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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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).
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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.
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…
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
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ❤️
You needed history lessons and more discourse on colonialism. Americans especially are very myopic to a fault. You consider yourself too soft for a particular culture which you did not try to understand from their perspective. I live in Nigeria and I found many similarities in their dealing with foreigners. I would only consider here the happier version, there’s this extreme admiration for foreigners. Ripping foreigners that are definitely better off is a form of reparations.
These people have a right to be resentful. You cannot simply ask them to forgive the devastation caused upon them.
In your learning to be shrewd, I hope you also learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
As a person who grew up in a Third World country which has suffered due to colonialism (India), I have to disagree. Everyone can expect to be treated fairly, and people shouldn’t be seen solely through the prism of their skin colour and nationality. It is just as reprehensible when the Vietnamese do it or Indians do it as it is when Americans do it. When I am treated unfairly by local people, I don’t feel the need to understand their perspective. I am an individual, I don’t represent a country or culture. As long as I am decent towards other people, I expect them to return the favour. Ripping people off is definitely not a form of reparations. The merchants who do that also do that to their own citizens, they are just that way. This explains why some countries continue to do poorly. It is not about Western colonialism always. You need to trust other people to do business.
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!
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.
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!
Lmao, how would you feel if your country was torn apart by Americans, and years later, obnoxious American tourists come around waving their video camera, interrupting their work day with nonsense… you’re telling me you wouldn’t be mad?
The trauma from the war is very real and runs deep. The amount of ignorance and condescension in this post and your market YouTube video is absolutely fucking insane.
For fuck’s sake, you’re in a business area where people are trying to do business, aka WORK. You’re in the way. Try walking into a busy restaurant kitchen and doing what you did. Do you think people will respond kindly? You hit a dude on his shoulder and then grabbed a random woman to tell her she’s beautiful. If someone did that to me in the US, they’d get a swift punch to the face.
I respect your opinion and appreciate you sharing it, but I respectfully disagree. So when was the last time you were in Hanoi?
Paulina, you deserve a swift punch in the face for such a poor and blind argument. People aren’t born racist, racism is taught. Daniel and Annette are the quintessential respectful traveler, and have proven so. Shame on you for refusing to hear other people’s truth.
You are so sweet, Ben! Thank you!
Thank you!! I don’t know why she feels the need to be validated for utter nonsense.
Nope! Did we read the same article? Nobody grabbed a random woman or interrupt anyone else. At least as the author tells the story. You have a political perspective through which you are interpreting what you read. That perspective will not be shared by many others, including by people like me who are not white and grew up in a Third World country. Being resentful at America does not explain the unfriendliness of locals at a day to day level. It will be different in Saigon, even though both cities are in Vietnam. Southern Vietnamese people consider people in Hanoi to be rude and obnoxious. They are probably right.
I’m so sorry to say this, but you seem quite naive and it seems like you’ve never spoken to a Vietnamese American or someone that can explain the culture. Yes, you’re correct that learning the language is not the same as understanding a culture. To call someone pretty and touch someone is extremely odd in Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi. Hanoi is like New York in the sense that folks are direct and will be rude to you if you’re not paying attention to their ways. Have you ever been told to get out of the way if you’re in everyone’s way when going to a subway? They consider your compliments as fake and disingenuous. As someone has already mentioned, many people in Vietnam do not like to be photographed or videotaped. Cooking dogs is not everywhere. My family and many others do not condone eating dogs and to be honest, there are vendors that do that for the tourists. Prices in Vietnam are subjective and they change them a lot, even for other Vietnamese people. So it’s strange to be so irritated rather than just understanding that you need to haggle or just say no and move on. You shouldn’t say you’re being “cheated”. Lastly, you asked one local their opinion about the way you were being treated and took it as fact. I’m open to listening to feedback about my motherland, but this just seems like someone that WANTS to think a certain way rather than asking more questions before posting such a damning article. Hopefully, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of what you may have been doing to get these reactions and get an idea of the culture first.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Kristine. I really appreciate the time you took to share all that you did and in such a respectful and constructive way. Like I mentioned in the article, this is not a generalization of all of Vietnam and is simply why I wouldn’t be going back to Hanoi after living there for almost 3 months. We made a handful of Vietnamese friends while we were there and made it a point to learn directly from them about Vietnamese culture. I know that touching someone and calling them pretty is odd but how was I to react to a woman who went out of her way to physically overpower me into a basket of mangosteens. Rather than let my emotions get the best of me I was polite and just made her uncomfortable by touching her shoulders purposefully. As I said in the post, never in my life had I been so mistreated verbally and physically. In regards to the cooking dog, everywhere we had been in the north did so. We witnessed everything from people killing the dog in front of us, roasting it, and serving it on the street. I don’t understand how you think that is done for tourists because the dog stalls were always full of Vietnamese people and not one tourist for the almost 3 months we lived there. Our homestay host even told us how her neighbor openly poisoned her dog so they could eat it. Anyways, we could debate every single point until our fingers cramp 🙂 I do have a question for you though. Have you been to Hanoi yourself? Because after the Vietnamese American War/The Vietnamese Civil War, the families that fled Vietnam came from the South. The South is a different culture that self identifies as something separate from Hanoi all together. These are not our assumptions and are based on the many conversations we have had with people from Saigon and the surrounding areas. Furthermore, a lot of the Vietnamese-American tourists that we met while in Hanoi, also experienced culture shock and mistreatment.
