ATMs — Most major banks in Hanoi and even countrywide now offer ATM service. Look for Vietcombank and Incombank branch locations throughout the city. New ATMs are popping up all over. Ask any hotel concierge where to find one. Consult with your bank office at home to inquire about international ATM usage fees. Most range from just $1 to $1.50.
Banks & Currency Exchange — The best service (24-hr. ATMs with guards) is at the Australia New Zealand Bank (ANZ), 14 Le Thai To St. (tel. 04/825-8190); Citibank, 17 Ngo Quyen St. (tel. 04/3825-1950); and Vietcombank, 198 Tran Quan Khai (tel. 04/3934-3137). Most banks will exchange foreign currency, either U.S. dollars or euros, during normal banking hours. You’ll also find a few money-changing storefronts along Hang Bac Street in the Old Quarter and around the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi Sacombank, 88 Ly Thuong Kiet (tel. 04/3942-8095), is one to try.
Avoid exchanging on the black market. Black-market money-changers will approach you outside of the major banks; in the past, you could get a much improved rate from them, but today the advantage is nominal and travelers often find themselves left with a few counterfeit or out-of-circulation notes in the mix — it’s not worth the trouble.
Business Hours — Most Hanoi shops and offices are closed for lunch, usually from 11 or 11:30am to 12:30 or 1pm. Hanoians wake up very early to take advantage of cooler weather, and an early lunch is followed by some rest time in the heat of the day. Most offices close at 5pm and are shut on Sunday.
Car Rentals — Contact any tour operator or hotel concierge about booking a car with driver for day trips or to sights farther afield. Expect to pay about $30 to $40 per day, and $10 for a guide to accompany you.
Climate — Hanoi experiences relatively high humidity all year and a rainy season from May to October. Winter months are cool and damp (rarely below 57F/14C), but the heat starts to pick up in April and makes for a hot, wet summer (a popular time to hit cooler climates like Sapa in the far north or enjoy the offshore breezes in Halong).
Doctors & Hospitals — International SOS, at 31 Hai Ba Trung, just south of Hoan Kiem, is your best bet for emergency services and travel illness. Contact their 24-hour service center at tel. 04/3934-0555 or their clinic at tel. 04/3934-0666, or visit the website at www.internationalsos.com. International SOS is part of a worldwide international service that you can join for a fee and be covered anywhere they offer services. The organization has a capable staff of expatriate and Vietnamese doctors, with specialists ranging from pre- and post-natal care to tropical infectious disease experts, good eye doctors, and dentists. They work in collusion with most major insurance companies and can contact your provider to let you know if you are covered. The cost of an initial visit is $69 with an expatriate doctor or $59 with a Vietnamese doctor.
Hanoi Family Medical Practice, at Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound, 298 Kim Ma (tel. 04/3843-0748), is another walk-in clinic, like International SOS, that caters to Hanoi’s growing expatriate community. They have a good dental center.
Another good choice for comprehensive service is the Hanoi French Hospital, south of the town center at 1 Phuong Mai (tel. 04/3574-0740). As the name suggests, the hospital caters to Francophones, and a knowledge of French is a plus, but doctors and staff can speak English as well. Service is very professional, efficient, and much more accessible and affordable than at the town’s two international clinics.
Embassies & Consulates — Your country’s embassy is your home base in the event of any instability, political situation, or emergency (either medical or legal). It’s not a bad idea to register with your embassy when you arrive in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, or through the embassy website before you leave home. Embassies are also a good place to pick up the most current information on regional crises, health issues, political hot spots, and advice on travel. If you are in Vietnam during one of your country’s national holidays, check for any special events held at an embassy compound (there’s nothing like Thanksgiving among Americans or Victoria Day with fellow Canadians, for example). The following is a list of the major international embassies in Hanoi: Australia, 8 Dao Tan (tel. 04/3831-7755); Canada, 31 Hung Vuong (tel. 04/3734-5000); European Union, 83B Ly Thuong Kiet (tel. 04/3946-1702); New Zealand, 63 Ly Thai To (tel. 04/3824-1481); United Kingdom, 31 Hai Ba Trung (tel. 04/3936-0500); United States, 7 Lang Ha (tel. 04/3772-1510).
Note that most storefront travel agents can handle visa services for a nominal fee, but when arranging visas and gathering information about travel in nearby countries, you can also contact the following embassies: China, 46 Hoang Dieu (tel. 04/3845-3736); India, 58-60 Tran Hung Dao (tel. 04/3824-4989); Japan, 27 Lieu Giai (tel. 04/3846-3000); Laos, 22 Tran Binh Trong (tel. 04/3942-4576); Malaysia, 45 Dien Bien Phu (tel. 04/3734-3836); Myanmar, A3 Van Phuc Compound (tel. 04/3845-3369); The Philippines, 27B Tran Hung Dao (tel. 04/3943-7948); South Korea, 360 Kim Ma (tel. 04/3831-5111); Thailand, 63-65 Hoang Dieu (tel. 04/3823-5092).
