Adapting to Life in Hà Nội

January, 20/2020 - 07:44

There are at least three more challenging factors that can take them mental/emotional toll upon the first time visitor/resident of Hà Nội.


Psychologist Matthew Ryan. Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice

By Matthew Ryan*

I came to Hà Nội nearly two and a half years ago. I was very fortunate to have a good friend of 25 years pick me up in his car from the airport and drive me back to his very comfortable accommodation in Ciputra.

I lived with Tim for a couple of weeks, with him helping me to set up my life here in Hà Nội – helping find me my own accommodation; opening up a bank account; driving me around getting me familiar with the way Hà Nội is laid out, etc. It also helped immensely that my friend spoke Vietnamese fluently. According to his Vietnamese wife, Tim is so fluent that if he is speaking on the phone a Vietnamese national would conclude they are speaking to a fellow Vietnamese.

The language barrier is one of the most difficult challenges that faces anyone when they arrive in Hà Nội, so it is invaluable to have someone who speaks Vietnamese and can assist you to organise your life here. At first the language barrier can seem very exotic and interesting and lead to some amusing exchanges between you and the locals, but not being able to be understood by local people here is one of the factors that can gradually wear you down, making even fairly routine exchanges very time-consuming. So, if you are not as fortunate as I and you arrive in Hà Nội without anyone you know who speaks the language, it is very worthwhile joining a Vietnamese class just to learn the basics so that you can understand and be understood.

There are at least three more challenging factors that can take a mental/emotional toll upon the first time visitor/resident of Hà Nội.

The first of these is the pollution. Even in the comparatively short time I have lived here the air pollution has markedly gotten worse. There are two main reasons for this – the toxic emissions from the millions of motorcycles and scooters and the endless construction that throws up floating clouds of dust. It is really important that you purchase a good quality mask – most of the ones that you see on the street are useless. Just Google ‘High quality pollution mask’ and you will find a host of possibilities. It is also recommended that you purchase high quality air filters for your bedroom and home office – wherever you spend most of your home life.

The second factor is the traffic itself. Again negotiating traffic can at first be exciting, but the hugely congested streets and the constant noise can get you down. My recommendation as a psychologist is simply to accept and embrace the traffic as an unchangeable fact of life here. Things that we can’t change such as the traffic (the pollution is also an example of this), we need to radically accept them – to fight it and complain about it simply creates unnecessary aggravation and eventual emotional exhaustion that can lead to depression.

And the third factor is the truly oppressive, high humidity heat in the summer which can last up to seven or eight months. All of us have different levels of tolerance when it comes to heat. I myself find the heat very difficult, but fortunately most of my work and life is conducted indoors and therefore with the amazing blessing of air-conditioning.

All of these factors and more – the language barrier; the traffic; the pollution; the heat – can get you down if you allow it to, but as I’ve written above you are not helpless to deal with these problems by employing different technologies and a positive embracing attitude of the mind. You are living in one of the greatest, most exciting cities in the world, so really enjoy what it has to offer and accept all of its drawbacks.

My final piece of advice and something that I hinted at, at the beginning of this article is the importance of friendship and the emotional support you gain from friendships.

Your workplace is of course a good place to find and make friends, but there are also organisations that actively promote connection and friendships not just with other expats, but also with local Vietnamese who often speak good English or whatever your native tongue is, that join these organisations to meet and network with expats. A very good organisation is called InterNations (again Google it), which is an international organisation promoting friendship and support, that has a very active chapter here in Hà Nội.

Finally, if you do find yourself ‘down in the dumps’, feeling emotionally exhausted, anxious, chronically irritated, it’s a very good idea to reach out to a mental health professional such as myself so that you have someone who will listen deeply to you and help you find ways of adapting to life in Hà Nội. So all the very best! This is an amazing place and you can live here very well if you learn to cope and deal with the difficulties and challenges. Family Medical Practice

*Matthew Ryan is a senior psychologist who has been supporting and assisting people to work through their personal and relational problems, for over 30 years. As a couple's and family psychologist, Matthew’s role is to help each person in the relationship see how they contribute to their dysfunctional ways of relating, and what changes are necessary to resolve their difficulties. Matthew is also experienced in working with teenage males and females as they face the challenges of stepping into young adulthood. In addition, Matthew is experienced in providing counseling to people from the LGBT community. 

Family Medical Practice was the first foreign-owned primary healthcare provider in Việt Nam, and has consistently remained at the forefront of international-standard medicine since 1995. It offers extensive healthcare and emergency medical services nationwide to Vietnamese, expatriate and corporate customers.

For more advice on any medical topics, visit; or visit our clinics:

Family Medical Practice Hanoi on 298 I Kim Mã, Ba Đình District or call (024) 3843 0748. Email: or

FMP’s downtown HCM City location is at Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn Street, District 1; Other facilities are at: 95 Thảo Điền Street, District 2. Tel: (028) 38227848. E:

FMP Danang is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh Street, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (0236) 3582 699. E: