What I will and won’t miss about life in Hanoi

It’s hard to believe that in two months’ time we’ll be relaxing on a beach in Thailand. As we’re nearing the end of our stay here in Hanoi we often find ourselves thinking about the things we will and won’t miss when we leave Vietnam.

Hanoi's Old Quarter at night

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What I’ll miss…

As the weeks here slip by I look forward to our future travels but I also feel twinges of nostalgia everyday for the aspects of our life here that I love.

Us by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

The people

I will miss the long weekend lunches with teaching friends, gossiping with my Vietnamese co-workers and teaching (almost all) of my smiling, boisterous school kids. It will also be strange to no longer see the people in our local neighbourhood who have become so familiar to us now; the security guards who sit in our courtyard drinking tea all day, the market women on Tran Phu street who sell us fruit and veg; the staff in our local Joma who slip us money-off coupons for being such loyal customers and our favourite masseuses at Blue Diamond Spa. I will even miss the random old Vietnamese women who occasionally feel the need to escort me across busy streets.

Vietnamese Student at School

Living for less

Thanks to high teaching wages and an extremely low cost of living, in just nine months we’ve managed to bump our bank balance back up to where it was before we initially left the UK over two years ago. This short period of work may have been incredibly intense, but it was worth it because we can now afford to spend three months in America later this year and then head off to Europe with a fair chunk of money still in the bank. Saving all that cash doesn’t mean that we’ve been living ultra-frugally here though, we’ve actually been living far more extravagantly than we could afford to in England. We eat out two or three times a week, have regular massages and take trips away whenever we have time off from school.

Veggie breakfast at the Tet Decor Cafe

Teaching

There are still days when I vow never to step into a classroom again once we leave Vietnam, but I think I’ve finally got into my teaching groove now and I’m sure I will miss aspects of this job. After months of frustration, tears and hard work I feel I’ve finally learnt to (usually) let things go rather than descend into a pit of despair or get furiously angry when I have a bad lesson. It’s been really hard work but I’ve enjoyed the challenge of teaching; every day I’ve had to force myself to do things I find uncomfortable and scary but over time the job has gotten easier and I’ve developed skills I never even knew I had.

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Asian culture

We’ve spent almost two years in Asia now but we still find life here fascinating, exciting and at times, bafflingly alien – we’re certainly never bored! As frustrating and chaotic as Hanoi often appears to me, there are aspects of Asian life that I love; the strong ties people have with their families and communities, the habit of eating meals communally on tiny street-side stools and of taking afternoon naps to escape the heat and humidity.

Sunset over West Lake in Hanoi

Familiarity and routine

Even though I love to travel and can’t wait to get back out and explore again, there’s always a part of me that relishes familiarity and routine. After a year and a half of living nomadically, I have loved having our own apartment again with space to put away our stuff, a kitchen to cook food in and a sofa to relax on. These are all things I know I’ll miss when we pack up and leave again.

Roundabout in Hanoi, Vietnam

What I won’t miss…

As with everything in life, you take the bad with the good and that’s certainly true of our experience in Vietnam. Don’t get me wrong, our time here has been mostly positive, but there are a few things about life in Hanoi that we definitely won’t be sad to leave behind.

The corruption

Recently, a western friend of ours recounted the story of how he was stopped by traffic police while driving in Hanoi. As he was driving without a licence, as many foreigners do, the police man threatened to tow his bike away unless he was willing to pay a substantial one million dong bribe (about £30). Need a visa extension? It’s perfectly possible to get one here in Vietnam if you bribe the right official. Work contracts are often not worth the paper they’re written on and we’ve heard tales of employers refusing to pay workers or sacking people at a moment’s notice.

Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam

One of the issues that disturbs us most is that critically endangered wild animals like pangolins, turtles and primates from Vietnam are illegally caught by poachers and sold here or in China, where they’re considered delicacies or used in traditional ‘medicines’. Although there are conservation efforts ongoing, as we witnessed on our visit to Cuc Phuong National Park, there are also disturbing stories like this one, about park rangers – the very people meant to protect these rare animals – who instead sell them to restaurants for a huge profit.

Dog meat

It sounds like a cultural stereotype but it really is true, some people eat dogs in Vietnam. There are restaurants here that specialise in dog meat and I’ve been unlucky enough to spot several dogs being roasted on spits as I’ve walked around the city. Although it’s becoming more common for Vietnamese people to keep dogs as pets and there have been news reports about dog-nappers being attacked by pet owners, it’s still legal and generally acceptable to eat dogs here. As a vegetarian and a dog-lover, this is something that I will never, ever get used to and I’ll be glad to get back to the UK where pets are common-place and dogs are thought of as friends, not food.