Internet — Internet service in Hanoi is affordable and found on nearly every street corner, especially in the Old Quarter, where so many budget travelers dwell. Service is usually a speedy ADSL connection and costs about 3,000 VND per hour. The Tourist Information Center at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake (7 Dinh Tien Hoang St.; tel. 04/3926-3368) offers some free Internet access. Small Internet storefronts are numerous in the Old Quarter on Hang Bac or Hang Be, and in all traveler cafes: In fact, many include some free connection time if you book a trip at their storefront. A-Z Queen Salute Travel Cafe, at 65 Hang Bac (tel. 04/3826-0860), is a good bet with affordable service and a pay-as-you-use honor system. On Ma May Street in the Old Quarter, try the corner shop at 66 Ma May (just north of the Tamarind Cafe): Always crowded, it has good, fast ADSL service and sells affordable prepaid Internet phone cards. Amazing Internet, at 15 Hang Non (tel. 04/3828-6193), on the east side of the Old Quarter, is rather proud of itself, and for good reason, considering its fast service and very helpful staff.
Maps — The Tourist Information Center (7 Dinh Tien Hoang St.; tel. 04/3926-3368) has excellent free tourist maps. If setting out into the country on motorbike or by hired car, be sure to pick up a detailed map — look for the Vietnam Tourism Travel Atlas (costs 85,000 VND), which has good regional maps and detailed city maps of the major towns.
Newspapers & Magazines — The Vietnam News is available free at most upmarket hotels and can be purchased at most bookstores and at magazine shops near Hoan Kiem Lake; written by Vietnamese, its local news is more or less propaganda (“We are successful and our economy is growing”), but the paper does cover the major international wire-service news items of the day and lists current events in the country.
A number of cheap and/or free local magazines are geared toward tourists and business visitors. You can pick up any of the following at airline offices, travel agents, popular restaurants, hotel lobbies, and bookstores: the Guide, which is a travel and tourism glossy supplement published monthly by the Vietnam Economic Times that provides useful listings of hotels, restaurants, and happenings (pick it up for free or for 16,000 VND in some locales); Vietnam Discovery, which sells for 15,000 VND and is a monthly magazine listing hotels, published by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, similar to the Guide; Vietnam Pathfinder, which is a small tourism magazine with an expatriate section featuring good insider tips on tours, travel, dining, and shopping; and the Guidebook (www.theguidebook.com), another one with good local listings for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. East&West, a new glossy publication, zeroes in on new high-end fashion, shopping, and hotel news in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. You can pick up copies at select boutiques and high-end hotels. Check their website (www.east-westmag.com) for distribution.
Pharmacies — Vietnamese pharmacies are the “diagnose yourself” variety. Got a bad cough and think it’s an infection? Pound the table and ask for antibiotics. So much for discouraging antibiotic-resistant illnesses. Pharmacies are on every street corner and, even if the folks there don’t speak English, they can help if you mime your disease (I once did an interpretive dance I call “nonstop diarrhea”), or for the less theatrical, they usually have an English-to-Vietnamese dictionary with medical terms listed. Ask for foreign-made drugs, best from France, as Vietnamese versions of medicines, though cheap, are often inferior. I recommend heading to the SOS International Clinic, which has a pharmacy on-site.
Police — Yes, you may call them if you have something stolen, and they can fill out a report for insurance purposes, but the Hanoi police are best avoided; in fact, the only reason to see them is if you’re bribing your way out of something (a traffic violation, for example). In Vietnam’s rapidly changing economic and social climate, laws are mutable and, in fact, the rule of law is still uncertain. Traffic police crack down on motorbike drivers without helmets, but in general, foreign visitors have no contact with the grim lads in khaki.
Post Office — The General Post Office is located at 6 Dinh Le St., Hoan Kiem District (tel. 04/3825-7036). It’s open daily from 6:30am to 10pm. You can also send faxes and make international phone calls there. FedEx (tel. 04/3719-8787; daily 8am-6pm) is located in the same building as the post office but has its own storefront just around the corner. You can also find a UPS storefront on the same block at 10 Le Thach St. (tel. 04/3824-6483; daily 7:30am-6pm) and a branch of EMS at 12 Le Thach St. (tel. 04/3824-1271; daily 7am-9pm). Expect to pay anywhere from $29 to $74 per kilo, depending on expediency of service.
Safety — Hanoi, like the rest of Vietnam, is safe. The only concerns for visitors are pickpockets and minor local scams. Keep an eye on your valuables; store traveler’s checks and money in your hotel safe or, if you must bring them with you, keep cash and important documents safe in a travel wallet under clothing and out of sight of the clever hands of thieves. Take care if out clubbing late in Hanoi, and avoid dark streets and walking alone, as you might in any place in the world. But in general, you’re free from violence in the Vietnamese capital.
The city is not without hassles, though. You will be harassed by book, magazine, and souvenir sellers. The entreaties of these relentless entrepreneurs can get pretty tiresome. Remember that they’re just kids, most of whom work under the pressure of local mafia, and it is their job to sell you; take time to talk with them if you have it, but remember that any conversation is geared toward getting the greenbacks out of your pocket. If you’re not interested in their goods, let them know, but these guys rarely leave it at that. A firm “No!” doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. If you stop at intersections and look at maps, know that the motorbike taxi guys will swarm you. I always try to have a look at the map before I get to any intersection so that I know what street I’m looking for and can proceed through intersections like I know where I’m going.
Telephone — The city code for Hanoi is 04. Most hotels provide international direct dialing (IDD), although none allow you to access an international operator or AT&T (whose Vietnam access code is tel. 01/201-0288). To do that, you will have to go to the post office. You’ll find public phone booths throughout the city for local calls that accept phone cards purchased from the post office. Internet “telephony” is the cheapest option and is available in Internet cafes throughout the city. Connecting through a designated ADSL line, phone service through the Internet from Hanoi is quite good, with the annoying delay effect at a bare minimum. Try the corner shop at 66 Ma May or one of the other small Internet cafes in the Old Quarter.