Vietnam: Top 5 Tips to Navigating the Busy Streets of Hanoi

Top 5 Tips: Navigating the Busy Streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

We made this crazy, once in a lifetime decision about 6 months ago to take Felipa on a backpacking tour of Southeast Asia.  We were criticized by most, supported by many and questioned our decision along the way of planning almost every day.  I mean, who takes their 10 month kid across the world with only 2 backpacks and a baby carrier?! Well, we did and we want to share all of our tips, tricks, parenting fails and wins along the way….so make sure to check our travel section frequently as we post our crazy adventures! 

We decided to start our trip in Vietnam because it has been on our bucket list for years.  We wanted a good mix of city and beach, so we decided to start our trip in Hanoi.  Hanoi is known for its busy streets, as we had been warned by many, so taking the baby was going to be tricky.  Though, within a few hours of arriving, we got the gist of how the traffic worked and we want to share our tips with you!

Tip 1: Crossing the Streets

The roads are small, the sidewalks are almost non-existent and the amount of traffic can be very overwhelming — but it is completely doable as long as you are street smart! The first thing to notice here is that the roads are organized chaos.  There are no lines, and if you happen to see any, the drivers do not use them.  Cars and motorbikes weave between each other by means of honking.  A lot of honking! 

So how do you cross the street when there are no stop signs, no traffic lights and a constant stream of traffic? You do so very carefully.  The first rule is NEVER take a step backwards.  Once you have committed to crossing the street, you have to keep going.  You can stop to wait for cars and bikes to pass you, but never take a step back.  You are much safer just standing there and waiting for the vehicles to pass you before taking another step.

We had many experiences of just standing in the middle of the road waiting for cars to whiz by us before being able to continue walking.  There are some roads with crosswalk lines painted on the street, but to be honest they mean nothing. We would cross at these points hoping that cars would magically stop, but that just didn’t happen.

So the major take away from this tip is to watch for openings in traffic, carefully check behind you, in front of you and then step out when safe enough.  Never step backwards.  Just commit.  I really never thought my years of jay-walking in Toronto would come in handy, but it definitely did in Hanoi!

Tip 2: Ditch Your Stroller

I know you may think that a stroller would be essential on a trip like this, but it’s not.  There is just no space on the roads or sidewalks.  I mean, we saw a lot of people with strollers but if you can manage carrying your baby in a carrier then it will be way easier and a lot safer in our opinion!

  • Hanoi Vietnam

You will be dodging pedestrians, bikes and cars.  Not to mention that bikes will just drive up on the sidewalks.  It happened in front of us and luckily we noticed it in time and had Felipa in a carrier, so it was way easier to just jump out of the way.  I am not sure what your reaction time with a stroller is, but I can’t picture trying to lift it out of the way fast enough.  So should you ever do a trip to Hanoi, do yourself a favour and leave the stroller at home or at the very least, leave it at the hotel.

Tip 3: Location, Location, Location!

If you are planning on backpacking with no stroller or car seat, then the last thing you want to do is take cabs or transit everywhere.  This is why we carefully researched all of our destinations for the most walkable scores.  We decided to stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi for some very simple and practical reasons:

  • We can walk everywhere! All of the major sites we wanted to visit were located in the Old Quarter making this a prime location for us to stay.
  • Cafes, Cafes, Cafes (if you follow our instagram account, you will see tons on this.  We are also going to post a blog on our favourite coffee spots!)

Tip 4: Know Your Sans Car Seat Safety

So, you too have decided to travel without a car seat. Now, this is not the safest way to travel and we do not obviously recommend this, but sometimes it is just the case.  It would be very rare of you to find a taxi or share ride that will have a car seat for your babe.  So, what do you do in the instance that you have to take babe in the car?

Be as safe as possible by following main tips that we swear by:

  • No seat belt across baby! I know this sounds counter intuitive, but it could save your kid’s life.  In the unfortunate event that you are in an accident without a car seat you want to make sure that baby is protected as much as possible. 
  • If you have the seat belt across their back, you risk the chance of them being crushed against you in a collision.  So, how do you make sure you are protecting yourself and babe? Put baby in a carrier, facing you, and strap the seat belt only across your waist, under baby’s legs and butt.
  • Support the head at all times! This is very important.  In Hanoi especially,  the drivers can turn and jerk their car within milliseconds leaving you little to no time to react.  So please ensure that you are supporting baby’s head and neck at all times — even if the car ride seems smooth, it is better to be safe than sorry!

Tip 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Barter & Always Check Your Bill!

Coming from North America, it seems very strange to barter with someone about the cost of goods.  But, it is completely normal and expected in Hanoi (and a lot of other South East Asian countries).  Once you get used to it, it can actually be a little bit of a thrill.  A good rule of thumb is to always reduce the price they give you in half — yes 50% off — and then you can negotiate from there.

If the vendor is unwilling to budge, then my suggestion is to move on.  I am almost certain that you will be able to find the exact same or very similar item down the street at the next vendor.  

When you are in a restaurant or cafe, always make sure to verify the cost of the item you are about to order — especially if there is no set menu.  This is usually the case for street vendors and hole in the wall, local establishments.  Always ask for your bill/receipt and check it twice!

We were actually eating at the famous Bun Cha restaurant that Anthony Bourdain and Obama visited and they definitely like to sneak a fast one on tourists.  This is how it went down.  We ordered the same meal that Bourdain and Obama did and were waiting patiently taking touristy photos.  Along came the server with our beers and two wet nap packages.

Sneaky Restaurant caught trying to charge us for wet naps!

I quickly put them in my bag because I love to keep everything from my trips. We enjoyed our meal and went to pay.  Then I took a look at our bill and there were 2 charges for the wet naps —- $3000 VND each — which is a few dollars, but still! 

Through many hand gestures, pointing and waving of wet naps in the air followed by a very stern head shake of no — we finally got the charge removed and then paid.  If you call them out on it, then you usually don’t have an issue.  It is just important to ask ahead of time and double check your bill before you pay!

Overall Thoughts:

Hanoi definitely makes our Top 10 Favourite cities in the world!  I am really sad that this part of our trip is over and kind of miss the feeling of being in a round of Frogger every time we crossed the street.  If you’re up for some adventure then definitely check out Hanoi.

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