Living in Hanoi, Vietnam- Why I’ll Never Go Back

I debated for a long time whether I wanted to write about this or not. Partly, because I was afraid of other’s feedback, but also because I don’t want to discourage people from visiting an… interesting… corner of the world. Living in Hanoi, Vietnam was somewhere between a unique cultural experience and cultural shock in its rawest form. Before I go further, I want to clarify that this is not my first travel “rodeo”. Vietnam is my 40th country, and not the most underdeveloped either. Throughout our world travels, travelers would tell us how enchanting Vietnam was. A “must visit”, they would say. After living in Hanoi, Vietnam for 2 months, here are my 2 cents.

Related: Couple Sold EVERYTHING to Travel Full-Time

Girl sitting at a coffee shop in hanoi vietnam working as a digital nomad

Living in Hanoi, Vietnam- First Impressions

Shortly after landing in Hanoi, Vietnam I was immediately enthralled by the chaotic city life. Thousands of motorbikes barely missing each other on the highways, and loud Vietnamese chatter filled the streets. My husband, Daniel, and I started looking for an apartment to live in Hanoi for 1 month and a motorbike. Since we are YouTubers and Digital Nomads, we wanted to find somewhere “vloggable” and with good internet, so we decided on Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

After 4 days of apartment hunting, we were able to find the apartment of our dreams! For $400 USD for the month, it had everything we wanted:

  • It was right across the street from the Old Quarter
  • Was a studio apartment with a kitchen
  • Had a strong AC and hot water
  • The hosts were the sweetest humans on earth
  • Was near local markets
  • Had a washer on property
  • It even had a rooftop view of the Old Quarter

Related: What is a Digital Nomad? What You Need to Know

You can actually watch our apartment tour down below:

Needless to say, we were amped! We started taking free Vietnamese lessons and got integrated with a small community of teachers at a local bar. Within days, we were able to buy a motorbike (which was Daniel’s dream) and found a local karaoke bar (which I LOVE)! Everything just felt right. In the beginning, we had even considered making Hanoi our home base, and traveling around from there- It felt that perfect! So, where did things sour?

If you’re wondering the cost of living in Hanoi Vietnam, watch the video below:

2 Weeks into Living in Hanoi, Vietnam

The original enchantment with Hanoi started to fade about 2 weeks into living in Hanoi. Because we are YouTubers, we have a mission to unite the world by showing how kind people are. So, to fulfill that mission we learn the language, try the local food, and converse with locals to get a true understanding of the culture. Usually, our excitement and curiosity for a specific culture is enthusiastically welcomed by the locals. In Hanoi, this was far from our experience.

Walking into a side street store, we would greet the employee with a friendly, Chau Ang or Chau Chi (depending on whether they were male or female). And about 20% of the time, this was met with surprise, excitement, and/or kindness. Unfortunately, the other 80% of the time we would get one of the following responses:

  • A scowl swiftly followed by an eye roll
  • “What do you want?”
  • A hand to the face yelling at us in Vietnamese to leave their shop
  • Severely ripped off, and then angry when we wouldn’t fall for it

Unrelated, but helpful: Travel for Under $1000 a Month: The ULTIMATE GUIDE

I Couldn’t Understand Why We Were Treated So Poorly

We were in shock. We did not understand why the locals disliked us so much. When I asked my host about it, she told me that the Vietnamese are taught in school that all of their problems come from the west. I’m assuming much like Americans are taught to be anti-communist. Well, this was quite the reality check. We decided that we were going to keep trying to look at the good in the city, instead of focusing on the bad. Especially since we still had 2 more weeks to go in our apartment rental and we really wanted to showcase the beauty of Hanoi for our YouTube Channel!

Living in Hanoi and Encountering Continuous Culture Shock

Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market

Our first vlog in Hanoi took place at the Dong Xuan Market, the largest wholesale market in Hanoi. Living in Hanoi, we had heard that this was the place to get the best deals on everything from souvenirs to fabric. We thought, “Man, this is a great place to showcase!”. We were so naive.

