4 Tips for Staying Safe in Hanoi
Hanoi is widely regarded as the commercial, cultural and education center of the north of Vietnam. Besides the benefits of living in Hanoi, there are also numerous threats to health that anyone with the intention of living and working in Hanoi for any length of time ought to be aware of. I will be discussing those, as well as the best way of avoiding their effects during your stay.
Hanoi is famous for the variety and availability of it’s street food. It’s almost ubiquitous and is served on the street corners, by the market stalls, on the pavements and in peoples living rooms. It’s convenient, reasonably priced and tasty. The problem is that many of the vendors use poor quality ingredients, such as meat that isn’t fresh to cut costs and will use bleaching agents, dyes and preservatives to mask the flavor. Another issue is that proper hygiene standards when preparing this food can’t be enforced so everything is left to the buyers discretion. For that reason, buying and cooking your own food is always the safest option.
Whenever you do choose to eat the street food for convenience, one practical tip to stay safe is to choose those places that are crowded with local customers. Besides that, the vendors that prepare and cook the food in a visible place, allowing you to observe their standards of hygiene, are automatically deserving of more credit. This way, if anything appears unacceptable to you, at least you’re aware of that before you’ve eaten their food. Finally, take a look inside the rooms next to the area used for preparing the food. If there’s any sign that fresh food, particularly sauces, are being kept at room temperature, be aware that this is an environment which easily breeds bacteria. It would be best at that point to leave for another place.
Dengue is one of the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne diseases. In July of 2019, the number of reported cases of Dengue fever had increased 3-fold since the same time the previous year to just under 100,000 cases in Hanoi alone. Although it’s rarely fatal, it can require hospitalization and can have some very unpleasant symptoms such as severe stomach pain, persistent vomiting, fast breathing, bleeding gums and fatigue. The following are some essential safety-tips for avoiding this disease;
- Mosquitoes can breed in anything that can contain water – even something as small as a bottle cap. Once per week you should clean up around your home and make sure that any potential-dengue breeding sites are cleared away as soon as possible.
- Deet spray is widely available in most supermarkets and pharmacists and can be used in small amounts to repel mosquitoes. Spraying this on your skin is only safe in small doses. At dusk in summertime or if you are staying anywhere near lakes or ponds in Hanoi it can be very useful to spray on your clothes or near the windows or doors of your apartment.
- Sleeping with a mosquito net is essential. These are relatively cheap and can be sourced on Shoppee or similar online shopping sites.
Motorbike is the primary mode of transport in Hanoi and is an economical and convenient way to get around the city. Due to the volume of traffic, it is generally slow, making it reasonably safe to participate in. Motorcyclists shouldn’t underestimate the dangers though because when traffic accidents do occur, there is little to protect you from the impact as compared with driving a car. The first action to take to stay safe on the road is to make sure your motorbike is serviced by a reputable garage before using it. A quick google search should be all you need to find out the names and locations of trustworthy places.
Next, before taking to the streets, I highly recommend getting driving lessons until you are sure you’re comfortable to drive. The Department of Transportation (Traffic) and Public Works is located in Cao Ba Quat Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi and can provide English-language driving instruction for foreigners residing in Hanoi. As for the actual driving bit, you need to stay calm to cope with the chaos. People will surpass you from the left and the right, cars will come in your lane, everyone will honk at you… this is all common. Just make sure to stay calm and keep your focus on the road!
Switzerland-based air quality monitor IQAir AirVisual’s 2018 World Air Quality Report ranked Hanoi as the city with the second worst air quality in south east Asia in that year. The report measured particulate matter of up to 2.5 micrometers in each cubic meter of air. This problem has several causes but dense traffic, emissions from construction projects, industrial facilities and waste burning are the main ones. Exposure to high levels of air pollution is only a health risk over the long term for anyone without a history of respiratory problems such as asthma or cystic fibrosis, but to lessen the risks to our health from the poor air quality in Hanoi, the following practical steps are advised.
‘Airvisual’ is an app that will show you the air quality index anywhere in the city at any time in terms of PM2.5 per m3 of air. Anything over 250 is considered seriously hazardous to anyone’s health. These areas as they appear on the Airvisual app map are usually areas of dense traffic. This app allows you to know in advance which areas to avoid.
Another measure, which the majority of Hanoians use, is to wear a mask. The best masks are known as N95 and N99 masks. These block between 95 & 95% of PM2.5 out and can be sourced from the main hospitals in Hanoi for roughly 70,000 VND.
Finally, air pollution is at its worst during the dry season from late November until early April. At this time, limiting outdoor activities in those central areas of the city when PM2.5 levels are higher than the safe level is advisable. If you have to go out at those times in those parts, going by bus or taxi would be the best option for you.