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Can you survive Hanoi on a bike? And is it worth the benefits of cycling? My experiences after a year…

When I told people in Hanoi that I cycled around the city I would receive some very confused expressions. Many people thought it was I was pretty crazy.

Hanoi is one of most congested cities in the world. The sheer amount of traffic and pollution can only be understood after seeing it firsthand. For the majority of the day the roads pulse with motorcycles, cars and buses all in a mad panic to get to their destination in the quickest means possible.

This is a land where the highway-code is a mere suggestion, a place where when there is no room left to shove on the road vehicles switch to the pavements instead. Often described as ‘organised chaos’, the sea of vehicles swerve, dodge, overtake and hand-break turn, with larger vehicles always having priority. This means for smaller vehicles a completed journey should be considered a miraculous achievement.

At the bottom of the food-chain bicycles are a rare sight on the streets. Navigating the roads is difficult enough in an armoured vehicle, on a bicycle you really are at the mercy of the thousands of people weaving around you. This is why people would think I’m mad, a foreign girl on a bike cycling in Hanoi. To me though, the benefits of cycling outweigh the odd looks I get and the occasional games of chicken played with motorists.  

Girl cycling on bike in farmers field
Greener times cycling in the rolling countryside of East Anglia. Not a car or motorbike in sight

Cycling has always been my favourite mode of transport. It’s the quickest, greenest, healthiest and cheapest option (besides walking). Cycling benefits your mind, body, soul and the world. I decided I wasn’t going to let a change of address stop me peddling from place to place. The locals cycled (sometimes) so why couldn’t I?

Shortly after arriving to Hanoi it became apparent I’d need something to get me from A to B for work. J had bought a motorcycle which we use when we were together but I needed to travel up to 10 km to teach my English classes.

Buses and taxis were incredibly slow because of the traffic and were also pretty costly – not an option. Despite the chaos I’d seen on the roads, and the warnings from locals, I went with my gut and bought a second-hand bike.

She was in great condition, had a basket and lock with it: everything I needed. She was beautiful and I called her Blue Bell. Off I went into the world as a cyclist on the streets of Hanoi – what a far cry from cycling in Europe!

Fast forward over a year from the first day Bluebell and myself hit the road to the time of writing this and I’m still alive! The experience has been character building to say the least and I’m proud of sticking to my guns by taking the greener option.

If a foreign girl can cycle the mean streets of Hanoi then there is nothing stopping YOU from taking the greener option too. No matter where you are, you’ve got no excuse (If you live in the Arctic or mountainous regions we might let you off).

Here are just some of the benefits of cycling and why you need to ditch those petrol polluting vehicles and find yourself a Bluebell!

Cycling is much greener

Most importantly for me is the fact that cycling is the greener option. This applies wherever you are in the world but in Hanoi the negative effects we’re having on our planet are very visible.

Whilst in Hanoi we used an app called Plume to show the pollution level in the city. To give you an idea of how bad the situation is, on the day of writing this the air pollution in London was at 18, in Hanoi it was 166. 166! And, unfortunately that’s not that bad for Hanoi, sometimes it exceeded 300…

To be honest you didn’t need an app to tell you how bad the pollution was. Some days you would struggle to see buildings 100 metres away, half the population live in pollution masks and most disturbingly your face and clothes would be filthy after a 10 minute journey across town.

Although a lot of industrial areas of western China impact the air quality in Hanoi, the main culprit is vehicle emissions. I was sad to discover, no matter the distance, the people of Hanoi would jump on their motorbikes to get around. Footpaths were just extensions of the road and sadly walking was not seen as an option.

In a city so consumed with pollution my desire to protect the planet was even stronger. With a population of 7.5 million inhabitants, if more people chose to cycle pollution levels could decrease significantly. People would be able to go outside without a mask and breathe fresh air. Perhaps the some animals would return to Hanoi, a city very obviously lacking natural life. 

Being outdoors is meant to be healthy but when you have to wear an anti-pollution gas mask wherever you go the last thing you feel is healthy. We all need to take it upon ourselves and do something about this – remember one of the benefits of cycling is that is has no emissions at all.