Walking in, we immediately got stares of “you don’t belong here”. For a moment, I even thought the locals were going to kick us out. The hustle and bustle of the narrow market walkways had me overwhelmed. Regardless, we pressed on to see what the market was about. People online were right! This market had EVERYTHING. Souvenirs, shoes, fabric, toys, jewelry, kitchen wares, and even makeup! But it wasn’t until I walked passed a particularly racist Vietnamese woman that I was ready to leave the country.

Story of One MEAN & Racist Vietnamese Woman

I walked through one of the narrow walkways talking to Daniel when suddenly an older Vietnamese woman slapped my arm and then shoved me out of her way and into a pile of shoes. As she walked away, she laughed and muttered what I’m assuming was something nasty in Vietnamese. That aggression was met with giggles from the other vendors that witnessed the event. As you can imagine, I was livid, hurt, and confused. What did I do to these people to make them hate me so much?

If you want to see our experience in the Dong Xuan Market in action, this was all of the positivity we could muster in one video:

But the Racism and Disrespect Didn’t End There…

After that experience, I was ready to leave and never come back. I adopted the mentality of, “if they don’t want us here, we don’t want to be here either”. But again, we still had so much to see and vlog in Vietnam before we could just leave. We had heard there was another market in town that was overnight. This sounded like such a cool experience and we wanted to share it with the world. I continued studying Vietnamese, practicing with the friends we made at the local bar and mentally prepared myself for another cultural submersion.

girl looking concerned living in Hanoi at the Long Bien Bridge Overnight Market

The Long Bien Overnight Market in Hanoi

We stayed up until 3 AM to visit the Long Bien overnight market. It’s the second-biggest market in the Red River Delta Region and it provides supplies for all of the businesses in Hanoi. I’m not going to lie, seeing the number of people and scooters pressed up against each other was cool! There were literally thousands of people inching their way through with hundreds of pounds worth of groceries on their scooters. Even women, in the classic conical hats, with their carrying poles, carrying anything from flowers to pineapples. People were shouting at each other, hitting each other, and threatening to run each other over. It was total chaos. And all of this was happening right outside of where we were living in Hanoi.

The Abuse Continues

While we were vlogging, we had vendors making fun of us, mocking us, yelling at us, and refusing us service. One woman, however, was extra special. While we were in line to leave the market, this one lady with a carrying pole, hit me and pushed me so hard, my friends had to hold my arms and one leg so that I wouldn’t fall over this other vendor’s Mangosteens. The vendor’s reaction? A giggle and an eye roll completely amused that I was being pushed around and annoyed that I was in front of her fruits. My reaction, “xin dep qua” (“you are very beautiful” in Vietnamese). It didn’t matter how nice I was to these people, it didn’t overcome my white skin and round eyes.

Want to see what I’m talking about? Watch the ridiculousness below!

It didn’t matter how nice I was to these people, it didn’t overcome my white skin and round eyes.

Dog meat in hanoi vietnam

They Eat Dogs and Poison People’s Pets

I wish this was a joke. Walking through the streets of the Old Quarter, we commonly saw dogs roasting on BBQs. Since we were warned about this beforehand, this wasn’t the culture shocking part. It was learning from our host in Ninh Binh that they tried poisoning her dog to eat it. It’s common in Vietnam to have dog poachers that will murder your pet and sell it at their store. At the Long Bien Market, we saw these dogs in cages. However, in rural parts of Vietnam, we saw people killing dogs on the streets and then dragging them by the neck. Somethings just can’t be unseen. That was definitely something I wish I could forget.

The Food Was a Far Cry from Delicious (Except for Bun Cha)

Here’s the thing. The Vietnamese have a very unique diet that is highly composed of animal intestines and organs, cilantro, and soup. At least, that’s all we were able to find in the north. Outside of Bun Cha, BBQ’ed pork in a sweet broth with noodles, you have Pho everywhere, and then nothing but organs. Even Bahn Mi has pate on the inside.

