First things first, we really like Hanoi, we don’t want this guide to put you off going to this fantastic city. Naturally if you fall victim to a few scams it can leave a sour taste in the mouth so this post is to help make sure you can avoid them and have a fantastic experience.
Hanoi does have a reputation for all kinds of annoyances and scams, more so than anywhere else we’ve been to in Southeast Asia, some of it fair and some probably less so. Lots of travellers seem to take a dislike to the city, so we were unsure how our experience would be. Happily we’ve loved our stays in Hanoi, and found the vast majority of people to be incredibly friendly and welcoming.
We’ve visited twice in the last six years and had a great time on both visits.
Is Hanoi Safe?
Hanoi is one of the best cities in Asia to visit. It has an incredible food scene (and we are not foodies), history and a culture that can excite even the most weary traveller.
Unlike places such as Bangkok where you can feel that you are herded into tourist places at an arms length from the authentic Thai experience, Hanoi integrates tourists seamlessly. The Old Quarter in particular is full of locals cooking street food, selling things and acting in exactly the same way as they would without tourists.
This is probably part of the reason why people fear the scams.
For us, Hanoi has always been a safe place. This doesn’t mean that we haven’t been scammed, but it’s been harmless and hasn’t put us off the city. The thing to bear in mind is that the main problems are annoyances: taxi drivers wanting inflated fares, pickpockets and minor con artists.
Hanoi isn’t like some of the stories we’ve heard about South American cities where people are robbed at knife or gun point. At worst you’ll be a little poorer (and we mean a few dollars poorer). So long as you are sensible, it’s likely your visit to Hanoi will be trouble-free. And of course scams like these happen all of the world, so it’s not unique to Hanoi.
On that note, here’s the scams to avoid and how to keep those dollars in your pocket.
What to avoid in Hanoi - Taxi Scams
Taxis are the biggest concern for anyone visiting Hanoi, but things have got a lot better in the six years since we last visited.
There are a couple of common problems that happen with the taxis in Hanoi and here are the ones to look out for. The main concern is the taxi ride from the airport.
Hanoi Airport Taxi scam
The airport is a haven of potential scammers. On our first trip, the plane landed at 2am which made us sitting ducks. There were very few taxi drivers there and I’m pretty sure they all were scammers.
Most will try to demand a fixed fare that’s well over the asking rate. Ensure you get in a taxi that will agree to go by the meter (it should end up costing about $10-15 USD).
However, even those that use a meter like to scam. Their favourite ploy is to claim there were tolls on the way into the city. This isn’t true, so hold your ground and only pay the rate on the meter, but we wouldn’t recommend getting aggressive. This will likely cause more problems.
First time we visited, we fell victim to this one and at 2am it was pretty horrible, especially knowing our luggage was locked in the boot of the taxi. We were forced to pay $20 on top of the fare and relented as we were utterly exhausted by 3am.
On our second trip we arrived in the day and had no trouble at all. Try to arrive in the day light hours and this will be a much more pleasant experience.
The fake hotel
Another favourite of the Hanoi airport taxi scammers is to prey on those who haven’t booked a hotel. You’ll ask to go to a certain hotel to either be told “sorry it’s full, I’ll take you to their new one, cheaper and better” or to just be taken to a fraud copy of the one you want. Once there you’ll see nasty accommodation, inflated prices and some pushy people.
We’d recommend booking a hotel before you arrive, caching google maps to see where it is and following this as you go along. This way you can ensure that your driver isn’t conning you.
Hanoi Train Station is another favourite place for taxi drivers who suddenly refuse to use the meter. On every street within a kilometre of the station, taxi drivers will demand inflated fares to get into the city, scamming foreigners who have just got off a long train journey and will just pay to get to a soft bed and a warm shower.
The easiest fix for this is to use the Grab app (more on that below). You’ll be able to get a fixed rate that is fair and not have to worry about dodgy dealings.
The rapid meter
This is the hardest to work out as by the time you do, it’s too late. Another favourite scam for taxi drivers is to masquerade as a legitimate taxi, switch on the meter and then before you know it you’re paying three times the rate.
Whilst this is annoying, the context is that you’ll pay $3 USD rather than $1 USD. It is hard to know what to do in this situation as you could walk out as soon as you see it, but run the risk of being stranded. Alternatively you could refuse to pay anything other than what you feel is a fair amount, but this is tricky to know.
If you choose to argue, do it with a calm approach. Like many countries in Asia, the Vietnamese can see aggression as “losing face” and the situation could turn nasty. Don’t raise your voice and simply state that you won’t pay what they are charging. Hold your ground and you may be in luck.
Alternatively chalk it down to experience and pay up which is what we did after trying to argue at first.
Read next: 7 Amazing things to do on Cat Ba Island
How to avoid taxi scams in Hanoi
Organise an airport transfer before you arrive
The majority of hotels in Hanoi will be able to arrange an airport transfer for your arrival. It may cost a little more than a legitimate taxi, but you’ll have peace of mind that your driver knows where they’re going and you won’t get conned.
Don’t get a flight that lands at night if possible
Don’t get a plane that lands in the middle of the night unless you have a airport transfer organised. The airport is about 45 minutes away from the city and at this time of night you are hostage to the scammers.
