Hanoi’s public bus network is easy to use, if jam-packed at rush hour. It’s a reasonably convenient way to get around town, so long as you have some time up your sleeve.
And taking a bus ride sends you on a Hanoi journey not often taken by foreigners.
You are likely to find that you are the only westerner on the bus. Depending on your age you may well also be the only passenger between the ages of 20 and 60, as most of the other passengers are students or the elderly. In the same way that people in western countries prefer their cars, Hanoians like their motorbikes.
The ride is certainly cheap, at 3,000 dong – about 15 cents – for most rides and 7,000 for a few longer routes, such as the number 7 out to the airport.
I am often the oldest person on the bus and the conductor will sometimes defer to my age by pointing out a seat to me, or even telling a student to move so that I can sit down.
Of course as a large Tay (westerner) I stand out like a sore thumb, but it’s possible to kid myself when I use public transport that I am a real Hanoian, not merely an affluent visitor passing through.
People sometimes squeeze up so that a third person can fit on a two-person seat. Once an old lady moved along so that I could perch on the end of the seat – on that occasion I did feel almost like a local.
It’s essential to take precautions against pickpockets . One foreigner I know answered her mobile phone on a crowded bus one morning, put it back in her bag but forgot to zip up the bag. After she got off the bus she found that the phone was gone. I always get my 3000 dong for the ticket out before I board the bus, so that no-one aboard can see where I keep my purse.
The other main risk is getting off. Usually the bus slows down rather than stopping, then quickly gathers speeds. You have to choose your moment to leap from the bus in the short window of opportunity before it speeds up again.
The automatic closing doors are also pretty abrupt in this nation where safety precautions are rarely considered for any activity. I know one foreigner who suffered an injury as the door slammed into his side. He had to go to a hospital in Bangkok for treatment.
The website for the Hanoi Urban Transport Management and Operation Centre (TRAMOC) IS at http://www.tramoc.com.vn/. It has a useful map of the bus routes which you can download and also a list of the services with their main stops and the frequency of services.