When you’re visiting a city, one of the considerations you need to make when planning your trip is how you’re planning to get around when you are there. This is especially important when you have only limited amount of time to spend in one city (as often the case with those who can only take short time for vacation and need to make the most from their time off). Reading guide books, especially those with city-specific information is really helpful in determining the best mode of transportation. There are some cities Los Angeles, CA, or Dallas, TX, where everything is so spread out and there is not really any convenient public transportation to take you anywhere, in which case the best way to get around is to rent a car. On the other hand, you have places like New York City or Boston, MA, where there is good public transportation in the city and in fact it’s actually inconvenient and very expensive to drive, in that case the combination of using public transportation (like a subway train or bus) and walking would be your best bet. Then there are places like Washington, DC, that’s somewhat in between; if you happen to be in the city center, you can use public transportation and walking, but if you need to go to the suburbs, you would need to drive as the public transportation is not as extensive. The key is to now your destinations and plan out how to get from place to place ahead of time.
Before visiting Hanoi, Vietnam, I read about the city, particularly the area where we were going to spend most of our time there, the Old Quarter. What I learned was that the place was quite compact and with its narrow streets, the best way to get around especially for the short distance is on foot. The locals ride scooters; perhaps something to try by intrepid travelers but may not be recommended especially if you’re not used to riding in a somewhat chaotic environment. There are taxis around that you can take if you’re too tired to walk or the distance is a bit far away. But from our experience riding taxis several times in Hanoi, unfortunately I didn’t really have much good things to say about the experience.
Another important thing to do when planning a visit to a city with limited time is to map out the route you will take to go from place to place when you’re in the city. This way you can determine the most efficient route to take so you don’t end up spending more time getting from place to the other than the actual visit to the places. One thing I found helpful was to use Google Map to find places on the city map, and then get a general sense of how far or close the places are. Surprisingly Google Map today can be used to find landmarks in many places around the world, including Hanoi. So prior to our visit, I already had a high-level picture in my mind about the route we will take when we’re in Hanoi.
Once you get to the destination city, another helpful source to consult is your hotel’s concierge or front desk. You can get them to confirm that the route you would take for the day is indeed a good way to go, or else recommend different route or way to get to the places you want to visit. When we were in Bangkok, Hanoi, and Singapore, the hotels where we stayed at also had complimentary city maps that you can request. The maps that we were given by our hotels were quite helpful as they specifically had mark on the map where the hotel was located, so you can use that as the starting and ending points of your travel.
The photo below was taken as we walked in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. You could see here how narrow the streets were, and how pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars had to share the narrow street to navigate. In this case, you could see someone with a BMW SUV (in itself it was interested to note in Hanoi — it must be the sign of prosperity coming to this country) trying to navigate the streets of Old Quarter Hanoi. I’m not sure I would do that myself.