Book your hotel before you arrive
Booking a hotel before arriving in Hanoi will remove your reliance on the taxi driver’s honesty. It avoids being told your choice is full, closed or has a newer/better option available (all of which are normally a lie).
Cache your google maps to see where you’re going
This advice is probably over the top, but it’s something I like to do to know for sure what’s going on. Before I get in a taxi, I will look up where I’m going on google maps (this can even be as early as the airport before getting on the flight!).
Even if you are offline, google will keep what you looked at including a pin of the location and a blue dot showing where you are.
This way you can check if your driver is trying to scam you by either taking you to the wrong hotel or round the very long way.
Always demand to use the meter and look for taxis with a lot of stickers on them
Always get in a taxi with a meter and try to have small denominations of Vietnamese Dong with you. This will mean you can pay the meter fee and hold your ground if they demand an inflated fare (there’s nothing more awkward than demanding a cheaper fare and needing to get change from the person trying to fleece you).
Mai Linh are always a safe bet (the taxis in green), so pick these taxis when possible. As a rule of thumb, those with policy stickers and rates on the door are usually safe. However, we’ve been conned by one that had police phone numbers and rates on it, so you can never tell.
Download the Grab app
Ride-sharing apps have made a huge difference in travelling around Asia and nowhere is this more apparent than Vietnam.
Hanoi uses Grab, an app that’s just like Uber. Funnily enough, it can be a little more expensive than a genuine taxi, but you’ll avoid the potential for a dodgy taxi meter or a driver demanding more.
Add your credit card to the account and the driver has no choice but to accept the fare the app charges.
Note that if you don’t add your credit card and have to pay cash you can still be asked for more money than the fare should be. We had this happen but he asked in advance and we got straight out the car.
Read next: Phong Nha - Our favourite place in Vietnam
Pickpockets & Bag Snatchers
Bag Snatchers - on the decline
The good news is that the bag snatching I had heard a lot about on my first visit seems to have quietened down. This was a scheme where thieves would ride on motorbikes and try to steal your bag by cutting it from you.
You are particularly vulnerable if you are wearing a bag that is slung across your shoulder - sometimes this would lead to dragging the poor victim along the street as well, causing serious injury.
It was a horrible crime to try to avoid, but we talked to the young Vietnamese staff at our hotel and they said this is now uncommon (and they were very open about all the current scams in the city). Note that it is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City.
However, we’d recommend to always use a bag with two straps if you are walking around the city (this seems to deter people) and to always keep your valuables in a safe in your hotel. We’d also recommend keeping your camera in your bag rather than across your body.
Even though it’s unlikely to happen in Hanoi, it is better to be cautious and aware.
Pickpocketing can be a problem in Hanoi, so be careful with your valuables. Once again, this is rare, but it pays to be aware. If possible, keep your valuables out of view (camera in a rucksack etc etc).
Don’t leave your phone or wallet in your pockets. We were told that it is very uncommon in the day time but is rife in the night markets and periodically happens on the street at night.
We’ve never experienced pickpocketing in Hanoi, but it pays to be safe.
The donut sellers in the Old Quarter
A new and strange annoyance is the plethora of deep fried puff sellers in the Old Quarter. Luring you in with a taster and some polite talk, you’ll soon find that you’ll be having a bag of food thrust into your hand and a demand for money.
The fee will be hugely inflated, this one happened to us. I am a sucker for big smiles and naively took the first donut and then was asked for 150,000 dong ($7.50 USD). I handed the bag back but did have to pay for the one I took which was a ridiculous price.
Just say no to all of them immediately, and believe me you will see a lot of them!
Annoyances in Hanoi
Crossing the road
When you first arrive in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, you’ll be staggered by the amount of motorbikes. It can be intimidating walking around and crossing the road looks like a nightmare.
Unlike six years ago, Vietnam has a lot more pedestrian crossing which drivers are beginning to stick to. We remembered that everyone ignored red lights on our previous trip, but this has got a lot better. Sure, some drivers like to skip the light, but 90% of them will stop.
If you don’t have a traffic light or pedestrian crossing, then study the locals. The trick is to move at a steady pace - don’t speed up or stop suddenly. This gives the motorcyclists enough time to manoeuvre, making you feel like Moses crossing the Red Sea.
With a little practise, even the most nervy person can master the art of crossing busy streets in Hanoi. It’s not nearly as bad as Ho Chi Minh so don’t worry about this one!
Where to stay in Hanoi
The Holiday Emerald Hotel
This place is certainly not a scam, with the friendliest staff you’ll ever meet. They will help you with great suggestions of where to eat, what to see and even help you navigate the taxis to ensure you don’t get scammed.
The hotel is in the middle of the Old Quarter, meaning you can walk to many of the major sights. The rooms are spacious, clean, really comfortable and come with a good breakfast (we recommend the ice coffee as a “pick me up!”).
Make sure you request a room with a window ($10 extra) as many don’t have any. They are still good rooms, but can make waking up a little harder! 😂
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Are you planning a trip to Hanoi? Or have you been and have something to share? Let us know in the comments below!