Hanoi, the former capital of Vietnam, hosts authentic architecture and an aroma of Vietnamese culture which stands in contrasts to the main district’s modernization. In the fight for globalization, Vietnam remains at the forefront of development in the region. The vast expansion of various cities in Vietnam, has led to the development of many different volunteer opportunities in Hanoi, both in combating the challenges imposed by expansion and in supporting numerous development projects. Volunteering in Hanoi will therefore give volunteers the chance to experience the local way of life and help local communities in long-lasting and meaningful ways.
Volunteering in Hanoi
As the city has grown, so has the number of foreign and local organizations and companies, creating numerous opportunities for international volunteers to get involved in the future of Hanoi. No matter what your skillset or interest area, there is likely a volunteer placement in Hanoi that is perfect for you.
Education. Since Vietnam is a non-English speaking nation, English speakers are most often needed to teach English in Hanoi. But, those who volunteer in Hanoi in teaching programs may find themselves teaching English in orphanages or schools, providing vocational training at learning centers for adults, or assisting with the care and education of individuals with disabilities. Individuals of all skillsets are welcomed by most teaching programs in Hanoi.
Community Development. There are many local NGOs in Hanoi that aim is to provide educational and social resources to local communities to help families develop a sustainable livelihood. Community volunteering in Hanoi is especially good for volunteers with specific skills related to small business development, public health, or social work.
Childcare. There are many orphanages in Hanoi that require the assistance of international volunteers in order to maintain quality care for every child, each day. Since orphanages and other homes for children typically have limited resources, volunteers will find that they serve a vital role and their daily tasks truly impact the over functionality of the institution. Volunteers may have the chance to develop educational activities for orphans, help rehabilitate street children, or work with children with disabilities.
Life in Hanoi
Through the years, the city of Hanoi has grown into quite a metropolis. The city center is alive day and night, with heavy traffic and plenty of people. But as the former capital and largest city of northern Vietnam, Hanoi is a proud display of ancient culture with modern touches. In general, life in Hanoi is a sprawling mix of old Vietnamese traditions and technology and infrastructural influences from the west.
Streets are covered with small restaurants and hawker food stalls, where authentic Vietnamese coffee is available for only a dollar or two. Yet, there are still some areas filled with more posh establishments and high end accommodation, as well as several quiet, modern suburbs just a little few kilometers away from the city center.
The main form of transportation in Hanoi are motorbikes. Local motorcycle taxis, known as Xe OM (she ohm), or bicycle-powered taxis, Cyclos (seek-lohs), are available on almost every corner. For more privacy and comfort, however, there are regular metered taxi cars also. Regardless of what type of taxi you choose, you may want to bargain for a price rather than turning on the meter, as all prices tend to be negotiable in Hanoi.
The streets of Hanoi can be chaotic and crazy any time of day, but especially during rush hour. Since most locals use motorbikes, it is difficult to maneuver and navigate through times of heavy traffic, especially if you’re just beginning to drive in Hanoi; be sure to get the hang of Vietnamese road rules (or the lack of) before taking a swing at driving your own motorbike as a volunteer in Hanoi.
Costs & Affordability
The cost of volunteer programs in Hanoi depends on the duration and inclusions of each individual program. Most volunteer programs in Hanoi will include airport transfers, accommodation, and 24/7 local staff support. However, these inclusions will vary from organization to organization, so it is best to inquire about inclusions from your selected program provider before committing to a program.
The cost of living in Hanoi is extremely cheap, in relation to almost any industrialized nation around the world and most major cities throughout Asia (i.e. Tokyo and Seoul). For volunteers who choose to live in simple accommodation with basic amenities (which is typically included in volunteer program costs) and eat mainly street foods with an occasional splurge or night out on the town, it is possible to live on $300 to $400 per month. The prices of local foods and basic necessities tend to be minimal. For example, a one and half liter bottle of water costs $0.75 and a rice meal from a cheap restaurant can cost $2. However, eating at an upscale restaurant usually means footing a bill closer to $10 or $15 per person.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Hanoi include accommodation arrangements in packaged program costs. However, for those volunteers who choose to live independently, there are a lot of options to choose from in Hanoi. It is possible to find a single bedroom apartment for as little as $160 per month in the city center, and even cheaper outside of the city center. If living with roommates or traveling with a more generous budget, it is easy to find three bedroom apartments for $600 a month in more high-end, serviced apartment buildings.
Those who decide to volunteer in Hanoi will typically be required to obtain a Vietnamese visa prior to arrival. Most volunteers take advantage of tourist visas, which can be obtained for a specific length of stay, so visa extensions are not required, before departure. In some cases applying for a visa extension may be easier than obtaining a long-term tourist visa, however; extending a tourist visa will require multiple days for processing, so it should be applied for in advance. Overall, applying for a tourist visa to volunteer abroad in Hanoi is quite an easy process.
Benefits & Challenges
Becoming a volunteer in Hanoi can be a very exciting experience to say the least, but that is not to say adjusting to life in Hanoi will be a piece of cake.
Climate. The weather in Hanoi is much different than the southern part of the country. For example, when it rains, it really pours, which means the rainy season isn’t an especially pleasant time to volunteer in Hanoi. During the “cold” season, it can get as cold as 16 degrees Celsius and during hot season it gets up to 30 degrees. Compared to the south, the weather in Hanoi tends to be colder, mostly because of the geographic location, the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. But this location also comes with its own host of benefits (ex. hiking opportunities).
City Life. It can be difficult to adjust to like if Hanoi, especially for first time travelers. Traffic can be overwhelming at almost any time of day. Motorbikes are always crawling all over the city’s streets and unfortunately accidents are common. Volunteers must wear a street smart attitude at all times, whether navigating a busy street or riding public transportation. But don’t worry, if you stay calm and take time to adjust, you will get hang of it!