay for. Bánh mì sandwiches are also often ridiculously cheap at 20,000 dong ($0.94) and under. I once paid 6,000 dong ($0.28) for a small sandwich. It is definitely not hard to eat cheaply if that’s your goal.
- Other stuff is cheap too
Prices in general are lower here. For example, going to see a movie costs around $3 and going the opera costs under $10. Taxis are also very reasonable, costing about $1 per mile. Cell phone service is extremely cheap, costing less than $10 for a SIM card and Vietnamese number with ability to call and text. Monthly unlimited Internet for my phone costs a whopping $3.30.
- It’s loud
Although I live in a quieter part of town, there is almost always background noise of some sort. Dogs barking, people talking, cock-a-doodle-dooing are all familiar sounds. Sometimes it’s comforting to be surrounded by such activity, but other times I would prefer peace and quiet. Luckily, I have a good supply of ear plugs.
- People like to stretch in public
It is common to see people doing light calisthenics and stretching their arms and legs. This seems quite practical and I hope it will catch on elsewhere.