I’ve been everywhere in Vietnam (Sa Pa, Ha Long, Cat Ba, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, Saigon, Ninh Binh) – I’ve been to Hanoi five times in the last 10 years. I know about Vietnamese history. I AM Vietnamese American. I am again, shocked how you think you’re educating me and again taking the word of one local you spoke to. Have you ever read SF news where someone was poisoning the dogs as well? I’ve spent a lot of time learning about my culture and listening rather than talking. I’ve been ALL over Vietnam and continue to go back to learn more so that I am not a tourist, but a person that wants to understand. But I think it may be hard for younger folks like yourselves that are on a mission to exploit areas of people’s treasured lands for your own gains of not working a “soul-sucking 9-5”. If you spoke to people from Saigon, you might understand they have a deep biased hatred for those in Hanoi. Almost like Republicans hate Democrats and vice versa. You just need more perspective and a bit more self-reflection, it seems. Vietnam is complex and the opinions of Vietnamese are complex. Depending on the region, age, if they escaped, if they’re part of the government, etc. etc., the opinion will be different. I have family that were both in the Northern and Southern army and were imprisoned. My husband’s family is from the farmlands in the South. We’ve heard so many perspectives and still continue to ask questions and reflect rather than pass judgment without reflecting on our own behaviors. Someone with your type of influence should use it more responsibly. I hope you do one day. And please… don’t try to educate me on my own family background.
Thank you very much for sharing your perspective.
You’re welcome to disparage me, what I teach, what I experience, and my personal thoughts because we have the privilege of free speech. I am simply exercising mine and using my platform to share my very personal experience in a different country. I disclaim at the bottom of the post that my opinion is my own and not representative of an entire population of people. This is also why the post is called “Why I’ll Never Go Back to Hanoi, Vietnam” and not, “Why Nobody Should Ever Go to Hanoi, Vietnam”. I am very happy you get treated with love and respect in Hanoi, and I sincerely wish for everyone else to have a very different experience than I did. With that said, however, I strive to be authentic in the way that I share my experiences. I refuse to let other’s conflicting opinions or disparaging comments such as, “younger folks like yourselves that are on a mission to exploit areas of people’s treasured lands for your own gains of not working a “soul-sucking 9-5” from silencing me.
The world suffers when people are afraid to respectfully express their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. The fact is, everything in life isn’t rainbows and butterflies, and I’m going to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my life, and my travels. People read my blogs because they look for authenticity and my experience.
I will stay true to my experience and if I do ever go back to Hanoi and experience something different, I’ll make sure to update it here. Until then, I will also remind you that you have the freedom to click on blog posts that are less likely to trigger you. Life is short, and the internet is full of opinions and perspectives that will upset us. Use your time wisely.
Happy new year.
No one is trying to educate you. You are exchanging and debating views. Just because you are Vietnamese doesn’t mean you are an expert on Vietnam. That way every Indian who bristles at criticism by a foreigner will be an expert on India. The fact that you are Vietnamese does not mean that your opinions about Vietnam are automatically right or they should necessarily be given more deference that that of a foreigner. Different people will have different experiences when they visit a city. The author of this article talks about her experiences. I don’t think she said this is how everyone must experience Hanoi and she allowed (also in response to other comments) that other people can legitimately have a more positive experience than she did. I think she is being mature and brave. She also admits that her using a camera and video made the situation worse. Clearly, she is a reflective person who can accept honest feedback.
I watched the video, that woman was trying to HELP you balancing, not forcing you to fall, she even told you that its okay and to lift your leg up, smh.
You should place your “disclaimer, ” at the beginning of a blog like this. Furthermore, you should travel quite a bit more of the country. Though maybe not your intention, the passive-aggressive style in which you inadvertently portrayed an entire country to its capital, is ballsy, to say the least as someone who travels for a living.
I lived in Vietnam 8 months and it was a COMPLETE NIGHTMARE!!!! You can’t imagine how. Although I don’t agree with everything you say in the post, one thing is sure: RACISM. They hate foreigners, they try to rip you off no matter what you do.
I’m not white, I’m not American. Still, I was kicked out of the shops in Hanoi if I was just staring at something. I got hit on the streets when I was watching some street vendors’ things. And the worst: I was scammed when working as English teacher for a “serious” company. It was me, alone (they are also very sexist), trying to get my money and my documents back.
I won, though, because I did a great scandal (I described the whole strategy in this blog post: https://viejaqueviaja.com/threatened-by-elink-vietnam-an-english-teaching-company/ ), but it was exhausting.
Although I don’t want to discourage all the people saying it’s “awesome”, I can just say it could be, as long as you don’t try to know the culture deeper or mix with the locals (or WORK WITH THEM).
I also travel trying to learn and spend time with locals but with Vietnamese… truly complicated.
I’m so sorry to hear that you had a similar experience! I read through your post and that’s crazy! Good on you for fighting back, I would have been dead furious. Hanoi is definitely a totally different beast than any other city or culture I’ve experienced. Super glad that you are out of that toxic environment.
I cringed while reading, “… we are YouTubers and Digital Nomads, we wanted to find somewhere “vloggable” and with good internet, so we decided on Hanoi’s Old Quarter.” What other irritating buzzwords are you?
You’re exactly the kind of wankers I seek to avoid while traveling. The term “overtourism” was coined as a result of what you do for a living.
“The Vietnamese have a very unique diet that is highly composed of animal intestines and organs, cilantro, and soup.” Perhaps your most profoundly ignorant statement. They make use of as much as they can from their animals, as does every cuisine in any developing country. Hell – African American soul food joints in the States have fried chicken gizzards and livers. Same thing.
Thanks for your feedback! Hope your day gets better, friend 🙂
Violence and war always create hatred towards other people
Vietnamese have suffered largely due to war
Suppose somebody bombed your home town u will also have a hatred towards them
Your entire builded business is lost or your house is gone
Your normal life is disturbed
We definitely had a different experience in Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam for the three weeks we were there in 2019. I don’t recall any rip-offs or rudeness, with the possible exception of a pushy shoe-shine dude in HCMC. Especially in the countryside up North we found people quite friendly and smiley as we walked around. We also noticed a lot of single female travellers, so that says a lot about safety. I couldn’t do a month in Hanoi simply because it’s too humid and intense. A week was perfect. Our trip was slightly different than yours because we are older and we don’t have to watch our budget as much as we did 30 or 40 years ago. We also avoided Vietnamese street food, in part because we don’t eat meat (which is ubiquitous) and we want to avoid getting ill unnecessarily. It’s definitely not Malaysia or Singapore when it come to food safety. We have travelled all over S.E Asia, so we can compare Vietnam to other destinations. Sorry you had a bad experience and I hope you give the rest of Vietnam a try. Especially Pu Luong Nature Reserve – see it soon before the rest of the world discovers it!
Interesting read. Although, I have to strongly disagree on almost everything you have said. I have lived in Vietnam for 4 years now, 2 of which in Hanoi. Sorry to say, but it seems like you didn’t actually try to even experience Hanoi. It comes across as though all you’re concerned about is making videos of the tourist places. If you leave the tourist center, you will find that actually the locals are very friendly. There have been times when our bike has broken down, and locals have come to the rescue. No matter which shops we go in, we never get turned away and never get ripped off. Like you said, it is different out of the city, but Hanoi is different outside of the tourist bubble.
Different culture eat different food. I don’t think you will see Vietnamese eating a lot of American fast food or steak and potatoes. I do understand where you are coming from but I think one of the beauty about travelling is to experience different cultures exactly the way it is.
