we spent 9 days in Hanoi, Vietnam.
our Airbnb was located in Cống Vị Ward within the Ba Dinh District and across the street from the Lotte Center.
if you haven't noticed already, we book Airbnbs near malls. this might seem counterintuitive to most tourists who like to get the most authentic and local experience possible. but in order to maximize productivity, we need our ecosystem of cafes / workspaces, fast WiFi, grocery stores, and a condensed collection of restaurants. malls work well for our requirements.
the Old Quarter, where most of Hanoi's activity is, was a ~20 minute cab ride away from our Airbnb. we recommend staying near there if you're looking to hit the attractions.
23 Quirks about Hanoi, Vietnam
- despite almond / soy milk being available in grocery stores, cafes do not carry non-dairy milk
- Vietnam has cured the curse of jangly pockets! no coins, only paper money
- many men keep a very long pinky fingernail. the internet says there are several reasons for this: a status symbol (proof he doesn't work in manual labor), a tool for cleaning ears, flipping open coke cans, etc.
- most locals drive motorcycles or scooters. cheaper and able to maneuver better in narrow roads
- scooter drivers will text and be on their cell phones while driving!
- crossing the street is a game of frogger: most crosswalks do not have stop signs or lights. there are so many motorcycles and cars that it is impossible to have a clear opportunity to cross. you just start walking and hope others will slow down or swerve
- unsure if this is the norm across Hanoi, but our condo building blared classical Vietnamese music every day at 4pm
- protein bars are all sold out, in high demand
- Uber and Grab are officially "available" but not in certain areas (like our neighborhood) and are banned during rush hour
- drinks are very sugary! no matter how many times you ask for a black coffee, you'll still get a drink that resembles a milkshake
- can't flush toilet paper down the toilet in most buildings
- usually someone will know a little English in service establishments
- Google reviews and TripAdvisor are popular
- there is no tip line on merchant receipts but people will accept tips
- lots of new property development outside the city center but existing infrastructure is old and rundown
- lots of coffee shops / casual food shops with al fresco dining only (outside)
- air conditioning is not the default
- sidewalks don’t exist everywhere. if you’re a walker, you’ll likely be dodging cars and scooters wizzing past you on the street
- frequent taxi scams, here's an article that helped educate us
- the Noi Bai airport does not take e-boarding passes. printing out boarding passes at home is useless
- there are extra-large burger options at Burger King
- signs in the bathroom to instruct you on how to go to use the toilet. likely due to travelers coming in from the villages who are used to "squat toilets" (ie. a hole in the ground)
- construction workers sleep on-site: we discovered dozens of men sleeping on an unfinished floor of our condo building
Vietnam is about what you'd expect from a quick Google Image search.
last year Ryan went to Ho Chi Minh City for a team retreat and while they had a great time, much of the pain points (poverty, scams, unsanitary restaurants, aggressive street selling, etc) remained.
the silver lining of any poor-ish place, of course, is that if you're open to adventure and tolerant of things that make you uncomfortable, you can save a lot money and make lasting memories.
for Ryan, getting a haircut for $2 USD by a guy dressed like an inmate (baggy orange jumpsuit) with Drake playing the background was one such experience in Vietnam.
we rented a modern Airbnb in a huge 3 building complex with 40+ floors. there was a small 4-story mall downstairs and a larger (60+ floor) mall / hotel building across the street.
while most of our Airbnb experiences were stellar, we had some minor issues with this stay. we typically seek listings with dozens of 5 star reviews. the listing we chose had only 5 reviews. making things suspicious, 3 of them were from guests who had only written 1 review ever (i.e. possibly a friend of the host helping him get started).
anyhow, the listing boasted a "serviced" apartment with an on-site gym. there was no gym and there was no servicing.
next time, we won't take on the risk of a new listing.
pricing ranged from $1.15 for a grilled chicken salad, to $3.00 for sautéed chicken and rice plate, to $20 for high quality all-you-can-eat hot pot, to $30 for all-you-can-eat Japanese BBQ for 2, to $200 for an Argentinian steak platter (wagyu included).
we went to the Argentinian steakhouse on the first night because it was inside our complex and we hadn't yet realized how food was priced in Vietnam. we quickly realized our mistake when we found equally fantastic food for 1/10 of the price.
