Hanoi is divided into districts. Most sights and accommodations are in Hoan Kiem District (downtown), centered around picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake, and Ba Dinh (west of town) or Hai Ba Trung (south) districts. Most addresses include a district name. You'll want to plan your travels accordingly because getting from district to district can be time-consuming and expensive.
Hanoi has a number of local buses that ply regular routes through the city, but Hanoi's smoke-belching lorries are extremely crowded, and using them is difficult if you don't speak Vietnamese. With the ready availability of fast, affordable local motorbike taxis and good metered taxis, few tourists bother with local buses.
Taxis can be hailed on the street, at hotels, and at major attractions. The meter should read between 10,000 VND and 15,000 VND (depending on the company and size of the cab) to start, and 4,000 VND to 6,500 VND for every kilometer (about 1/2 mile) thereafter. The three most reputable companies are Hanoi Taxi (tel. 04/853-5353), Hanoi Tourist Taxi (tel. 04/856-5656), and Mai Linh (tel. 04/822-2555). You (or the concierge) can call ahead for pickup. Make sure the cabbie turns on the meter. Be sure to get your change; drivers often seek a surreptitious tip by claiming that they don't have the right amount to give back. Smile. Tell the driver that you'll wait until it's obtained, and it will materialize. Tips are greatly appreciated, but don't feel pressed to give any certain percent; just round up the meter or offer 5,000 VND, and you are being quite generous by local standards.
Warning: Rigged Taxi Meters -- Be sure to go with an accredited taxi company, either one mentioned above or a company connected with your hotel. Smaller companies and individual operators sometimes rig the meter and charge up to double the price. If you protest, these shifty characters just point to the meter as evidence. If you think you're being overcharged, don't pay, but ask the driver to wait while you get someone from the front desk of your hotel to verify the rate.
Renting a car is convenient, but driving yourself is not recommended. Book a car with a driver from $40 a day (or $5 per hour, minimum 3 hr.). If an upscale hotel quotes you more, call one of the tourist cafes or any of the travel agents listed above. A rented car or shared taxi is a great way to make your own itinerary around the city or to destinations throughout the north. Note that in the city center, however, a big car can get stymied by the heavy traffic, so if your constitution is hearty and you like to throw caution to the wind, go for a cheap and maneuverable motorbike taxi to get you through the city traffic and small alleyways of the city.
Motorbike taxis are a cheap and easy way to get around the city, but drivers go like madmen. Be forewarned: This is transportation for the brave. Haggle hard with these guys. No matter the distance, drivers will start off asking for a few dollars, but with relentless haggling (you'll have to walk away a few times) they'll come down as far as 15,000 VND for short trips. Motorbike taxi drivers have a pretty hard lot, though, and most expats and longtime Vietnam travelers usually compromise and pay a little extra, 10,000 VND to 15,000 VND, to avoid a long time spent haggling. Motorbike taxi drivers in Hanoi can also be hired by the hour for 30,000 VND to 40,000 VND, and showing the driver the written address of where you want to go is a better alternative than trying to have your bad Vietnamese understood. I've even given a driver a day's worth of addresses and had him create my itinerary because these drivers know the streets and the traffic best. Give a tip and you've got a friend for life, or at least someone who'll show up at your hotel the next day to see if you need any further assistance.
If you're feeling especially brave, you can rent your own motorbike. Navigating Hanoi's busy streets is harrowing, though, and most motorbike riders use their rented two wheels to get out of town instead of around in town. Most tourist cafes and mid- to low-range hotels can arrange rentals, and there are a few good storefront rental agencies. Try Mr. Cuong's Motorbike Adventure, at 1 Luong Ngoc Quyen St., on the east side of the Old Quarter near the city's major ring road (tel. 04/3926-1534) -- the best place to rent a big honkin' Russian Minsk motorbike for $7 per day -- or Mr. Hung's Vietnam Adventure Tour, at his in-town office just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, 5A Dinh Liet St. (tel. 04/3926-0938), or at his repair shop on the city ring road at 162 Tran Quang Khai St. (Mr. Hung's provides bike rentals as well as comprehensive in-town and rural tour options and guides.) One-day rentals of 100cc motorbikes start at $6. A 1-month rental of a little hair dryer-style model (a Honda Dream or Wave) can cost as little as $50. Wear a helmet (it's now a well-enforced law, and all the locals are doing it), go slow, honk to alert other vehicles when passing, and stay alert. Inexperienced riders might want to think twice about cutting their teeth on a motorbike in crazy Hanoi traffic.
Warning: -- Riding on a motorbike, whether your own or on the back, presents a Catch-22: It's the fastest and most affordable way to navigate city roads, but it's also your best bet for a trip to the emergency room or worse. Take caution and, wherever possible, try to put as much steel between you and the chaos of the road as possible. In other words, take buses and cars when possible.
Cyclos are two-seated carts powered by a man on a foot-pedal bike riding behind you. You can flag them down anywhere, particularly near hotels and tourist attractions, where they're certain to find (or follow) you. Being trundled along among whizzing motorbikes isn't always very comfortable, but it can be a nice choice for touring the Old Quarter's narrow streets. Bargain with the driver before setting out. You can pay as little as 20,000 VND for a short ride, and 30,000 VND for a longer haul. You can also hire by the hour for about $2. If you're inclined, most drivers will even let you take a short ride -- around the block or so -- just for fun.
Rental costs for a bike are about $1 per day from a hotel or tourist cafe. The traffic is daunting, but the brave quickly learn how to just stay to the right and join the flow. Helmets are generally not available.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.