The ripping off and rudeness bug me too and I’m a Canadian Vietnamese, so I know it has nothing to do with your skin colour or the shape of your eyes. The local Vietnamese can spot foreigners and I look exactly like them and speak perfect Vietnamese.
In North America, we are blessed to be living in a first world country, so we never had to struggle in our daily lives. Vietnam went through 1000 years of war and the people have suffered a lot. It’s a very poor country and only recently got better, but the dog eat dog (pun not intended) mentality is still there.
When you have time please give “The Mountains Sing” a read. I think it will help you understand and empathize with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people.
Thanks so much for the reading suggestion!
I went to Saigon for ten days and I did stay at a western hotel. I travelled around the city both with my friend and we did a few tours to close by attractions. Personally I found the opposite in the south. When people stared at us a wave would be returned. I met a Vietnamese college student and she invited me to meet a bunch of her friends. It saddened me to read about your experience and I can only attribute it to the fact that in Hanoi the people obviously were not able to interact with any westerners during the war and were instead subject to vast amounts of negative propoganda.
OMG as a south vietnamese person I know how mean northern Vietnamese people can be! Even living in south vietnam, all the bad experiences I’ve had were with north vietnamese ppl *cri cri* I’m so sorry this happened to you and I would understand why you would hate us after this ;(( I assure you that not all of us are like this. PS eating dogs and cats is mainly a northern Vietnamese thing. Here in the south we don’t eat it except for northern Vietnamese ppl who moved down here and brought their eating habits with them.
Hey there, I’ve lived in Hanoi for over a decade now and I read your blog with great interest. You are right about many things and I can definitely relate to how you felt here. Some people just hate foreigners. Some people, mostly from the younger generation, are curious about foreigners and genuinely friendly.
The smiles and the giggles you get are also hard for me to get used to but it’s their way of showing embarrassment and shame. I guess it stems from their desire to avoid conflict at any cost and it’s easy to misinterpret and feel insulted by.
Are there bad people here? Most certainly. Same is any country on earth. Most of them just want to have a decent, comfortable life though and are typically quite shy and friendly.
After the first six months of living here, I was ready to leave and never come back. I hated it. Even hearing the language filled me with rage and disgust. But I stayed for work, and slowly but surely things changed. I changed, I guess. Adapted to culture somewhat. After some more time, it turned around and I fell in love with the place. There are advantages to living here that you can’t find easily in other places.
It still comes and goes in waves for me. Sometimes the place sucks, sometimes I’m loving it. But the waves are getting smaller and smaller as time goes by.
Hanoi does require some getting used to, for sure. Is it all bad? Certainly not. If you ever do decide to come back, let me know. I’ll try to show you the better side.
What are the advantages? Just curious to learn more about your experience.
I spent 7 days visiting Vietnam back in 2018 and I will say, my experience in Hanoi left me very jaded. With the exception of one coffee shop owner who was very friendly (Spent several hours talking with him the morning before my later afternoon flight to Saigon, wet talked his son studied who at the University of North Dakota and how he enjoyed the time he spent visiting the USA). Aside from that experience, I don’t have many positive things to say about Hanoi. I don’t know if and when I will return to Vietnam. I will say, I’ve been to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore, and my experiences in those three countries was by far a much better experience.
As a Hanoian I want to state out something here
1. Yes, the traffic is terrible. It is because many people from rural areas come to the capital to seek job opportunities everyday, so Hanoi become so crowded and I disliked it a lot!
2. Our cuisine is not only , so eating those everyday probably bored anyone out. You should’ve tried canh bun, bun thang, banh da tron, chao quay at least. I have to stop listing here cause it’s midnight and it hurts my stomach just to think of those dishes. Tbh I was born here yet I haven’t tried out all dishes, let alone 2 months living in the Old Quarters.
3. You should’ve tried street coffee
4. Sorry for your experience when you met some rude people, felt racist and got eyerolled etc. As I mentioned, Hanoi is filled with people from everywhere, so it is understandable for those people to exist. I mean, there are many kinds of people everywhere, and I assure you, trusting people on the street is kinda a weird behavior in every countries, not only in Vietnam. So when you say you started to not trusting people, then we’re glad that we got you learn what’s called life. Besides, we don’t really do racist here, some just don’t like foreigners, if you’re not Viet, they’ll aware of you, that’s all. And saying Chau Ang ( chao anh) Chau Chi( chao chi)is a weird way to start a convo. I suggest “ Anh oi” for young men, “chi oi” for young women, “chu oi” and “co oi” for older.
