Hà Nội Scribbles

Travel & Living in Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam in 10 internet searches (Newbie Guide)

If you have never been to Vietnam before it can be somewhat baffling. So, here are my top 10 Google searches to help make sense of Vietnam.

In no particular order:

1) Why is Westlife still so popular in Vietnam?

It’s quite baffling to discover the Irish boy band is still big in Vietnam. Get over it, as you are going to hear Westlife songs wherever you go. Particularly in karaoke bars and coffee shop playlists. Vietnam is into slushy ballads, so they are a natural fit with the boys from Dublin.

2) What’s this obsession with Bolero?

Nothing to do with the opera of the same name, or the iconic ice skating routine by Torville and Dean, but rather a music genre that’s wildly popular throughout Vietnam. Again, the hallmark is gushy ballads of love lost. Every boléro song contains the words ‘một mình’ (alone) at least once.

3) Where is the nearest shopping mall to me?

You will definitely want to search this one, especially during the summer heatwave. All the cool kids hang out at the mall. Literally. You can’t beat a good dose of free air conditioning.

If you haven’t already done so, download a riding hailing service, and go to the shopping mall in the back of a cab. Stay at the mall until it cools down in the late afternoon. Many malls have cinemas, which is handy when it is mental hot outside and you don’t want to spend any more time at home in your bedroom with the air con on full blast wondering what has become of your life.

Some malls, like the Aeon Mall outside Hanoi, run a dedicated shuttle bus service.

4) I am a bit strapped for cash, what I can do for almost zero money this weekend?

You don’t have to Google this one. I have this covered already in this previous blog post above. If you have any low-cost bright ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments. We have all been there at some time or another.

5) Where can I get a Hanoibus card?

Much of what is available online is now out of date. In a nutshell, to get a bus card, pop along to a bus station and search out a Hanoibus kiosk. They are usually little white and blue shacks. They are also located beside some bus stops on major roads.


Ask for a bus card application form. You will be given a badly printed form to fill in, which you need to return to the kiosk along with two ID pics. Take the form along with you to the photographer’s to ensure you get the right size pictures. On handing in your completed form and pics, you will be given a receipt and a date to come back for your card. Return on the given day, and you will be given your bus card in exchange for 200,000 VND. Time your application towards the end of the month.

You are now good to go on any Hanoibus and the BRT route for a month. Simply return to the kiosk and top up your card for another month’s cheap as chips bus travel.

Check out my pro tips for riding the bus system in Hanoi. As red tape in Vietnam goes, obtaining a bus card is about the easiest thing you will navigate.

6) Why is Vietnamese coffee so strong?

I am not a big coffee drinker, but nothing prepares you for Vietnamese coffee and its laxative properties if drunk to excess (two).

cà phê sữa đá (iced white coffee) at a street cafe in Ha Noi, Vietnam

Or maybe that’s just me. To be savoured for sure while relaxing in a coffee shop for an hour or more watching the world go by. You may also be surprised to learn that Vietnam is the world’s largest coffee exporter after Brazil.

7) Which motorbike for Vietnam?

If you are considering buying or renting a motorbike, please check your insurance, it is highly likely you are not covered for falling off and getting injured as you will undoubtedly do. Much safer, if less convenient, to travel by bus.

If you are mad enough to want to tackle the roads on two wheels, budget at least $75 per month plus petrol (gas) to rent a decent well-maintained bike. Around $200, maybe less, will get you a bike from a backpacker who is desperate to sell. Budget plenty for putting it right despite claims that it never missed a beat all the way from Hanoi/Saigon and has a cute name.

Honda Super Cub motorbike Hanoi Vietnam

As well as investing in security measures to ensure your two-wheeled stead does not get stolen, invest in a decent Western-style crash helmet. The Vietnamese 200k helmets have the safety rating of a ping pong ball and cover you for adhering to the letter of the law, not brain damage and a lengthy bankrupting stay in hospital relieved partially by friends launching a GoFundMe in the hope of covering some of the medical bills. Not to mention life-changing injuries. If you are lucky.

That said, I know someone who fractured a bone when the bus he was travelling in had to make an emergency stop thanks to a death-defying Ninja Lead cutting up the bus. Still, he is the only person I know that’s been injured while riding the bus. I know plenty who have been injured in bike accidents. In fact, a while back there was a statistics floating around that some 92% of foreigners presenting to hospitals in Vietnam were there due to motorbike-related injuries.

8) How difficult is Vietnamese?

Very. Especially for native English speakers used to speaking out the corner of their mouth while eating and balancing a cigarette in the other corner. On rare occasions, you do meet fluent Westerner speakers but they are very much the minority. Everyone else is still forlornly trying to progress past ordering food.

Recently, I compared learning Vietnamese to climbing Mount Everest with your bootlaces tied together. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but that’s how it feels sometimes. Check out the VN course for English speakers on duolingo.com, that’s a good place to start. Practice with native speakers as much as possible, preferably ones that don’t speak any English. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Constantly. It’s only by mangling the pronunciation on multiple occasions that you learn.

Also, see this previous blog post as an alternative means to learn Vietnamese.

9) Will Vietnam stop surprising me?

No. Every day will have its WTF moment. I will return to the UK the day after Vietnam stops surprising me. Safe to say no time soon then.

10) Are there non-English teaching jobs in Vietnam?

Yes. However, some 98% of native English speakers, at a guess, are teaching English. The other 2% are in business or working for NGOs.

Do you agree? Let me know now

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