Travelling to Vietnam? Here’s all the info and tips you need on how to get a visa for Vietnam

A busy market street in Hanoi filled with mopeds
A busy market in Hanoi
Typical street in Hanoi
Those leaves are about all the green you’ll see in Hanoi

And much healthier

Not only is it better for the environment, cycling benefits your heart and circulation. Finding the time to exercise can be difficult so being able to commute and do some cardio at the same time is surely a winner? Each week most of us spend huge amounts of time travelling and if we did this by bike think of all the exercise we’d be getting!

Plus, all this extra activity means you won’t feel guilty about eating that extra helping of tofu (that I always seemed to indulge in). Even in polluted cities like Hanoi, why not make the best of a bad situation and burn a few calories during your morning commute?

Bikes are cheaper and you don’t need to pay for petrol

Besides walking, cycling is the cheapest option – who doesn’t want to save a few pennies, ey? After the initial cost of the bike there is very little else you’ll be paying for. There may be a few maintenance costs such as replacing tyres or break cables but they’re cheap as chips compared to the costs of petrol.

The only other problem I encountered was getting a screw stuck in my tyre miles from home and needing a mechanic to fix it. Despite my lack of Vietnamese I managed to use hand gestures to explain the problem. 15 minutes and 70,000 VND later (£2.30) I was off again. If this had happened to a moped or car think how much more it would have cost.

A Vietnamese temple filled with mopeds outside
Seeing moped parking spilling onto the pavements is a very typical sight in Hanoi

Cycling is not as dangerous as you’d think…

Safety was the main concern when I told people I was cycling in Hanoi, and I won’t sugar coat it, the roads in Hanoi are horrendous. Daytime hours were bad but during rush hour the roads turned into an avalanche of vehicles emitting a constant stream of fumes into the atmosphere. All accompanied by a deafening amount of tooting and beeping.

As mentioned before the highway-code isn’t much of a consideration and the police have a relaxed attitude towards the law (unless they can get a bribe out of it). For locals and tourists this means road traffic accidents are unfortunately common. There’s a long standing debate in Hanoi about whose driving is worse, the locals or the expats. Regardless of where you stand on this debate there’s no denying the roads are a bloody dangerous place.

The only other people who seem to cycle in Hanoi are elderly men and women selling fruit or flowers. They’d leisurely go about their day merging with the frenzy of traffic. One of the disadvantages of cycling is definitely feeling more exposed, as a newbie to the city this was extremely nerve-racking at first.

Fortunately it didn’t take long to get used to cycling on the other side of the road, feeling just as comfortable as the locals peddling away. I became accustomed to the organised chaos and began to fit in amongst the madness. This goes to show that although it may seem daunting, as long as you use your initiative, you can master the roads of Hanoi and remain in one piece!

Check out some Vietnam travel tips before planning your trip

A bicycle food seller
A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi: Cycling Benefits in the Big City
Traditional bicycle food sellers in Hanoi

Convenience and independence

Growing up in Cambridge, a place where bicycles have more authority than cars, my main mode of transport has always been a bike. Even living in the hilly peaks of Sheffield for three years I never resorted to public transport. After continuing to cycle around Hanoi I realised it is so much better for convenience and independence. 

The terrible traffic in Hanoi can make travelling during peak hours for motorists almost impossible. People often have to leave twice as early to get to their destination and the constraints of public transport often limit your choices. When driving a moped you’re (supposedly) restricted to the roads and you’ll also find lots of parking limitations.

On a bike things are very different. Cycling benefits you with independence, allowing you to avoid major traffic jams and go wherever you want, whenever you want. It also gives you a great chance to stop and take in your surroundings whenever something catches your eye.

Think about safety first!

If you’re thinking of cycling around Hanoi staying safe on the road is the biggest priority. Even if you’re tackling the roads properly you’ll be surrounded by people who aren’t. It’s definitely worth a small investment to say safe on the road. 

  • these bike lights are bright, rechargeable and only cost £10
  • A helmet is invaluable and could be the difference between a few cuts and grazes or a serious accident. On amazon you can find them for surprisingly cheap.
  • Panniers are also a good idea to carry things around safely if you’re commuting to work or picking up shopping
A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi
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A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi: Cycling Benefits in the Big City

The draw of owning a motorbike in Hanoi, being so much cheaper than the West, means a lot of expats and tourists don’t consider greener options and just follow the locals. Just because the majority do one thing doesn’t make it right. 

