Despite first appearances (crazy traffic, anyone?) and more than 8 million people, Hanoi is a relatively easy city to get around. Transportation, especially modes that are used by locals, is cheap and convenient. Even taxis, which can be pricey, are surprisingly cost effective in Hanoi, and Vietnam in general. But how do you find out about this if you aren’t a local?
Grab a Grab
It’s easy and cheap to use a motorcycle taxi to get around in Hanoi. If you’re familiar with Uber, Grab works the same way. Download the Grab app to your mobile device and sign up, then enter your current address and the address of your destination. You can choose a motorcycle, taxi or car and the app will tell you how much your trip will cost. You can track your ride on the app, and you can choose to pay by credit card or in cash. If you use credit card, you’ll have to set it up in advance.
Be aware that your driver may call you (see how to get a local SIM) and he may not speak English. If that’s the case, just pass your phone to someone nearby, such as staff in a café, shop or security, and tell them “Grab.” They’ll tell your driver the address, give your phone back and will probably want to be your Facebook friend!
Ride with a local
Before Grab entered the transport scene, locals would use a xe om (pronounced say ohm) to get around Hanoi. A xe om is someone who will drive you to your location on their motorcycle, but unlike Grab, you’ll have to negotiate your price — and it may be more expensive than using the Grab app. You’ll hear someone call out: “Motorcycle?” as you walk past, or there may even be signage. Some xe om drivers park on corners or near popular eating and drinking spots so their customers know where to find them. If you have to be somewhere regularly, the xe om is an excellent, reliable transportation option because you arrange your trip direct with your driver and avoid having to wait for Grab drivers to become available.
Take the public bus
Hanoi’s public bus system is reliable and your fare will cost you just VND7,000 (about 30 cents). You can download a timetable app to your phone, or just use Google, to tell you where to catch the bus and how long it will take to get to your destination. When you board the bus, the conductor will approach you to pay the fare and give you a ticket. You may need to change buses, and there may be some walking involved, but what better way to see Hanoi and mix in with the locals?
And you can also use a bus to get to and from the airport. The 86 Express Bus is the preferred way for locals. At only VND30,000 ($1.50), it’s a super cheap and convenient option compared to a taxi (which will cost you VND300,000 or $15) or a Grab taxi (will cost you VND200,000 or $10).
Rent a motorcycle
If you have a motorcycle license and you are comfortable driving in chaotic traffic like you find in Hanoi, renting a motorcycle could be a good choice for you. Renting a motorbike on a daily or monthly basis gives you the freedom to explore Hanoi — and beyond — on your terms. If you don’t have an international motorcycle license, you can opt for a 50cc (for example, a Honda Cub) or an electric bike. Make sure you wear a helmet at all times and that your travel insurance covers accidents (which sometimes happen) if you intend to a rent motorcycle in Hanoi.
Photo credit: Diane Lee, Long Bien Bridge, June 2019