Hanoi has a lot of virtues, but peaceful quietness is not one it’s known for! Ed Pettit explains the top 3 culprits for noise pollution in the city.

There are lots of things that Vietnam does better than most. Some might say that the greatest food in Asia can be found on the country’s streets, and anyone who takes time to watch will see families that look unbelievably harmonious in each other’s company. Throw in the ability to take a nap just about anywhere, and you start to see that Vietnam has a lot of things going for it.

One thing that doesn’t spring to mind though is peace and quiet. Hanoi in particular is a city of noise. The dawn chorus is a public announcement system screaming out local news stories and things just get louder from there. So what makes the city quite so noisy? The top 3 culprits are…

3.      Speakers

There can only be one place to start – speaker systems! On every street corner, in every park and on a large number of bikes – Vietnam is jammed full of speaker systems, and they are out to assault your senses. The day starts with the morning news – a 7.00 am round up of all the local gossip, read by a frantic newsreader that seems keen to be heard. If you are thinking of a morning stroll to clear your head, beware. A multitude of ghetto blasters vie for airspace with the piped in dance music, creating quite a racket. As the afternoon approaches most speakers take a siesta, just in time for the evening news and a 30 minute run through of some patriotic classics. But you aren’t out of the woods quite yet.

2.     People

Close behind the speakers are good old fashioned humans – needing nothing more than a good pair of lungs to shake you to the core. I have struggled to work out why Hanoians are quite as loud as they are. In general they are calm and relaxed people, not inclined to slanging matches out on the streets. To start with the standard conversation volume is certainly above the global average, so even 1 on 1 conversation can catch your ear from quite some distance. Secondly it appears that a lot of conversations take place with some distance in between. This obviously calls for the volume levels to be upped, and as I have said they are pretty high to start with. This is best seen at any street food or Bia Hoi shop – whole orders can be placed from 20 metres away – it is an art form really.

bia hoi

To round things off are the bird owners. These beautiful birds, kept in bamboo cages are an iconic sight in the city. They are also song birds, and their songs are loud – I suppose they have to be in order to be heard above the din. With owners keeping as many as 10 birds at a time, Hanoi can often sound like one big aviary.

1.    Horns

The city is punctuated by the sound of car and bike horns. As a quick test I have just timed how long I could go without hearing a beep. My record stands at just under 2 seconds. Bearing in mind I am sitting in central Hanoi on a Friday I suppose that is not so strange, but the level of beeping is simply phenomenal. Hanoi’s particular form of the Highway Code states that any moving vehicle should beep whenever another vehicle/person/inanimate object comes into sight (OK I am may be exaggerating, but you get the picture). Why keep your eyes on the road when you can simply beep?


So the horn is firmly established as the answer to road awareness, and as with all things in life there are some people who have to take things that little bit too far. For example the new 4X4’s that litter the city have decided that a standard horn doesn’t quite do their vehicle justice. What is needed instead is a fog horn. The small taxi’s have felt threatened by all this sabre rattling and have mostly upgraded to the screeching fade away horn – meaning one beep turns into 5, starting loudly so it can achieve an effective fade away. It’s one of those things you have to hear really. So Hanoi’s streets are the scene of a car horn arms race and its resident’s ear drums are the civilian causalities.

Remember to pack your ear plugs!


Every hotel Buffalo Tours offer’s come with double glazed windows – to keep those sounds at bay!


  1. Very funny article and great advise to take ear plugs!
    Especially since when we tried to find them in Hanoi pharmacies, we failed spectacularly. And no amount of clever miming has helped:)

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