There are many reasons why I chose to ditch the moped and cycle in Hanoi: it’s cheaper, greener, healthier and far better for the environment all at the same time. With pollution levels in Hanoi rising and the increasing impacts of climate change threatening our planet, it’s time to change our ways! Hop on your bike and experience the greener side of travel and I’ll bet you won’t regret it!

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  1. I so enjoyed reading this! In our world today we definitely need to be looking at the Greener options.

  2. Thanks for sharing your blog. I couldn’t agree with you more. The more I travel, the more concerned I grow for the environment and our sustainability. Smog, plastics ad non-biodegradables impact everyone, and we’re not doing enough to slow their use. Well presented and timely narrative.

  3. I love riding bikes while travelling in other cities. I agree that is healthier and better overall for you and the environment. Plus from a traveler perspective you get access to so many places and sights up close and personal. We rode bikes all around Berlin and loved how we just cruised up close to major sights while bus tourist watched from a distance.
    How did yo lock your bike in Hanoi? That would be my only concern is leaving it while stopping to see the sights or eating or whatever!

  4. Is it difficult to bike in Hanoi considering that there are many motorbike riding around? I have never tried riding a bicycle overseas before!

  5. Good for you. Your choice to help the environment anyway you can is appreciated. I have seen the crazy video of traffic in Hanoi and been amazed that anyone could navigate the chaos. And you have done it for a year! So sad to hear that pollution is so bad that it is difficult to see structures from a short distance. Here’s to making our world a better and greener place.

  6. I love this! Way to stick to your values 🙂 I’m not a very confident cyclist myself (I was even too scared in Cambridge to ride), but it seems like a great mode of transportation for someplace so congested. Pollution is SUCH a big issue in so many places. We’re lucky to be able to generally forget about it in the west, but we should be making more eco-friendly choices.

  7. We just moved to Orlando and have a similar dilemma. It’s only about 8km to work but some of the interchanges are just plain scary. Plus, there is the daily rain showers I always hear about and no showers at work. I really think I’m going to bite the bullet and start biking once my bike arrives but I’m not 100% sure.

    When we lived in San Diego I felt the same way. Everyday I biked under I-5 I felt a little uneasy (and I was actually hit by a truck once, but only the mirror). In the end, I biked almost everyday and found safe routes. I say, if there is a will there is a way.

  8. Hi Shellie, thanks for your feedback! Yes we agree that greener options are the way forward. If you want to help on tips and hacks you can incorporate in to your daily life, check out our “Save your Pennies, Save Your Planet” monthly posts.

  9. We feel the same, which is why we’re hoping to promote sustainable travel to enable people to see this beautiful planet and preserve it for the sake of the environment. What places have you traveled to where the environment has been damaged?

  10. Years ago people did used to cycle but as wealth came to the city people wanted to upgrade their vehicles. With such a dense population and a lack of proper infrastructure the affect on the city has been damaging.

  11. Hi Eric 🙂 Cycling in Berlin must’ve been beautiful! I completely agree that it’s the better way to see a city, you get so much access and can follow your senses!
    In Hanoi I had a bike lock, not a very secure one but I would use that when nipping in to a shop or something. At home we have a bike park, that only residents have access to. Many workplaces have designated parking areas, some of which are proper bike parks, others which are sectioned off areas of the pavement. Similarly people will do this around the city, you pay to park (about 16p for the day) and someone will hover around the parking area for the day. In my year in Hanoi I had fewer bike related incidents compared to a year back home in Cambridge, England.

  12. Hi Lionel, at first it can be a little daunting as there’s so many of them but if you go with confidence and use your initiative then it’s easy. In Hanoi it’s just key to remember that larger vehicles have priority…unless you can quickly nip around them and cycle off in to the distance.

  13. It looks pretty chaotic from a spectators point of view and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t chaotic when you’re involved. But there is a method to the madness and as long as you use your initiative it’s easy enough to navigate yourself through the swarm.
    Yes all the pollution being so visible makes you even more driven to chose the greener option.

  14. Hello Grace 🙂 Thanks for your feedback! Cycling can be a bit nerve-racking at first but I think with most things through time and practice comes confidence.
    Yes in the West the affects of our choices aren’t as visible and unfortunately it’s other parts of the globe that suffer.