If you like cilantro, you have found your heaven and Mecca. Almost every meal is covered in the stuff. If you don’t, get ready to starve or learn the very helpful, “khong co rat mui” (No cilantro). Beyond the fact that everything has cilantro, we witnessed vendors on the street putting people’s leftovers BACK INTO THE SERVING DISH for other people to purchase and eat! While Vietnamese food is world renown for being tasty, we ate a diet of Baguette with Egg, Pho, and Bun Cha. After two months, even the most delicious Bun Cha got a little old (even though we ate it every.single.day).

Everything is More Difficult Living in Hanoi

English is not Widely Spoken

After spending 4 months in Thailand, we expected things to be similar. But we realized that was not the case. For as many English teachers and expats that live there, I expected English to be widely spoken. Thankfully, I had taken Vietnamese lessons and that helped tremendously. Which, for the record, I really encourage everyone to learn as much of the language as possible before visiting, regardless of the country. It’s the best way to get to know the locals and culture. But I will also warn that Vietnamese is hard to learn and has 5 different intonations that drastically change the meaning of each word. For example, the word for pork is lon, but if you say it wrong it means p***y. Pho (pronounced Phuh) said incorrectly (like Foe) means prostitute. Speak carefully.

Living in Hanoi's shop streets in the Old Quarter

There are no “One-stop” shops

Living in Hanoi, there are very few “one-stop shops” and basically none in the Old Quarter. Streets in Hanoi get divided by category. For example, if you’re looking for kitchen wares, there will be an entire street dedicated to kitchenware vendors. If you’re looking for lamps, there is an entire street dedicated to lamps. The hard part is that there is no map that designates which streets are for what. So, you just need to get lost until you find what you’re looking for. If you live in the Expat area by Tay Ho, that might be a different story. But you will definitely need a form of transportation. That leads me to my next point…

Hanoi Motorbike Accident while living in Hanoi
The terrible accident we witnessed while living in Hanoi

The Traffic in Hanoi is Insane

I really don’t recommend any of you out there to try and learn how to motorbike in Hanoi. You can die, or get seriously injured. We met over 10 travelers that sustained life-threatening injuries on the Hanoi roads. Some even had to stay in the hospital for weeks. As a matter of fact, we’re pretty sure we saw someone die in the Vietnamese roads. You can learn more about that here:

If you followed along with our Instagram stories, you would have frequently seen me saying, “OMG!” every time I thought a car was going to hit me.

Everyone is trying to rip you off shamelessly

No matter how nice you are, prices are very different for locals than they are for foreigners. Foreigners are usually charged over 70% of the standard price. And if you’re used to friendly Thai negotiation strategy, get ready for a whole new ball game. Living in Hanoi, I was called names for negotiating and got shooed away. One street vendor told my friend that she was “bullsh*t” because she didn’t buy a purse. Needless to say, she never went back for the bag.  Apparently, that’s just all part of it and the rudeness just isn’t my cup of tea.

How Living in Hanoi Changed Us

A girl with her back facing the camera on Cat Ba island Vietnam

The Good

Living in Hanoi made me lose a lot of my naivety. In each of the 40 countries I’ve been to, I always thought that if I learned the language, I would be accepted by the locals. This was not true of living in Hanoi. Even after spending 2 months in the city, there were very few places I felt accepted. That was an important lesson for me to learn before moving forward with my travels.

Living in Hanoi also gave me a much stronger backbone. I needed to learn to stand up for myself and realize when I was being ripped off. When people were rude and nasty to me, I didn’t hold my tongue as I would have in the past. As a matter of fact, every time I stood up for myself, the locals respected me more for it.

Related: Teaching English Online: A Guide for Digital Nomads

The Bad

Now that I don’t live in Hanoi anymore (or Vietnam for that matter) it’s been more difficult for me to trust people. Which saddens me, because I used to go into every interaction with love and trust. Now I see every interaction as an opportunity to be mistreated or ripped off. I feel like everyone has an ulterior motive if they’re being kind, and that’s not a healthy way for a traveler to live.

I also realized that living in Hanoi gave me a shorter temper. Since we were mistreated so frequently, I had to be quick to react. Which again, is not a healthy way to be. At the time of this writing, I’m in the Philippines where the locals are some of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. But I’ve found it difficult to trust or engage with the locals out of fear. I’m hoping that as time goes on, the negative attributes that Hanoi instilled in me fade, and that I’m less jaded about my future travels.

