Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 08/12/14

Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam 08/12/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Nope...other assignments in Latin America.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

DC to Hanoi via Seoul is the official route. Approaching 24 hours door to door.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years: 2012-2014.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Worked at U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is limited to apartments for singles, couples, and small families. Only two or three apartment buildings are used to facilitate shuttle vans from home to the office. Each apartment building has pro's and con's so the housing pool is fairly egalitarian and 20-30 minutes to the Embassy. Higher ranked and larger families get houses 30-40 minutes to Embassy that are huge but lacking in character.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Fresh fruit, veggies, and meat from "wet" markets are very cheap. Western style grocery stores are available but inconvenient to embassy housing. There's also Metro which is a poor man's version of Costco. Recommend taking advantage of the consumables shipment.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Consumables is the main thing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Hanoi is slow to embrace foreign franchises. Starbucks recently opened. Otherwise it's KFC, BK, Pizza Hut, a couple Filipino places and that's it. That said, you can order lots of food online and have it delivered quickly for a pittance.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Not many. Probably a lot of spraying.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available and inexpensive. US$120-200/month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Apartments have gyms. Private workout facilities are avaialble at NYC prices.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Neither is terribly common.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by without the local language. If you stray far from the tourist trail, it's going to be difficult.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

In Hanoi people in wheelchairs use the street. Sidewalks are unpassable for all but the most agile walkers. People with disabilities are rarely seen.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

People use all and all are cheap. A cab ride across town is rarely more than US$5-7. Buses are 10 cents (I think) and a couple brave expats use them. They can be hot and packed. Train service is possible with the best service to Sa Pa.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Probably only 1/3 of employees have them and those are the ones with kids. Smaller is better. Toyotas are the most popular and easily serviced.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Slow to moderate speed available. Free to US$50 depending on where you live.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

State control of the cell phone industry means dirt cheap prices. I paid US$5-10/month for 3G data. Well sometimes it was more like 2G or 2.5G but the price was right.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Very casual in public. Business casual to formal at work. It's a warm climate.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

IF you are a single guy, you may have some girls try to swipe your iPhone from you while another distracts you. Otherwise a very safe country.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Moderate level health care. Serious issues are medevaced to Bangkok or Singapore.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Declining unfortunately. I often biked on the weekends but was constantly getting sick. After I quit biking, I didn't get sick. Causation or correlation?

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

From April to October it's hot and humid to grossly hot and humid. Winters are pleasantly cool though it can go weeks and possibly months without any sunshine. Weather is not one of Hanoi's attributes.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Moderate. Few foreign business people in contrast to HCMC. Most expats are from foreign missions, NGOs, IOs, etc.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all. Endless street food options for those willing to pull up a plastic seat on the curb. Nicer restaurants are available too and not as overrun with expats as many other SE Asian cities.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Surprisingly progressive for SE Asia. Not sure if i would go so far as to call it good though. That said, I doubt an expat gay couple would face any problems.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Several African-Americans at post expressed uncomfortableness in Hanoi. Lots of stares.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Touring the country. I highly recommend excursions outside of Hanoi to see the rest of Vietnam. Much of the population remains rural which is easy to forget in the loud, congested, increasingly polluted capital.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The mountainous provinces (not Sa Pa) are the real undiscovered gems of Vietnam. Google Ha Giang and you will see what I mean. Beaches are ok. Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands are supposed to be nice though I never made it to either.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Paintings and lacquer stuff

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Cheap living, cheap international and domestic flights. Domestic help cheap and available.Compared to HCMC, Hanoi has far more cultural and historical sites to visit. The old quarter is great to walk around at any time of day. Riding a motorbike at night through the city brings a whole new perspective on the city.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. But don't forget your:

Spirit of adventure. Vietnam is a great country to explore.

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3. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Oodles of movies about the Vietnam war.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Oodles of books about the Vietnam war.

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