10 Practical Reasons Why You Probably Shouldn’t Move to Hanoi With Your Baby

Last week, I adamantly insisted that Vietnam- or, more specifically, Hanoi- was the place to be if you have a small urchin to care for.

Because reasons.

Lots of very good reasons.

However, I was totally lying.

Kind of.

In a hyperbolic, contrarian fashion, I now intend to tell you exactly why moving to Hanoi would actually be a terrible idea.

Why did you ever listen to me in the first place? I already admitted to being an unreliable narrator.

Here is a brief synopsis of our context: having arrived in Hanoi in mid-October with nowt but the clothes on our backs and the limits of our luggage allowance, we are now comfortably settled into our lovely, multi-storey, fully furnished house in the leafy back alleys of Tay Ho, the relatively gentle, densely-packed suburb on the shores of West Lake. Michael’s Teacher-Wrangling gig and my very part time writerly work are enough to keep us comfortably afloat, with a housekeeper who cooks and does the wet-market shopping and tends to the baby’s cloth diaper laundry needs and general home maintenance so I can focus on…on…well, looking after the urchin, going for long walks by the lakeside, drinking iced coffees, and writing about things I know little about (but with the voice of authority, which is why they pay me).


spring rolls

Every Friday is SpringRoll mountain day


So, as you can see already, it’s been brutal. Brutal, I tells ya.

Let me tell you why you shouldn’t move here with a baby. Let’s make a list of 10. Just because.

1. No sidewalks. Or rather, on the odd occasion when someone thought to create a sidewalk, it’s inevitably made useless by one of the following factors: it’s barely six inches wide (in total), it’s interrupted at short and regular intervals by a municipally planted tree or shrubbery installation that takes up most of the space, it’s completely occupied by one or a dozen scooters parked in such a manner that you need to step out into the road to get past, it’s completely blocked by a big black SUV that is either parked or idling (sometimes with the driver in the front seat having a nap), or one of the flower or fruit ladies and their bicycles or carts or massive woven baskets have parked themselves and their wares squarely in your path.

In addition, there have been a number of sidewalks where people keep their security dogs tied up to the railings along the lakeside sidewalks, with just enough leash provided that you need to arc about a meter into the road to avoid the lunging hound.

2. Where there are no sidewalks, there is no real distinction between the edge of the road and the sides of buildings. Or if there is a rudimentary distinction, it manifests itself in the form of a muddy, ridged strip of scrubby dirt covered in a light layer of litter and dog crap, usually with telephone and electrical wires dangling loosely down around you.

Scooters, cars, taxis and bikes also use this tiny strip of dirt as a passing lane and honk at you until you somehow- though osmosis, I suppose- merge on a molecular level with the building or building-site wall that you are currently wedged up against. Think about this for a second, in the context of trying to get a baby from Point A to Point B.



Here’s an example of where we get to walk. See that little brown bit at the side?


3. Those billions of scooters put out an awful lot of exhaust, as do the massive public buses that neither brake nor give way to no one. The roadside walking environment is a bit, well, toxic in more crowded streets- such as the main one I need to walk down daily to get groceries and run errands.

4. With regards to those aforementioned scooters, cars, taxis and bikes, they are the primary ways to get around because the public transport system here is not great. Those big belching buses are out there, yes, and they’re blessedly cheap, but I could walk into the city center about as quickly as I could get in by bus- or rather, 3 buses, because the routes aren’t very comprehensive. We’d be waiting at several successive bus stops on the edge of the exhaust-thick highway for an hour or two, followed up with a walk to our destination. It’s a lot like living in a western suburb that was designed for cars rather than pedestrians, except it’s a lot more crowded, noisy and dusty.

5. Taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap for short journeys but they don’t necessarily have seat belts (or if they do, ones that work or are accessible) and for longer journeys, it can be really exhausting trying to keep an energetic baby from climbing all over the vehicle or from having a meltdown. Also, we really can’t afford to take taxis everywhere, all the time, because it does add up quickly.

6. They don’t make scooter helmets for babies or small children and the air on the road is dauntingly exhaust heavy, so carrying a baby around on a bike is a technically feasible but not desirable option. We have a scooter for Michael’s commute, and I use a xe om (motorcycle taxi) for my Sunday teaching gig, but neither can be used in conjunction with a wriggly baby.

7. You know how Vietnam is famous for its amazing street food? You know all those shows on television where Anthony Bourdain rhapsodizes about the sheer bliss of sitting down on one of those tiny blue plastic stools by the side of a busy road, a big bowl of something noodly, soupy, laden with fresh herbs and random meats and fishes and whatnot?

Well. Yes.

Have you ever tried doing that with a wriggly, grabby, frustrated baby strapped to your chest? Have you ever tried to suck back lovely soupy noodles from a bowl several feet beyond you, while a baby is trying very hard to kick the table over or reach for all the napkins? And before you say, hey, just put them in their stroller, remember: no sidewalks, no flat and wide area by the side of the road where a stroller could safely fit or move comfortably. Most of the babies, both local and foreign, tend to be carried here, both in arms or in a sling. I go for long, exploratory walks every day with Thwack strapped to my front, looking longingly at all the lovely culinary options being served to people on tiny plastic stools, tummy rumbling, then head home and see what’s in the fridge.


baby carrier

I managed to sneak a quick bia hoi beer while he snoozed here, as long as I didn’t actually move from this position.


8. People love babies here. They love them so much that they tickle him and grab his legs while he’s napping, strapped to my front. They love him so much that they scold me for suffocating him when he falls asleep in his carrier, face planting into the soft padding under his chin. They love him so much that they tell me I’m not dressing him warmly enough when it’s 25 degrees out and I’m in sandals and a t-shirt. They love him so much that they shake their heads in dismay when I feed him spoonfuls of passionfruit (too sour!) or strands of rice noodle that had been in a spicy broth (too hot!). These are all strangers on the street. The majority are lovely and sweet and gentle and playful but there’s usually at least one person every day who makes me want to not want to leave the house ever again.

9. The tap water isn’t drinkable, which can be remedied by buying massive bottles of the potable stuff. But what do you do when your shower makes your eyes burn and your skin go rashy? We have installed a filter my parents brought over from Canada, but that just works for our shower. What about our bathroom taps? Or the kitchen sink? What exactly is being absorbed through his baby pores?

10. Remember those scooters and buses and the exhaust in the air? They make face masks for babies here. Thwack has one, a little yellow thing with a bumblebee embroidered on the cheek. He hates it and rips it off immediately.  There’s also so much construction going on that we have to put our shoes in plastic bags when we leave them on our doorstep, otherwise they’re encrusted in a heavy, dark dust overnight. We breathe this air. The baby breathes this air. It’s not as bad as it was in China, but still. It’s not looking like a viable long term solution. We have the privilege of choice and it’s hard to know whether this is a sacrifice we should be making.

Have we made the right choice?

Who knows.

Watch this space.

Wait- before you go, I’ve got a joke I just made up.

Q. Why did the Hanoi chicken cross the road?

A. Because 3 big black SUVs, a dozen bikes and a flower lady and her bicycle took up the last ten meters of sidewalk before it disappeared into a giant hole full of electrical wires, dust and litter.

cement truck

This cement truck parked across the end of our alley and the workers told me I had to to climb through the (moving) mechanisms to get out, baby strapped to my front.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.