The Long Bien Bridge while Living in Hanoi

Why I Think We Were Treated so Poorly Living in Hanoi

Partly, I think I went to Vietnam very ignorant of their history. As a Cuban-American, I was never really taught much about the Vietnam War (or American War, as they call it). Living in Hanoi, I came to the conclusion that the war is still something they resent- with good reason. The Americans and the French did a number on the Vietnamese. Even I would be resentful, especially considering the older generations lived through it. Turns out, Hanoi was quite the battleground. Even Hanoi’s famous Long Bien bridge was destroyed during the war.

Train Street in Hanoi Vietnam

Should You Live in Hanoi, Vietnam?

Friend, I honestly wish I could answer that for you. As you can see, we had a very poignant experience living in Hanoi and if you were my best friend, I would tell you to avoid it like the plague. I would definitely stay there for 2 weeks before making any major decisions regarding long-term rentals. Vietnamese people as a whole are great people, just not always to foreigners. Keep that in mind as you go through your travel plans.

Girl on Cat Ba Island

Would We Ever Go Back to Vietnam?

At this point, I don’t really know. We really wanted to see some other cities in Vietnam like Dalat, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Phu Quoc. Unfortunately living in Hanoi left us so jaded that we didn’t want to go into the other cities with negative preconceived notions. I think if we ever did go back to Vietnam, it would be a long time from now when we can go back with a fresh set of eyes.

We spent a considerable amount of time traveling to other cities in the north like Ninh Binh, Cat Ba Island, and villages along the Ha Giang Loop. The people in these regions were much nicer, so I know that the other cities would be nice to return to. I want to make sure you guys know that our experience in Hanoi is not representative of Vietnam as a whole. Because I would hate for you to read this and not go to Vietnam because of our experience living in Hanoi. It’s totally different outside of the city.

Disclaimer

I want to make sure everyone knows that this was just my experience living in Hanoi, Vietnam and doesn’t necessarily represent everyone’s experience living in Hanoi. The nice Vietnamese people that we encountered while living in Hanoi were some of the sweetest people we ever met I just wish we had met more of them. A huge shout out to:

  • Our Host, Phuong and her family who were super hospitable and catered to our every need while living in Hanoi.
  • The guys at Warning Pub in the Old Quarter who always had an ear to listen when I was having a bad day and taught me how to pronounce things correctly in Vietnamese.
  • The lady who served us Bun Cha every single morning for breakfast and spoke to us in Vietnamese every day even though we didn’t understand anything she ever said. But whatever she said, we knew it was filled with love.

 

How about you? Have you been to Hanoi and had a different experience? Let us know in the comments below!

 

  • This is such a different experience than I had. Myself, my mother and sister where there for 10 days. While yes we probably did get ripped off while shopping (but that’s an expectation whenever I travel and don’t know the language), the people were delightful (we went to many of the places you mentioned including the market), the food was delicious and we found lots of places that had more palatable options outside of organ meet. I can’t wait to go back actually and visit mid and southern Vietnam and possible go back to Hanoi. It’s unfortunate you all had such a negative experience of a place that can be truly magical. Were you actively vlogging during these negative interactions that you had with the locals? I wonder if due to the lack of it was less about the fact that your American and more about the fact that you had a video camera?? Some people and cultures just don’t appreciate technology the way we do and it can be offensive to them and the language barriers can exacerbate the response. In no way am I condoning the behavior but maybe another perspective to appreciate outside of the easterners vs westerners. Hope you take the time you need and give Hanoi another chance.