Rickshaw followers are accountability partners. here's what we achieved in 9 days in Hanoi.
Ryan wrote part II of his new book, Fitness for Hackers, and recapped a 6 month long experiment in email newsletter advertising. with Fomo's new interface now live, Ryan began filming tutorial videos and used his ukulele to make background music.
in side project life, Instacontest is now in BETA with more than a dozen early signups testing and providing feedback. Ryan finished reading First Thousand Copies and So Good they Can't Ignore you, and upgraded servers at Lobiloo to make room for scale.
we visited Ha Long Bay, a coastal town ~3 hours' bus ride from Hanoi. Ha Long Bay is a cluster of over 1,600 limestone islands scattered in a 600 square mile expanse of ocean.
our Airbnb was $58 per night (+ $7 in fees per night). meals were $22 /each on average.
here's a comparison of our New York City vs Hanoi lifestyle.
we ate our way through steakhouses, all-you-can-eat BBQs and the top of the Lotte Center.
a solo digital nomad, or a thriftier couple, could definitely beat our cost of living by at least $700 for the same 9-day stay.
coffee + time = output.
i found myself working from home more often in Hanoi because i simply could not find a decent black coffee and solid wifi connection on the streets. Vietnamese coffee is amazing, but i'm literally tracking all my calories right now for the book project. what signal would i be sending to my body and readers if i'm crushing condensed milk?
on that note, we found an awesome gym around the corner and spent considerable time there.
since one of our companies had a "down month" in February (revenue lower than the month before), i spent most of my time in Hanoi on things in our control: costs.
i canceled a few tools and worked with colleagues to reduce our spend on subscription services. in total we saved at least $7,000 per year from about 50 collective hours of effort.
Ryan has very specific fitness and body goals down to exact measurements. watching him log his fasts, calories, and exercise every day caused me to wonder if I should be doing the same. so i read The 4-Hour Body and took a deep dive into nutrition and fitness research.
The 4-Hour Body says no to all carbs. i dutifully experimented going carb-less for 2 days in Hanoi and found myself miserably scrolling through pictures of ramen on my phone at night.
there's something called the "keto flu", which is the headache and flu-like symptoms experienced by someone starting a carb-free diet. eventually my body would get used to the changes, but i'm not sure i want that.
the conclusion from my experiment and research is that everyone's body reacts to food in different ways. Ryan claims that eating additional carbs beyond the net 4 grams of carbs in Quest protein bars will destroy his body. my body does fine with a small portion of rice, noodles, or bread in a meal.
yes, picking restaurants and sharing food would be easier if i adopted the same diet as my spouse. but i don't want my Asian metabolism to lose its ability to break down carbs effectively. i plan to go back to a diet that includes oatmeal, fruits, and brown rice (all of which are big no-no's according to 4-Hour Body).
one thing i did take away from my reading is the addition of heavier weightlifting to my exercise routine. i stuck to light-weight / high repetition weights back home but i don't have time to do 200 minuscule leg lift micro-movements (called "pulses" in the barre world) while traveling. plus, i'm down to try building up bone density and muscle mass!
Hanoi earned a
67 / 100 score according to our Rubric.
Hanoi's positives: affordability, pho, and Ha Long Bay. otherwise, Hanoi is unfortunately not on our "must revisit" list.
ordering a "black coffee without any sugar, not sweet at all, please make sure there is no sugar" would result in a sugary, creamy concoction. crossing the road was a dangerous game of frogger. Uber and Grab were not available in our area and cabs take advantage of tourists through faulty meters and predatory rate negotiation.
we've checked Hanoi off our list. we'll likely stick to Ho Chi Minh the next time we visit Vietnam.
cảm ơn bạn (means "thank you" in Vietnamese) for reading!