On my last Visa Run from Thailand, I have decided to go visit Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. I spent a few weeks in Vietnam roughly 15 years ago, and back then, I wasn’t really impressed with the country and people. Having said that, I thought I should give another try and Hanoi is one of the places I didn’t visit on my last trip, a long time ago. I have met a couple of fellows Digital Nomads in Chiang Mai, Thailand that mentioned Hanoi, Vietnam as one of their favorite places in Vietnam to spend a few weeks while working on digital jobs. That alone made me make the decision to go over and try to understand if I could do the same in the future.
Flights to Hanoi are really cheap from BKK, I got a return flight with Nok Air for about 80 USD including 30 kg of luggage. The arrival Noi Bai International Airport is pretty new and half the size of Dong Muang airport in BKK; it’s pretty small, only 2 terminals connected by a free shuttle bus.
Visa on arrival is free, at the moment, for less than 15 days stay, for some nationalities, which is great. No hassle at immigration, you walk straight through. Visit Wikipedia Vietnam Visa Policy for more info. Charges apply for longer stays and a visa has to be per-arranged; I cannot really advice on that, I briefly looked into it and I got a headache, there are tens if not hundreds of websites trying to sell Visa on Arrival, information is scattered and most sites look like scam, the kind of sites you wouldn’t want to pass on your credit card details. Maybe a digital nomad reading this post can leave a comment, suggesting how to get a Vietnam Visa, I don’t even want to think about it.
Airport transport to town is either by taxi (10 – 20 USD), shared minibus (40000 VND) or local bus (number 7 or 17, 8000 VND). The local bus is fine, although takes longer (1 hr) and drops you a bus stations, not so close to the very center. The minibus is crowded, small and only takes off once full. I took the minivan to go into town and bus to come back up to the airport, both are OK for the price. For more info visit http://www.hanoiairportonline.com/ , info is not up to date, but is good enough. By the way, if you plan to fly out of Hanoi early in the morning or you arrive late, there’s really nice and cheap hotels and hostels at a walking distance from the airport; as you come out from the airport doors turn right and keep on walking.
Once in town you’ll quickly realize that Hanoi is not a small little town, as some people like to describe it; it might be small in Vietnamese terms, or for some digital nomads coming from mega cities, but I still consider a few millions inhabitants city a big city and Hanoi has all of the features of a big city. Be prepared for pollution, noise, and having the feeling like you don’t exists, you might as well be a tree or a rock for the local motorbike, car and bus drivers.
The center of Hanoi is sort of charming, dotted with little eateries and shops. Easily find budget accommodation for about 3 USD for a dorm in a Hostel up to 15 USD for a room in budget Hotel. I booked my first night through Agoda.com and got a nice Hostel the next day for about 3 dollars a night. Standards vary a lot from place to place, it’s worth having a look around and do no trust the online feedback, in one of the places I stayed I was offered free accommodation if I would have left a good feedback on TripAdvisor.com. The local tourism industry is really scummy and bullshit as far as I am concerned, nothing has really changed from 15 years ago. Having said that, once you get past the tourism related stuff, Hanoi people are really nice and usually have time to converse and make acquaintance. Digital nomads will be very welcome by the locals, as we usually have many stories to tell.
Internet is everywhere and mostly functions properly, I even found WiFi on a bus from Hanoi to Hai Phong, sweet! First time ever, I have found WiFi on a bus … I know I spent too much time in Asia, I guess elsewhere is a standard. Guest Houses, hotels and hostels usually have good WiFi connections and there’s plenty of coffee shops in the center near the lakes offering really good connectivity with a view. It’s also nice to do some work at the top floor of some building, in order to avoid the street noise that can really be overwhelming even for a Buddhist Monk Blogger.
You can easily get around in town by foot, in fact it’s maybe the best way to make sure you will get safe from point a to point b. You can also jump at the back of a motorbike; be prepared to hassle with drivers as prices can easily triple for a foreigner. There also the option to rent a bicycle or a motorbike, but I would leave that to the more adventurous individuals whom enjoy the trill of risking their life. The traffic is really crazy, you won’t understand it until you see it.
To get out-of-town there’s plenty of options: public train, bus, air plain, minibus as well as private tours to visit Halong Bay, Sapha and so forth, which are pushed onto you very heavily but the Hotel, Hostel staff. There’s huge markups to be made from selling the tour packages as the local economy is rather different and much much cheaper from the one a foreigner and tourists can perceive. Personally I went to Hai Phong by bus, Cat Ba island by motorbike and Halong Bay by ferry, it costs next to nothing and no one pushes you around and try to sell you overpriced stuff that you don’t need or want.
To hang out in town is real fun. The Old Quarter of Hanoi is joyful and mellow, until overly drunk backpackers wearing beer t-shirts or none, and sandals (even if the temperature is below 10 degrees Celsius) fill the streets, at bars closing time. Beer is dirt cheap and fairly good quality; you can sit in one of the Old Quarter Beer Hoi junctions and seep good beer for 7-8000 VND a glass, which is pretty good for South East Asian standards. Night clubs are a little boring, expensive and designed for the posers, hostel parties are mostly for young backpackers drunk since morning, going crazy over inhaling nitrogen balloons; not my seen, but people seem to have fun. There’s plenty of expats, English teachers around, I assume there must me hang out places suitable for them, but I didn’t have the chance to visit.
The local people are really sweet, opinionated and curious. I have had a chance to get in touch with some business groups, start-ups and couchsurfing
people and I must say I really enjoyed the time spent with local Hanoi folks. Needless to say, a lot of the social aspect of Hanoi revolves around food and people, that how I have made most local acquaintances. Food is real good, although hygiene standards are almost nonexistent, and bare in mind that even the fancy restaurant has a kitchen at back in some back alley, so the food hygiene is the same as in the street. Food prices vary a lot, and to be honest I didn’t really get the parameters by which one place is more expensive than the other, who knows?
OK, let’s cut this short and get to the blog post question, is Hanoi a good location for Digital Nomads? My answer is yet, definitely yes. In Hanoi, it’s easy to find places where to work, not so difficult to extend the Visa, accommodation by the week or month is affordable, all of the digital nomads facilities are there and most of all it’s a fun place where to spend a few weeks or months. When it gets overwhelming, there’s a few lakes in town to go rest, jog or chill and plenty of buses and trains to get out to beautiful mountains and islands, what do you want more? Let’s also not forget that the overall cost of life isn’t expensive and it’s also possible to find local jobs are arrange local gigs. There’s enough of a community to be able to sell workshops and so forth. Stay away from the tourism industry and your stay will be really sweet and fun.
This is it for now, I could write much more but so much has already be written by others, no need to repeat. If you have some questions, use the comments area below and go to visit Hanoi, you’ll have a good time!