5. Hanoi people could be cold at first, but they’re sweet in their own way. Just be nice, give a lovely smile, ask with a calm voice and they’ll do everything for you while call you son or daughter. For example, if you got lost, ask a random vendor with a confusing face, even if she cannot help you, she would try finding someone to help you.
6. Yes, there are some people eating dog meat. We strongly disagree as well. It got reduced a lot compare to the old days.
7. NO. WE DO NOT RESENT WARS. We forgive those countries but will talk about it so the next generations won’t forget about it. The damages of the 2 wars haven’t been fully recovered yet. If you want, I would gladly show you how brutal the wars got on the people, which explains A LOT for their behavior. Given the 9/11, this may sound heartless but the number of people who died that day is nothing compared to Kham Thien street one Christmas night in a sudden ambush bombing by the US, yet they kept talking about it till today.
8. Lastly, I would always be happy for Hanoi to be less crowded, so if you don’t want to come back, that’s fine. However, please be gone for some better reasons, not the silly ones, so I welcome you again to our country, i suggest Danang, Dalat, an especially Con Dao if you want to learn sth of the Vietnam war
It’s really disappointing to see such a negative write up dragged across paragraphs with a hint of pretence of niceties.
It’s amazing how western folks, predominantly white bloggers feel so entitled to walk into developing nations without fully understand cultural contexts and expect people to bend over backwards for them. I saw a couple of your videos and I understand why the locals would be so bothered by a rambunctious bunch of white folks caterwauling in busy areas of business providing close to no business to them.
Honestly, white folks just need check themselves. Your experience was a form of racism which people of color face on a day to day basis in the states and you’ve got your panties in a bunch because your holiday didn’t go smoothly. Suck it up!
I think it’s your behavior that caused the hostility. People there don’t like you touching stuff with no intention of buying it. You were in fact in many people ways when they tried to move as fast as they could. They had heavy load on their shoulder and they wouldn’t appreciate someone taking up room making a video.
“Stares of you don’t belong to here”?? I guess you just get them wrong. Hanoi has so many foreign tourists every year. Many of them from so many corners of the world. You can see some youtubers like Hang Xom Tay, Co rit o Chau A, Cee Jay, Afro Viet TV. They all choose. I mean every body have their choises but Viet Nam, Ha Noi always welcomes every body. If you know Donald Trumb visitted Kim Jong-Un in Hanoi in 2019 as a peaceful and welcome city in the world, you may change your mind
I personally think it is wrong for any American to go to Vietnam. It’s just been like 47 years since it the war ended. For some it will never be over. Why do so many seem to forget. So many atosaris were committed from the north Vietnamese. It’s too soon to forget the war.
for every uncomfortable Western vlogger out there, there are many of us who went to Hanoi, had a wonderful time, and don’t feel the need to shed our enlightened white person lens on a foreign culture. My god, I would have been rude to you if I knew your goal was to show the kindness around the world. But yeah, thanks for sharing your experience.
If you come to the states and shove a camera in my face, I would give you the eye roll too. YouTubers, vloggers are very intrusive, I think they are the most annoying and hated people around the world, and that’s probably why you got treated the way you did. Stop pointing your cameras in people’s faces.
Maybe some people don’t want their lives broadcasted all over the world on YouTube. You YouTubers take your cameras everywhere, filming without permission or sensitivity, just so you can make money on other people expense or misery. Next time, be considerate, ask for permission to put people on YouTube, maybe then they might treat you better. Otherwise, you are just a couple of privileged, disrespectful white people. You guys give westerners a bad name. With regard to eating dog, don’t impose your cultural perspective on others, in Vietnam, they don’t have mass shootings with AK-47s, they might say you are the uncivilized ones. Oh you make me ashamed to be white.
Hi Annette, I am an English teacher here in Hanoi getting a low salary and a person of color (dark brown skin). Sadly, I am experiencing a lot of racism every day of my life living here in Hanoi, Vietnam. Especially, around the Old Quarter area and around Hoan Kiem lake. I have even had some Vietnam girl come up to me and spit on my face and say “Bạn có mùi con chó Ấn Độ”. Yes, I know the Vietnamese language well as I have been living in Saigon for over 5 years teaching English there. I wish I could go back to Saigon, as it’s far better and friendlier there. Maybe because I am from India. Sometimes, I wish all this bad treatment would go away!