    • I’m so happy to hear you had a great experience! We really loved visiting the other parts of Vietnam especially Cat Ba and the Ha Giang loop!
      As far as the negative experiences, they definitely happened more often when we were out with the camera. But unfortunately, there were still many times when we would go to the markets for groceries and we would get shoved, and turned away. Even though I spoke enough Vietnamese to communicate prices and groceries. This almost exclusively happened with the older generations and we were staying in a part of Hanoi that had no foreigners.
      Now that you’ve mentioned it, I definitely think the video camera created more negative experiences for us than the average visitor.
      Absolutely! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! I really appreciate you reading the post and sharing your experiences with me. 🙂

  • Hello from Finland! You should definately go to Phu Quoc. It’s an amazing island and people are very lovely. We even got stuck in one village as our bike broke down and the willagers fixed it. They didn’t even ask for money but ofcourse we payed. They didn’t understand any english but yet the were extremely friendly, offered us drinks and were very interested in us. So give it a go! 🙂 Safe travels!

    • Thank you so much, Anne! We thankfully got to experience some amazing places in the north of Vietnam where the locals where sweet and the food was booming! Thank you for the recommendation! Did you ever see the bioluminescent plankton in Phu Quoc?!

  • Hey! So, I follow a few Hanoi tags and came across your post. At first, I was like “oh sweet, someone who is an honest blogger!” I was intrigued. I still applaud you for being real. However, I really wanted to point a few things out as I’m sort of intrigued at how someone who’s been to so many places doesn’t seem to realize a few things. Maybe you do though and I’m totally off. I’m not sure! After living in Hanoi for 7 months, I totally understand many of your feelings. People can be rude, dogs as dinner is disturbing, rip offs get exhausting, and traffic sucks. However, I would think as someone who’s traveled so much, you wouldn’t be able to say some of the things you said. So as for racism and hatred of some towards Americans, that was never a thing with one local I met and I met many. Maybe they weren’t pleased with you walking through their markets or wherever you were encountering them to solely (or mostly solely) to take videos. I did learn that many locals did not like their photo or video taken and felt offended by it. Maybe the mocking was more of how you were walking through markets, etc and talking to a camera. They probably wonder why many of us travelers travel for what seems to be, to them,4 for social media purpose. They just don’t understand and I don’t think we can fault them for that. You mention they eat dogs. This is not okay for me and for most others. You did also mention that you eat bun cha. Pigs are also pets to many and, if were being real, are more intelligent and feel pain more than dogs do. As for prices being more for foreigners than locals. This peeved me a few times, too. Until I started understanding, as I developed friendships with locals, how little money they actually have. We can afford more than they can and them charging us what locals are charged is almost asinine.
    I have a few more things I could point out but I’m not trying to rip into every comment. I, more than anything, hope you’re able to be more open to some of these things. Again, I was in Hanoi 7 months and Vietnam for almost a year. It’s chaotic, frustrating, but also filled with amazing people and can really make you humble if you let it!

    • I absolutely love your response. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a constructive, kind, and mature way.
      With all honesty, I don’t know that the way they treated was related to us being American. When I wrote that in the post, it was purely me trying to rationalize why we were treated the way we did. Many times I was pushed with and without the camera, which could’ve absolutely just been someone having a bad day, and I theorized that it could have been about racism. So, you’re right! It could have been a number of reasons.
      I definitely think that I went to Hanoi with a lot of naivety about the world. And honestly, I was soft. We’d been bouncing around places like Thailand and Indonesia where the culture is so different and frankly, welcoming to foreigners. At the end of the day, I was expecting Hanoi to be something that it’s not.
      I completely respect your insights after having lived there for so long. You’re right that we make more money than them, and it makes sense for them to try to get the most out of foreigners. Just, in my opinion, the way they went about it just left our feelings hurt. When we went to the Long Bien overnight market, we were going to show how we did groceries because we always shopped at markets. What hurt was being pushed, turned away, and yelled at for being in front of the stall when I was trying to buy something.
      It hurt to not feel welcomed when in my mind, I had done so much to try and integrate into the culture. Again, naivety.
      Like I mentioned at the bottom of the post, my experience is not representative of everyone’s experience. Some people find the culture raw and refreshing! I also think it depends on where you stay in Hanoi, too. A lot of expats who stay in Tay Ho have a totally definitely experience in Hanoi than the one we experienced in the old quarter!
      At the end of the day, I think what it boils down to is me being too soft for that city and culture. And the people out there who have a thicker skin or can thrive on the chaos may LOVE IT! And they will reap a lot of benefits from living in Hanoi. The cost of living being a prime example. I personally, just couldn’t handle it.
      Thank you so much for reading the post and sharing your thoughts even when they countered mine. ❤️

