Adjusting to the local culture in Hanoi

How to adjust to the local culture in Hanoi

Moving to a new city abroad can be a daunting experience, especially for first-timers. Being thrown in the deep end without any shock resistance can make the jet-lag seem even more intense. New sounds can often be as fierce as the impolite neighbours death metal binge at 9 am every morning, and thats before the language barrier even makes itself apparent. Strange smells and unusual dishes might make the stomach question its own appetite, but never fear, is here to help you adjust to your new life in Hanoi!


First things first, remember that the people of Hanoi drive on the right-hand side of the road.

The driving etiquette here is somewhat different than in the western world. It’s a bit more dog-eat-dog. Hanoi is a fairly big city, and due to the amount of congestion, getting from one place to another normally takes a while. People generally don’t let others go first, so fighting for position is necessary. Don’t let this give you the wrong impression of the locals; they are generally pleasant and helpful, but on the road, well, everyone is trying to get to point B as quickly as possible.

As mentioned momentarily ago, the locals are even moderately polite during times of chaos. This is signified by the duration of the horn noises. A rapid succession of honks implies ‘I’m coming, please move to the side’, whereas a long singular honk means ‘get out my way now!’. If you are ever on foot in this exciting city, there are a number of important things to remember too. When crossing roads, do it in a slow but sure manner and never run. Drivers will manoeuvre around you. Be aware of cars flashing their lights at you at night if you are crossing a road. In the UK, for example, this is an invitation to cross the road before they continue, but in Hanoi, this has the opposite meaning. Do NOT proceed to cross the road if a driver has flashed their lights, as they have indicated they have no intention of stopping for you!

Hone your street IQ

Although Hanoi is an incredibly safe city – violent crimes are almost unheard of – it is still wise to take the necessary precautions. Below are a few do’s and don’ts that you should try to apply at all times.


Carry only what you need to. That includes just enough cash for the activities you wish to indulge in, and a copy of your passport rather than the real thing.

Carry a business card of the hotel or accommodation you are staying in at all times. This will be far easier than trying to pronounce the street name to any taxi driver.

Dress modestly. This is a conservative country, and although the cities are a bit more relaxed nowadays, care should be taken not to offend anyone.

Take your shoes off at the door if you are invited into the home of a local.


Wear large amounts of expensive jewellery in public as it is considered impolite to flaunt wealth in such a blatant manner.

Take photographs of government houses, police stations or military bases.

Wear revealing clothing when visiting temples, pagodas or religious attractions.

Show too much affection for your partner in public. Holding hands is generally tolerated, however kissing is deeply frowned upon by the older generations.

Some food for thought

Food in Hanoi is simple, yet varied, and luckily for some, it isn’t too spicy either. There are plenty of western restaurants in the capital city, and prices range from a few pounds per meal to over a hundred quid for a more extravagant three-courser. Street food is a great way to immerse with the locals, as it is cheap, enjoyable and most importantly, delicious. Try a Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) or the city’s favourite dish, Bun Cha Ca (fish noodle soup). If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even ask a local to take you to a speciality dog restaurant. Bon Appétit!

READ MORE:  Ho Chi Minh City's labour market
News related