Dog in Sapa, Vietnam

Crazy drivers and roads

While I quite enjoy the freedom of hopping on the back of our Little Cub to go across town, I will not miss the chaos of the roads here or the crazy drivers we share them with. Just last week Andrew slowed and indicated that we were turning right but a stupid Vietnamese driver, who happened to be playing with his phone at the time, tried to speed past us. He ended up crashing into us and breaking a tail light, but was he sheepish or apologetic? No, he beeped his horn at us and shouted a few angry words in Vietnamese! Worse still, there’s no recourse for this kind of thing, most people drive un-insured and if a crash happens they just pick themselves up and drive off.

Rush hour in Hanoi, Vietnam

Being a pedestrian isn’t much easier in Hanoi either; in status terms you’re the lowest of the low and are beeped at constantly if you dare to try and cross the road. Walking on the pavements here is often impossible because they’re blocked with parked motorbikes or food stalls, so you have to walk on the edge of the road, stay alert for racing motorbikes and endure being constantly assaulted by beeping horns. Drivers typically beep to let you know they’re there, but it feels like they’re actually saying: Hey Pedestrian Scum! You have two seconds to get out the way or I’ll run you over. How nice it will be to get back to England where they actually have proper traffic rules, lanes and pedestrian crossings.

The noise

The crowing of roosters and barking dogs keep us awake at night and the constant roar of motorbikes and beeping horns is our daily soundtrack. I genuinely think I’ve lost some hearing since I’ve been teaching in Vietnamese public schools too where I’ve had to put up with screaming, yelling kids every day. On top of this, it seems culturally acceptable here in Vietnam to talk over other people, to converse in a ridiculously loud voice and to shout someone’s name loudly followed by the word: Oi! to get their attention. So, teaching kids not to interrupt each other and be quiet when others are speaking goes completely against their cultural grain.

Sickness, pollution and lack of green space

I’ve never been as constantly sick in my life as I have been since we moved to Hanoi. This is mostly due to working in schools where colds and viruses are in constant circulation; I’ve lost count of the amount of sore throats, blocked noses and sinus issues I’ve had over the past eight months, not to mention the nasty 24-hour stomach bug I picked up right before the TET holiday. The high levels of pollution in Hanoi exacerbate illnesses and drag them out too; one hacking cough I was suffering from took over a month to clear and got noticeably worse every time I had to venture outside the flat.

Life in Hanoi: Balloons on a Hanoi Street at Night

In short, neither Andrew nor I have felt very well or healthy since moving to Hanoi. Other than walking from place to place, exercising outdoors is out of the question because of the smog we’re always breathing in and we wear face masks every time we ride our bike. London also has pollution issues but we never felt the effects much because we lived out in the suburbs and had access to a lot of local parks and green spaces; something that’s seriously lacking here in Hanoi.

What do you love and hate about the place you live in?

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35 thoughts on “What I will and won’t miss about life in Hanoi

    • Thanks Katie, we are definitely trying to make the most of our time here, we’ve got lots of trips planned 🙂

  1. I can understand not missing the roads. Feels so weird now we are back in the UK and people don’t try to run you over or beep continually… Looking forward to reading about your future adventures in the US and Europe.
    Helen recently posted..Time to go homeMy Profile

    • I’m so looking forward to being able to cross the road without worrying about being run over! Saying that, it is pretty cute when Vietnamese women help me across the road 🙂

  2. Hope your last few weeks fly by so you can continue on your travelling journey. We will be in Vietnam in August taking the usual UK holiday time so will be reading up on the info you’ve provided and looking out for eating places recommended. You made me laugh about your cold/illnesses – welcome to children! Ever since our boys started school I’ve had a permanent snuffly nose, to the point when I don’t even notice it now. Looking forward to reading your future adventures x
    Lesley recently posted..It’s a funny thing about kidsMy Profile

    • Hi Lesley, yes it’s certainly been a shock getting used to kid germs, I definitely won’t be sad to leave that behind! Exciting news about your trip to Vietnam, which areas are you planning to visit? If you have any questions about Hanoi just let me know.

    • Yes, exactly Miriam, we have a love/hate relationship with Vietnam too. The good parts of our life here are the things I will remember most though. It’s interesting about the child beggars, luckily there don’t seem to be many in Hanoi.

  3. Hi Amy, looks like the positives outweigh the negatives? It has been a steep learning curve for you, but you did it, good on you! Now with a healthier bank balance it is all about new adventures ahead. I am looking forward to follow your journey.
    Gilda Baxter recently posted..Tobago – Hello Old Friend!My Profile

    • Hi Gilda, yes I think the positives do outweigh the negatives and I have no doubt that we’ll look back on this experience fondly. However, we are pretty exasperated with the more annoying aspects of life here and we’re excited to move on.

