Using Cash in Hanoi

One of the considerations you must make when traveling to a foreign country is how much cash you’re going to carry with you, and in what currency. On one hand, having cash in the right currency handy with you allows you the convenience of being able to make purchases especially at the places where banks or foreign exchange places are not easily found. On the other hand, carrying cash with you is somewhat risky because if somehow you lose them, there is pretty much no way you could trace and get them back.

In the United States, I usually have a small amount of cash with me wherever I go, though in most cases I use credit card to pay for purchases. Credit cards are accepted pretty much everywhere, including in store in small towns. For me, not only it’s convenient and provide some protection in the event I lose the credit card, but also it helps me to keep track of my spending as those purchases will show up on the following month’s credit card statement.

When traveling to Vietnam, however, we knew that even though we have our credit cards with us for places that may accept them, we also carried a reasonable amount of cash with us because we knew that very likely we would like to make small purchases at street vendors and we would also go to a couple of places outside Hanoi where the likelihood of finding banks or foreign exchange places would be very small. We figured it would be easier to get Vietnamese Dong in Indonesia than in the United States, so Kristi was in charge of getting that taken care of prior to our trip.

After breakfast at the hotel, we started our first full day in Hanoi with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Complex. From looking at the city map, the location seemed a little too far to reach on foot from our hotel, so we decided to take a taxi to go there. We asked the lady at the hotel front desk about getting a taxi and also about the estimate pricing to go to the Ho Chi Minh complex. She told us the rough amount she thought it would cost us to get there. We had enough cash in hand for that, so we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. I also obtained a city map from the hotel that I thought would be useful especially later on in the day when we expected to walk around in the Old Quarter area of Hanoi.

The taxi cab we ordered arrived, and the driver understood some English and got it right away when we said we wanted to go to the Ho Chi Minh Complex. As we drove there, I tried to follow our route on the map. And this was when it started to go somewhat wrong — at least I thought it was.. The route that the cab driver took to go there seemed to be a ‘scenic route’ — i.e., not the most straightforward route to get to the destination. I like to think may be there were road closings or detours that he had to take, or may be he wanted us to see parts of Hanoi that are nice for tourists to see (we did drive past the Hotel Metropole, one of the nicest places one could stay in Hanoi, along the way), but I think he took us through that route so he could run up the meter.

When we finally arrived at the Ho Chi Minh Complex, the taxi driver stopped near an entrance (we were not even sure that it was the right one where we should be going to enter the complex). He seemed to be illegally stopping, so he kind of rushed us to pay and get off the taxi. Kristi pulled out the cash for paying the cab driver, but since this was our first spending in Hanoi, all she had was a large bill. The cab driver shook his head and said he didn’t have any change. Since we’re in a rush, and we didn’t want to have to spend yet more time dealing with this situation, we decided to just let him keep the change (I think that was like more than 30% tip for the already more expensive than expected trip). In the grand scheme of things, fortunately it was not a very large amount when we converted to the US dollars, but it still left a bad taste from our first visit to Hanoi.

The lesson learned from this experience was that you should be prepared not only with some cash in local currency, but also with various denominations on the cash at hand including some small notes.

The photo below was taken at the Ho Chi Minh complex on our way out of the complex. Similar to many tourist attractions elsewhere, they had a refreshment area where visitors could get foods and drinks. This would be one of those places where having cash, especially the small notes, could become handy. This particular stand sold the Vietnamese version of hot dogs — looks like they also had grilled meat on a bun, though from the picture on the card it looked like it’s pork instead of beef.

Hot dog stand

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