  15. Wow you really were determined! It’s great that you didn’t let that accident deter you from choosing the greener option of cycling. I completely agree that if you want something enough you will do all you can to make it happen.
    Yes rain showers can be a bit of a put-off for cyclists but I find a waterproof jacket and trousers are my best friends during these times!

  16. Thanks Catherine 🙂 Yes I agree there are so many positive so I hope to always make cycling work for me!

  17. You are so right, cycling is a fantastic way to get around plus environmentally sound. I think I would be nervous though since it is a little crazy around there. I would make sure to be extra careful and aware of my surroundings like you.

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  19. What a great idea to use cycling as a means of getting around the city! You’re right..its cheaper, greener, healthier and more convenient. Best of all, you’re on your own and can even squeeze into tiny spaces, where a car can’t.

  20. Although it is a little crazy it’s not so bad! Once you get used to it and use your initiative, it’s pretty easy to cycle around safely.

  21. Hi Punita 🙂 Yes for all these reasons I think cycling is the best option for Hanoi, or any other place in the world. I think we can all make changed to be a bit greener and cycling around where possible is a great start!

  22. I can’t bike let alone cycle through a super congested street so props to you for that! I’m originally from Taiwan and honestly it’s the exact same thing. Streets are filled with motorcycles and the air pollution is just terrible. If only people paid more attention to all the green benefits of cycling!!

  23. Hey Jan Zan 🙂 Thanks for checking us out! I do not have any experience using analytics so can’t really help you there I’m afraid, sorry! To improve our SEO we just try and tick all the boxes that wordpress suggests, maybe this can help you also.

  24. Hi Jas 🙂 thanks for your comment! It’s so unfortunate that it’s a problem at all let alone in so many cities across the globe! I believe in the power of the individual and hope that even if one person changes there way it can have such a knock-on affect.
    Where do you live now Jas?
    I’m currently based in Cambridge, England where cycling is a lot easier compared to the streets of Hanoi. Cycling is actually enjoyable here!

  25. i was in hanoi during christmas 2 years ago, and i’ve never seen such a terrible traffic like what i saw there in hanoi with the bikes, cars, pedestrian and all that! i thought it would get better overtime, but no.. not really the next day. so hat’s off for you!

  26. You’re right Marya, the traffic is unbelievable and it never seems to stop! How did you find Vietnam in general?

  27. In winter 18-19 I plan to visit Vietnam on bike. For me it was a logical way to use a bicycle as it allows me to see a lot more of the country. I will cycle from Hanoi to HCMC (with a jump to the North like Sapa of course) and the passat in the back. 🙂
    It was nice reading your blog, gave me definitely the feeling that my assumption is right. Any suggestion where to buy a reasonable used bike?

  28. Wow your trip sounds amazing Hans van Dam 🙂 There are lots of facebook forums such as “Hanoi Massive”, and “Hanoi Used Bikes” that would be a good place to look. They connect tourists, expats and locals and if you post something you need to know someone is bound to know the answer and will give you all the info you need to know. I would suggest asking the masses on there. Good luck with your trip! Cycling in the North I’m sure will be incredible!! Peace & love, V V xxx

  29. The comment about the cockroaches was too funny and true! I’m in Hanoi for the next six months and will have to adjust to living with all the pollution and cockroaches. Any tips for that?

  30. Hi Sara, how are you finding Hanoi? In terms of living with the pollution I wore a mask when cycling which helped no end. We would go on little trips away to get away from the big city and immerse ourselves in nature for a bit. In the North there are some beautiful places to visit such as Mai Chau, Ba Be, Cat Ba all of which are easily accessible by public bus. When dealing with the cockroaches, you have to learn to tolerate each other. After all it’s their home too heha!

  31. Thanks for your comment mike. Yes I do agree that you can easily navigate through the traffic on a motorcycle but I think cycling is the bets option for many reason including weaving in and out of hard to reach parts of the city, even at busy times.

  32. Hello there! This is my first comment here, so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thanks.

  33. Hey Justin, Thanks for stopping by and getting in touch. As far as a blog like us we’re the only ones like us we know about. There is vegans with appetites who are kind of similar. Nomadic vegan who is a really great vegan travel blog who we follow. We also really like lost with purpose an amazing travel blog run by Alex who like us travels off the beaten track.

