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Getting around Hanoi

Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travellers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning motorbike-hug). Uber has also launched in Hanoi, and while they has a few districts they operate on, they do offer more consistent pricing than taxis.

By taxi

Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind. Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol. It has also become common for the drivers of some of the less reputable taxi companies to "fix" their meters to run faster hence running up a high bill very fast! The recommendation is to only use the reputable and reliable taxi companies. These are Hanoi Group Taxi, ☎ +84 4 3856 5656), Mai Linh Taxi , ☎ +84 4 3861 6161). As a reference point, Hanoi Group Taxi charges an initial fee of 14,000 dong as a starting price that covers the first few kilometres, then 16,300 dong for every additional kilometre of travel, with 6,000 dong for every 5 minutes of travel. Given this, you should be able to get a general sense of what a reasonable price is in getting around town. Thanh Nga taxis (+84 4 4 3821 5215) are cheaper with smaller, hatchback cars, starting at 9,000 dong + 12,000 dong/km.

Another common scam by taxis is that the driver takes you for a "sightseeing" - and extends the tour to make more money. This is very hard to discover unless you know the city well, but if you catch your driver doing this (e.g. going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice), demand that he stop the taxi and leave the taxi without paying.

Be very careful with meter taxis in Hanoi. Meters have been known to operate "normally" initially, but after you've let your guard down, it jumps to astronomical amounts just before the destination. Some have central locking, and are known to lock passengers in, and demand large amounts of US dollars before letting them go. The driver may threaten to have you beaten up or arrested should you not give in to his demands, but if you kick up enough of a fuss, they will let you go.

Most taxi drivers speak limited English, so it's a good practice to get your hotel to write the name and address of you destination in Vietnamese to show the taxi driver, and get your hotel's business card in case you get lost.

Be vigilant when taking a taxi - driver jumps out at destination and dumps most of your bags out of the trunk. While you're busy putting rucksack on he has taken off with your other bags.

Be vigilant also the meter which can run as far or even faster than a digital clock. A 10min drive can rack up almost USD30 in downtown Hanoi alone! Do keep an eye on the meter during the journey. Fare flag drops starting at 15,000 dong. Bottom line: Stick to the reliable taxi companies listed above to avoid scams. You should take photo or remember taxi number in case you are in bad situation, you can solve it.

When getting off your taxi wait for the driver to open your door, or check both front and back to see if there are any motorcycles whizzing past before opening your door. Although Vietnam is right-hand traffic, ghost motorbike riders could be approaching your taxi on the wrong side.

By Uber/Grab

As of April 2015 Uber can be used in Hanoi. Simply download the app. Expect responsible fares. A 15 minute ride costs about 60,000 dong. However you can also use the app's fare estimate feature.

Grab offers a similar service and has more drivers and options: GrabCar (private car), GrabTaxi (metered taxis using the Grab app) and GrabBike (hop on the back of a GrabBike tagged motorbike, helmet provided). Grab users must have a local phone number and Internet access to use this service. The app quotes you a price per ride and is usually cheaper than waving down a metered taxi or negotiating with traditional xe om drivers. English is limited, but the drivers are friendly.

By motorbike driver

Motorbike drivers ("Xe Om" in Vietnamese) can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). You should absolutely negotiate a fare in advance. As a general rule, a reasonable fare should cost around 10,000 dong per kilometre of travel for a motorbike (possibly varying 10,000 dong in either direction), so know the distance you are travelling or understand that you have no real basis for negotiating a fair rate. Walk away towards the next street filled with motorbike drivers if you don't like their offer, as this is an incredibly reliable bargaining technique. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day.

You should also write down the negotiated fare (with all zeros) to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might mis-hear (accidentally or intentionally) that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000, In case of argument over fares after the ride, keep calm and repeat the original agreement (remember, you have the leverage). Many drivers will accept US dollars as well. At the end of a ride, some will offer to hang around to drive you to your next destination - either be clear that you don't want a return ride (and don't go near him when you leave), or get a price in advance. Otherwise, you might be surprised when the driver tacks on several million dong for having waited.

Keep your wallet out of arms reach of the drivers when you pay, less honest motorbike drivers are not adverse to helping themselves to the cash they think they are entitled to and promptly taking off without waiting for your consent.