  • Hayley Alderson says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience of Hanoi, I wish that we had read your post before going to Hanoi ourselves as we probably wouldn’t have gone. It’s so refreshing to find an honest blog post. I certainly aim to tell it like it is, when I eventually get around to writing one. We went in June this year & started our 2 month visit to Vietnam in Hanoi. We too found that the people were very hostile & also saw plenty of very dirty food vendors and dark and scary places in the city. Upon realising our dislike of Hanoi we quickly made plans to get out of there fast. We then travelled from North to South, starting in Sapa, Lan Ha Bay, Ninh Binh, Hoi An, Quy Nhon & Ho Chi Minh, I have to say that we absolutely loved the rest of Vietnam and only didn’t enjoy Hanoi. As we moved further South the people definitely got friendlier (although we did still encounter some locals that didn’t want us there). You really must go back to Vietnam. You definitely missed out on all the best bits! Hoi An, with it’s idyllic town and stunning beaches is definitely well worth a visit. We also stayed in this lovely fishing village in Quy Nhon (central Vietnam) and we also loved Ho Chi Minh. We aren’t city lovers at all, but we really enjoyed Ho Chi Minh! It’s so different to Hanoi, much cleaner, friendlier and much more enjoyable generally! We just travelled for 6 months in South East Asia & Vietnam was by far our favourite place. So, I hope you guys don’t let Hanoi put you off, it’s one small part of what is truly an incredibly beautiful and diverse country 🙂 x

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post and I’m really happy you appreciated the honesty! We loved Sapa and Cat Ba Island, and I know we would love the rest of the country, too, we just need a break! Haha!
      I’m sorry to hear you had a similar experience in Hanoi. I wish someone out there would have warned me about Hanoi before going, which is why I felt it was so important to share my experience there. Hoi An is one of the places I really wanted to go to! Per chance, did you eve get a dress made in Hoi An? I’ve read a few bloggers that have done this and really loved it!

  • Soham Dutta says:

    This post of yours has left me flabbergasted, especially since I am visiting Vietnam early next year. I am a big time dog lover and am very sensitive to animal abuse. Any place in Hanoi you recommend I should avoid so that I do not get to see dog meat or dogs in cages. That would totally ruin my holiday.

    • Hey Soham!

      Honestly, it’s pretty hard to avoid since they sell dog meat all over the historic district and Old Quarter (And honestly, all over Vietnam). You won’t see them in cages unless you go to the markets, but you will more than likely see them roasting on BBQ’s throughout the Old Quarter. If you go to Tay Ho in Hanoi, you won’t see any there, but because that area is mostly restaurants. You can walk through the old quarter, just don’t pay attention to what the street vendors are cooking. Hope you have an awesome holiday and stay safe!

  • We stayed in Vietnam for 3 months and we would have come to the same conclusion you did if we had only stayed in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. People in Hanoi (communist side) are very rude and almost treat you like an enemy. My husband and I eventually went to Da Nang and Hoi An for a month which completely changed our mind about Vietnamese people. They were not rude and not trying to rip us off at every step. Instead, we found lots of honest and amazing people who were happy to go out of their way to help and be friendly with us. We can genuinely say that Hanoi is the worst place we have ever visited so far and we have gone to war-torn hell-holes with friendlier people. If not for our old friend from University, we would have found Hanoi to be unbearable. But we are so happy that we got the chance to see other parts of Vietnam with warm-hearted people. Don’t be discouraged but don’t go to Hanoi again. On another note, we are perplexed by Youtubers and bloggers who paint Hanoi as an amazing place to visit. Maybe if you are on a holiday mode for 2 days then it might be bearable.

    • I feel exactly the same way! I wish we would’ve known and spent less time in Hanoi than in the rest of Vietnam. Good on you for leaving the north and exploring other parts!