    What is it you like about the blog? Is there anything else you would like to see more/less of? 🙂


    We will be biking through Hanoi very soon, so your post is very timely for us. Great details and a fabulous guide for us. Nice images too.

    Cheers Nathan…

  35. Hi Nathan, great that you’ll be biking through Hanoi soon! Will you be on bicycle or motorbike? Really glad you liked the post 🙂 Would be interesting to know what you think of biking in Hanoi when you go, let us know!

  36. Hello Veggievagabonds, Firstly, thanks for your Article. The post title very friendly and active for any girls! “A Girl on a Bike in Hanoi” I love it. And I want a journey on Bike. The author explained the first time travel of Hanoi. I am excited to read this post. Actuality, people do not know about your purpose so they do not have any idea. So they do not know the importance of that. Lastly, I say this post Biking and cycle most face to you. And I’ll try with my friends. Thank You!!!

  37. Hi Cao, thanks for your feedback! It’s great to know what you thought of the article. The reason I cycled in Hanoi is because we moved there and I needed a way to get around. Having cycled all my life and always opting for the sustainable option I figured this was the best option.

    You say you want to travel by bike, do you mean day to day or do a big trip? We’re currently cycling from England to India, this is our first big cycle tour but we’ve done smaller trips before. Have you done any cycle tours with your friends before?

  38. I’d be in the same boat as you – find the bus slow and annoying and would rather get someone under my own steam and without having to wait for it all of the time! The bike truly is the quickest way through a packed city.

  39. Great write up Sarah!

    You sure are braver than me for riding in Vietnam. Although, I hear the drivers over there are better with cyclists than they are here in Australia!



  40. Thank you Ben!

    Haa, thanks! At the time didn’t feel like the braver choice. Riding a bike is second nature to me but even the thought of riding a moped made me sweat so seemed like the only option. Hmm having never been to Australia I can’t really comment. I can, however, say that the drivers are pretty crazy so to say their “better” than others would definitely not be words passing my mouth.

    Have Australian drivers got a bad reputation?

  41. Whew, you’re brave to cycle in Hanoi!

    I take my bike and cycle all around Asia but I make an exception when it comes to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, India, and Bangkok. They’re just a little too spooky for my tastes, so I just stick to walking everywhere with the occasional local bus or grab one way if it’s many many miles to get back home.

    Maybe one day I’ll ride in Hanoi too, but until then I’ll just use my two stumps.

  42. It’s funny you should say I’m brave Zachary as cycling has always been the safer option, within my comfort zone. When arriving to Hanoi the thought of riding a moped frightened me so I concluded the only solution was to stick to what I know and get a bike.

    The roads are a little hairy but I like to think of it as organized chaos. Surprisingly I felt a lot safer cycling there than I have done in places like Geneva, Switzerland. In Hanoi everyone is a bit more mindful of others whereas in Geneva big 4×4 are trying to get to their destination as quickly as possible.

    I think if you’re tempted, give it a whirl, it may just surprise you.

    Where’s the craziest places you’ve cycled?

  43. Though I completely agree and welcome the fact that bikes don’t require fuel and are greener for the environment, I think that there are still situations where a motorbike would be necessary, over a pedal bike. Many motorbikes are greener than cars, but where possible, a pedal bike would be the choice!

  44. Hey there, yeh definitely motorbikes can be a greener choice than cars, especially if the car isn’t full though. Ha, in our opinion though, we’d only say that a motorbike would be faster than a bicycle, no situation where it would be needed. We’d be pretty difficult to sway otherwise 😀 Are you a big moto touring fan?

  45. As compare to moto bike I completely agree bikes don’t require fuel and also good for health. When I was starting my job over 14 month i came to office by my cycle. What a golden time that was. Whatever, this is a very good article. I will read more from your blog. Thanks keep sharing.

  46. Hey Suvro, yea there are a few benefits of cycling I agree. Also that it allows you to take in your surroundings a little more when you’re not zooming to get from one place to another. Great that you would cycle to work, have you stopped now? Glad you liked the post and yes have a look around, we’ve recently made some changes so would love to know what you think 🙂

  47. This is one of the most interesting and amazing article for all readers especially for all girls. I really enjoy the lovely reading if this article. Thanks for sharing this article with all readers.

  48. Glad you liked the articles Peter 🙂 Have you spent much time cycling in Hanoi or around the world much?

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