By cyclo

Negotiate first or avoid using the cyclos services, they can demand 200,000 dong (USD10) for a short ride of less than 100m (330 ft). At the end of the journey, a few men will come over to translate, and they will pretend to help and later insist that you pay the demanded amount. (VND100.000 for 1 hour is good price, included tip - you have to agree this beforehand.)

Be aware that it is common for cyclo drivers to agree to a price, then take you to a different place, pretend to be confused and hit you up for more money when you reach your destination.

If you chose to travel by cyclo, be clear on your destination, negotiate your fee first (100,000 dong is more than fair for a 30-34 minute ride in any direction), be willing to get out and walk away (if your driver tries any monkey business), also be willing to walk away at the end of the journey if the driver won't stand by your original agreed price.

Motorbike rental

Motorcycles can be rented for around USD5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. A typical bike will be given with 1 litre of fuel, so top up at the nearest petrol kiosk. Queue up with the other bikes, unscrew your fuel cap and hand over your money (USD1 per litre) to the attendant who will top up your bike for you.

This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi is a great place to sharpen motorbike skills, provided you emerge alive. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores. Many shops that have bike attendants will give you a ticket in exchange for parking your bike. This may or may not come with a fee (typically ranging from 2,000-5,000 dong). However, parking at Hoan Kiem lake on a weekend can go up to 10,000 dong. The ticket will either have your license plate number written on it, or the ticket itself will be numbered, with that number subsequently chalked somewhere on your bike. In such cases (where you've been given a ticket), the attendants may ask that you NOT lock the steering column or front wheel of your bike so that they can rearrange the bikes as customers come and go.

Riding outside the city is a refreshing change. Winding through the alleys and through the local markets inaccessible by cars allows you to see Hanoi from a different perspective. Google maps are rather useless once you leave the city due to the number of small lanes, forked roads and roundabouts that do not show up on the map. Stop and ask locals for directions, so be sure to brush up on the correct pronunciation of your destination!

The Riverbank fields just past the flower market can be a great trip within the city stop at the KUB Cafe on route and the staff there will give you some suggested routes around the flower fields.

Motorbike sales

Motorcycles can be bought and sold by foreigners. Many travellers opt to buy their own bike and ride it throughout the country. A lot of riders prefer to start in Hanoi and ride to Saigon as popularized by the British "Top Gear" TV series (although they did it the other way round and swapped to the train for the second half). Many people are unsure about the legality of purchasing bikes in Vietnam. Technically it is illegal for foreigners to own bikes in Vietnam without the proper documentation. However, this law is not enforced and thousands flock to Vietnam annually to buy bikes and ride them all over the country. It is possible to convert your driving licence from your home country to a Vietnamese licence, but few people go through this trouble. It is a well-known fact among riders that the police in Vietnam are highly unlikely to carry out routine traffic stops on foreigners. As long as the rider cares for his or her own safety and the safety of other road users they can go the entire trip without hassles. Most vendors do not sell bikes, they only rent them. There are some trusted companies selling bikes in Hanoi with good track records. The KUB cafe (Kustom Urban Bike) #12 ngõ 264 Âu Cơ, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội offers a great starting point for your journey by motorbike or a great place to end your trip in Vietnam, It's run by bikers for bikers of all sizes.

By bus

Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the more than 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, get on and off you go. On the bus you pay the 7,000 dong to the conductor who will come to you. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to tell the mostly helpful conductor where you want to get off. Stops are often unannounced and do not have signs with their names on them, although there are now some newer buses with LED displays and lilting voices announcing the next stop. It's best to ask the driver or conductor when to get off.

By car

Hanoi's traffic is chaotic, with seemingly perpetual traffic jams, and a large number of almost suicidal motorcyclists and pedestrians. As such, driving yourself around is not recommended and because the International Driver's License is not allowed in Vietnam, and you should leave your transportation needs in the hands of professionals.

By metro

Two lines are under construction. The first line (entirely overground) running between Hà Đông and Cát Linh is due to become operational in September 2017 while the other line (partly underground) running between Nhon and Hanoi Railway Station is scheduled for 2018.