How to adjust to the local culture in Hanoi

How to adjust to the local culture in Hanoi
Updated 2023-11-17 18:57

Moving to a new city abroad can be a daunting experience. 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, especially when they're roosters, temple bells, or vendors with recording devices, and that's before you tackle the language barrier! Strange smells and unusual dishes might make the stomach question its own appetite, but fear not. is here to help you adjust to your new life in Hanoi!


First things first, not all traffic stays on the road, and it's common to have scooters driving on the sidewalk. When you cross the street, remember that the people of Hanoi drive on the right-hand side of the road, and to either wait for a traffic light signal or check your blind spot religiously.

Driving culture in Vietnam

Driving in Vietnam is somewhat different than in other parts of the world. It definitely appears a little less organized, and honking is rampant. Hanoi is a fairly big city, and due to the amount of congestion, getting from one place to another normally takes a while. If you are attempting to drive, remember to stay defensive and offensive at all times. If you drive on the right side of the road and away from the center lanes, it will be slower, and people will understand you are learning. 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 keep in mind. When using a pedestrian crossing, do it in a slow but confident manner and never run. Drivers will maneuver around you, and we encourage everyone to adhere to stop lights and walking signals when applicable. 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!

Smart dos and don'ts in Hanoi

Although Hanoi is an incredibly safe city - violent crimes are almost unheard of - it is still wise to take the necessary precautions. Pickpocketing and sexual assault are some of the highest crimes in the city. Especially if you are new to the city, try to use the buddy system or avoid dark roads at night. 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 or address of the hotel or accommodation where you are staying at all times. This will be far easier than trying to pronounce the street name to any taxi driver.
  • Dress comfortably yet modestly. When you are wearing shorts during the day, you may still get a few looks, but that is because Vietnamese don't like the sun to touch their skin at all. You'll see a lot of people covered head to toe during the day, but at night, they'll also be wearing tank tops or shorts.
  • Take your shoes off at any home and a few stores.


  • Wear large amounts of expensive jewelry 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.

Learn about the regional differences in Vietnam

If you're planning to stay in Vietnam for a while, learning a few of the basic phrases will serve you well. Regardless of the country you visit, you can't go wrong with the good old “Hello” and “Thank You”:

  • Hello - Xin chào (pronounced ‘seen chow')
  • Thank you - Cảm ơn (pronounced ‘gum on')

Things can get a little complicated in Vietnam for numerous reasons, though. Firstly, pronouns are a fundamental aspect of the language, and they change depending on the person you are talking to. One of the reasons for using pronouns here after making a statement is to show courtesy. Don't worry about getting this stuff right at first. It takes practice!

To complicate life just a little more, the Vietnamese language differs somewhat between the north and south. Basic phrases are still the same; however, nouns, pronouns, and the pronunciation of consonants vary massively.

Food in Hanoi

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 dollars per meal to over a hundred for a more extravagant three-courser. Street food is a great way to immerse oneself with the locals, as it is cheap, enjoyable, and most importantly, delicious. Try a Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) or the city's favorite dish, Bun Cha Ca (fish noodle soup).

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.