Vietnam's painful recent history is still evidence across Hanoi. Museums in the city clearly depict the bitterness that is still prevalent among the Vietnamese people today, particularly towards the French, who occupied the city for the first half of the twentieth century.
The Vietnam Military History Museum shows evidence of this history, and shows the brutality that was suffered by the native Vietnamese people throughout the French colonization, when Vietnam was known, throughout the world, as French Indochina.
Not all of Hanoi’s history is that unpleasant. The city has determinedly held on to its ancient culture, and a simple stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake and to the temple on Turtle Island will show you the rich past of this city, and how the strength of the Vietnamese people has prevailed throughout decades of oppression.
In the capital city of Hanoi, expats are an easy target for crimes such as bag snatching, especially by locals whizzing around on motorbikes and scooters. Violent crimes are rare in the city, but a stranger to the region may feel unsafe walking around on their own late at night.
It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your passport or identification with you at all times, but it is also a good idea to leave your real one locked in your apartment.
Expatriates are also an easy target for scams, so if you are approached in the street with offers of fantastic experiences always speak to other travelers or colleagues before going with anyone.
The number for the police in Vietnam is 113 and should always be called in an emergency. The person on the other end of the line may not speak English very well, but should be able to find someone who you will be able to talk to.
The first drive on the streets of Hanoi can be an intimidating experience, with motorbikes and scooters whizzing around the city with no apparent regard for anyone around them.
Although this is a sort of organized chaos, walking around on the city can be a challenge, with vehicles parked all over the pavements giving pedestrians little room. The best advice is to cross at pedestrian-crossings whenever possible or follow the lead of the locals and cross roads while traffic is stopped at junctions.
Taxis in Hanoi are inexpensive, but the costs can add up if you are using them regularly. Buses are a more affordable option but the time it takes to get anywhere in the city center is multiplied tenfold by the traffic, which is made even worse by the apparent disregard motorbike and scooter drivers have for other road users.