  4. Eat plenty of vegies and some fruit ,If you have a juice extractor ,if possible a cold press juicer squeeze fruit and vegetables high in antioxidents .This will make youe imune system nice and strong.Squeeze green ,purple and yellow coloured fruit and vegatables.I always sqeeze Kale ,cellery ,carrot ,beetroot ,lemon,papaya and watermelon.You will be on top of the world after drinking this juice .Green vegatables act as a chloraphill ,which cleanses and eliminates toxins from your body.looking forward to your future travels in Europe and America .If you visit the US ,please visit Canada.Awsome scenery and awsome people.Nice to see back in the Uk because nothing beats the home your living in .Keep on travelling ,love louisa

    • We don’t have a juicer unfortunately, but I do love fresh passion fruit juice and drink it whenever we go out to eat. Yum! We are looking forward to visiting the UK too, not long to go now!

  5. May be later you can invest in a cold pressed juicer .You will benefit from squeezing raw fruit and vegatables I am glad you enjoy passionfruit juice,love louisa

  6. Love the post and totally agree on all that NOISE! When we arrived in Sydney, my wife and I were walking to our hostel and at first couldn’t figure out what was so nice about the city, (besides the lovely scenery of the waterfront). Then we realized it had been months since we enjoyed such peace and quiet!
    Mark recently posted..SCRATCH MAP GIVEAWAY!My Profile

    • Hi Mark, I can’t imagine how nice the peace and quiet must have felt after Vietnam! I can’t wait to experience that when we get back to the UK 🙂

  7. I can’t believe your teaching year will soon wrap up, I bet you’re excited and ready to do something different but how great that you saved that much money! I highly suspect that your next teaching position will be more positive because I believe cultural norms have a lot to do with how the children work/behave in the classroom. It can only get better, right?!

    When we were in Iran – in March – it was my first experience with that kind of traffic. It absolutely terrified me and every time I rode in a car my blood pressure shot up and I’d get a headache. It’s ridiculous! And need to cross the street. Step off the curb and hop for the best. OMG! I was only subjected to it for 3 weeks, I don’t know how you’ve dealt with it for so long!
    Patti recently posted..Pamplona to Estella – Days 4, 5, & 6My Profile

    • Yes, I think you are so right Patti, cultural norms do play a big part in the classroom. The biggest issue for me is controlling the noise as it drives me mad, however it’s no big deal to the kids or my Vietnamese co-workers. I don’t know how we’ve dealt with the traffic either, sometimes I feel desensitised to it but other days it frustrates me so much I want to scream!

  8. It’s always kind of sad to leave a place you have called home, but for me the excitement of being “on the road again” overshadows it! I get so excited that I drive Tom nuts by dancing around him with my pack on singing “on the road again” in a terrible cowboy croon. Enjoy Thailand and happy travels!
    Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out recently posted..Travel Before MarriageMy Profile

    • I am getting to that excitable phase too Jenny, while I will miss some aspects of life in Hanoi I know I’ll be overwhelmingly pleased to move on to the next phase of our journey.

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  10. Thank you for your blog. I plan to teach in HCMC in a couple of years, so your blog is an excellent resource.

    About your dislike for the roads, I just absolutely love it. I’ve visited Vietnam two times so far and I love the thrill of driving a motorbike… keeps my life exciting and keeps me awake. It’s like a video game to me.

    Anyhow, happy travels to the US. I am absolutely sick of this place. haha

    • Hi, glad you found the blog useful. Ever since we crashed the bike in Tam Coc I’ve felt wary of riding it, I’m glad now that we’ve given it back. Have fun in HCMC 🙂

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  12. Hey, I have just arrived in Hanoi looking to teach English and stay here for a few months. I was wondering whether you had any suggestions regarding an apartment one could rent? I’m here with my partner and something cheap but still a bit peaceful would be lovely. From what I’ve seen already seems like it could be a bit of a mission.
    Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Xxxxx

    • Hi Teesta, thanks for your comment. Tay Ho is a popular place for expats to live in Hanoi, we used an estate agent, Binh, who showed us around many different apartments until we found the right one. If you want to contact him, his email address is: [email protected]. Good luck!

      • Hi, thanks for your message. Unfortunately I’m not in Hanoi anymore, but I appreciate the offer 🙂

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  15. Thanks for the time and energy creating your blog. I came across it as I was searching the internet about feelings I have living here in Hanoi. Was such a relief to know “it’s not just me” that feels the way I do about Hanoi. And like you write also, I love what Hanoi is all about, but I do get totally overwhelmed regularly. I read the response about the juicer previously. I think the issue is more the pesticides and herbicides used on fruit and vegies is on the increase, especially with easy access to illegal chemicals just over the border. Once again, thanks for affirming my feelings with your blog. Cheers!

    • Hi Deb, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you could relate to my post and happy that it made you feel better. My time in Hanoi was crazy and at times overwhelming, but I do look back on it as one of the most intense, incredible periods of my life. Yes, I think that pesticides are used frequently here in Thailand, where we’re living at the moment, too. Enjoy Hanoi 🙂

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