How to Live in Hanoi Like A Local – Expat’s Guide to Hanoi

If you’re going to live in Hanoi (or already are), you probably want to blend in with the locals and learn their lifestyle. It’s actually super easy and enjoyable. Here are three things you can do to live in Hanoi like the locals do (and impress the hell out of them).

1. Be an Experienced Motorbike Driver

Perhaps there’s nothing more local and unique in Hanoi than its road traffic. There’s congestion everywhere you look, mainly because the land fund allocated for infrastructure in Hanoi is only half the minimum standards for urban traffic.

There are also more than 8 million people living here.

And the driving culture here doesn’t make it any better. Just observe from the sidewalk and you can feel the stress any commuter faces with honking from all sides and other vehicles constantly trying to overtake.

It’s so easy to panick.

Because of this, being an experienced motorbike driver is a very “local” thing.

First, you’ll need to be familiar with your vehicle.

Then, you have to get used to being honked at, like, all the time. The moment you panick is when it gets really dangerous for you and those around you.

You need to be familiar with the streets you frequent too. Not even the most savvy driver in Hanoi will be able to remember all the streets and alleyways (because there are so many), maybe except for those who drive for a living.

Well, it’s true that you can always rely on your Google Maps, but you will have to pull over every time you check. Some drive with one hand while the other uses the phone and for your safety (really), I recommend against it.

Since the bus system in Hanoi isn’t great and the public train is under construction, motorbike is the primary method of transportation. If you want to live like a local in Hanoi, head to a motorbike rental shop and get one for yourself.

Related: How To Get Around in Hanoi – Transportation Guide for Expats

2. Do Everything at Cafes/Coffee Shops

Have you ever walked down a street in Hanoi and found many, many cafes, all packed with people?

It’s not because Hanoians love Vietnamese coffee (which we absolutely do). It’s because we do almost everything at cafes. From dating to hanging out to working and business discussion; you name it.

Why?

It’s perfectly casual for all occasions. It’s convenient because cafes are literally at every corner. It’s affordable as well.

Most of the cafes in Hanoi have a casual theme so it’s suitable for everyone. However, it’s not hard to find unique cafes that are specialized in something.

There are those meant for couple with dim lights and romantic music.

You can also find really upscale ones with premium interior for you to meet with a business partner.

Then there are quiet cafes for you to work at. You can expect to meet a lot of freelancers and entrepreneurs here.

The last group I’m not sure how to categorize. They offer unique food/drink. Egg coffee is a great (and tasty) example.

Trying out new cafes is also a great fun in Hanoi. You can hang out with your friends or partner and explore new places at the same time.

So the next time you make a friend in Hanoi, ask him/her to meet you at your favorite cafe and I guarantee he/she will be impressed at how “local” you are.

3. Have Traditional Vietnamese Food for (Almost Every) Breakfast

One of the things Vietnam is most famously known for is its cuisine.

Outside of Vietnam, the dominant and popular Vietnamese dishes are Pho (Noodle), Banh Mi (Vietnamese Bread/Sandwich) and spring rolls.

However, once you’re living in Hanoi, there are hundreds (literally) more mouthwatering dishes to try. I can’t tell you how many times it takes me so long to decide what to eat because I crave multiple things at the same time (oh the agony..).

The best part is, you don’t have to travel that far since traditional food restaurants are at every corner of the city (yay!).

Despite the wide variety of traditional food, there’s a local culture to eat in with our families for dinner. The most common meal we eat out is breakfast and many choose traditional food.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of options to choose from. The most common breakfast food are Pho, Banh Mi, Hue Beef Noodle, Steamed Sticky Rice, Kebab Rice Noodle and you can expect to find places that sell these almost everywhere you go.

Of course, I highly recommend you always to check Google and TripAdvisor reviews of any restaurant before you enjoy the awesome food there. Food hygiene is a major concern in Vietnam.

Conclusion

It’s pretty easy and a lot of fun to live in Hanoi like local. A pretty standard routine among Hanoians on Saturday morning is to driving (a motorbike) to their favorite food stall/restaurant to enjoy a traditional dish, then head to a nearby cafe to meet up with their friends to talk about their week.

I hope this short guide to local lifestyle is useful and you should try it out. You can even impress your local friend, too.

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