Whenever my wife and I travel back to Hanoi to visit her family, for both of us this means the start of three weeks or so struggling to find a reliable internet connection to work from.
Though it's getting better in Vietnam's capital very rapidly, frequent drop-outs are generally still the norm with wifi. There are alternatives though..
I've always felt like wired internet in Asia was leap-frogged by the advent of really good cell networks, and thus never really caught on as an important thing to have. Travelling through remote mountains on a train in China,for example, I found I'd always have full signal (yet my village of several thousand in the UK still has "no signal" to this day) - and this was in 2011.
If you want a reliable connection, therefore, you should either go somewhere that makes it it's business to have a great wifi - for example a coworking space or coffee shop - or look into hotspotting over mobile data. Domestic wifi (in your AirBNB, for example) is likely to suck.
So, my two pro-tips for getting by long-term in Hanoi:
1: Get a high capacity data-only SIM card
After we did a bunch of research, we found that Viettel (one of the main cell networks) has a SIM card designed for tablets (that is to say, it's data-only and can't make phone calls) which maxes out at 3GB per day for only 10,000 VND (€0.40). Each purchase lasts for 24 hours, and will auto-renew daily whilst you have credit remaining. If you run through your 3GB in less than 24 hours, you can simply buy another 3GB on the same day for the same price (important: see the "pro-tip" below) providing you cancel the current package first. There is also an option for 1GB for 5,000VND (€0.20).
You can read more here:
To order the SIM card you can call either 04 3568 3535 (landline) or 0964 38 3535 (mobile) and they will come and deliver the SIM card to you. It cost us something like 180,000VND the last time when my wife ordered it in October 2016. I assume they only speak Vietnamese, so bear that in mind.
- To activate: text D10 to 191 for 3GB, or DC5 to 191 for 1GB.
- To cancel: text HUY to 191, followed by a Y within 10 minutes after they send their "are you sure you want to cancel" SMS, to confirm the cancellation.
Pro-tip: try to buy loads of single 10,000VND top-up vouchers rather than one large one, because if you happen to breeze past the first 3GB it suddenly starts charging 10,000VND for the next 56MB. That's 54 times more expensive 😈 So, top-up 10,000 at a time, cancelling ("HUY") and reenabling after you've added the next 10,000VND.
As with many things in Vietnam, this process is quite convoluted, but I've found it's a great way to be sure to have an internet connection with a decent amount of data, no matter where you are.
2: Go to Cộng Cà Phê
The Viet Cong-themed Cộng Cà Phê cafes are a small chain of upmarket - but not touristy - coffee shops around Hanoi that all have good wifi (around 30meg), decent coffee, air-con and loads of power sockets. They're all over Hanoi these days, and they let you sit there all day. One slight problem is that they only serve quick snacks. They could make a tasty lunch but far from nutritious.
Pro-tip: usually one floor is smoking, and the other is non-smoking.
3. Try to find a co-working space
Co-working spaces are becoming more common in Hanoi. I go to a place called Hanoi Hub near my in-law's house which I found very pleasant - reliable wifi, courteous staff, strong AC, comfy chairs and a small kitchen. The pricing is okay the longer you book: 150k/day, 600k for 7 days, or 1,800k for one month.
My brother-in-law goes to UP - a much larger space hosting many upcoming startups and freelancers. As I've been told, it's housed in a larger complex which also has a gym, rock-climbing etc, with discounts for UP members.
p.s. As a footnote, a new Vincom mall opened this week across the road from my wife's parents' house and the free wifi there is insanely fast: I measured 145meg down and 90meg up - truly a first for me in Asia. Regrettably I couldn't reach it from her house, not even from the roof, not even with my USB wifi booster. 😔
p.p.s. I was repeatedly kicked off the wifi in my budget guesthouse in Chiang Mai whilst writing this. I should go out and buy a SIM card...
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