Transportation in Hanoi “take an hour, two hours traffic time” according to one experienced traverser of the city. The busses are mapped at the bus stops, but the internet’s extensive misinformation impedes visitation by anyone other than the diplomats and other kinds of international men and women of mystery who populate the city, bankers, and Vietnamese government officials. As a tourist or a foreign expert like me, you will find that going from point A to point B might take longer or be more expensive than you could have planned.
“Maybe take motocike” suggests another helpful Hanoian. If you hop on the back of an unregistered, unmarked scooter taxi, you will have to negotiate first. Here, everybody decides everything for themselves, on the spot, which can make not knowing Vietnamese extremely difficult. Fortunately, since, as a tourist, you are a novelty, you can easily make a few gestures, and act funny. Then, you might receive the wages of a mime, forgiveness for your foolishness, and a reasonable price. Many people here consume more caffeine than other places, so they are grateful to relieve some stress using your humblest sense of humor. The moto-taxis will be the fastest, cheapest way to go anywhere, but risk your bones more than your dollars (or dong).
“Street street; bus,” I am waved off by the operator of a government ticket booth. The bus costs 7,000 dong wherever you go, on whichever route, around the city. There isn’t an accurate map that I could find on the internet, so I will be filling the niche shortly with GPS mapped bus routes. The bus map on the stands can be accurate but isn’t exactly well marked. Don’t consier boarding a bus in Hanoi if you think you will become indignant at someone physically removing you from your sitting or standing position so that a more local rider can have their special space. It will happen, with harsh words that you don’t understand. Just be calm, avoid eye contact, or quick movements, and try to at least look obedient. Then, you will survive like me.
“Don’t go out at night there” advises a Thai friend of mine. She was right. Of course, I did go out, because I went to a movie, but I avoided any social activity after dark. The taxi might try to rob you by lying about which bills he can give as change. Just be cool; don’t get too excited about it. The most duplicitous one I know tried to take my dong wrong; I serendipitously pulled out a camera. He gave me my change after I recorded his license plate and taxi number photographically.
“You can take bike; come back tonight,” explains my landlord, meaning that I can’t drive here, in a scooter or a car. On Tet night, I rode a 30 year old bicycle down the main street, Hong Quoc Viet, across town to the movie theatre, about 3 miles. I saw about 5 or ten cars. Nobody else was riding a bicycle. On other days, it looks suicidal. I see a few people do it, but they are the milk cows of the traffic farm. Beautiful, young, and far too kind to kill, these riders bask in their humility until they get sunburned, and turn to a Mercedes. If you have to read this article, you aren’t in that category. Don’t ride a bike in Hanoi unless you do it too early to see many cars, or too late. Folding bicylces that can be bussed and packed might be a safer choice.