Some expats find Hanoi a rich and scintillating city; others find it dull and oppressive. While Hanoi’s culture and entertainment scene is probably quite different than your home country’s, there are enough performances, cultural events, art openings, museums, festivals, restaurants, dance classes, weekend excursions, traditional music concerts, restaurants, wine bars and cafés that you don’t have to spend your free time watching DVDs—though there are plenty of video shops to keep you busy for months on end if you so choose.
Although Hanoi suffers from a dearth of original live music, this has been on the rise for the last few years. There are a few regular spots to hear rock or jazz regularly. In addition, touring international music and theater groups appear regularly in the Hanoi Opera House—recently the Opera House has played host to acts as diverse as the Russian ballet, a British Shakespeare company (they performed Romeo and Juliet), the National Symphony Orchestra, and an alternative local band combining experimentation with traditional Vietnamese music.
For film-buffs, there’s an art-house cinema screening alternative and documentary films from around the world, as well as mainstream cinemas showing the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
Hanoi is a city of café culture, and many locals spend their free time sipping coffee or tea and watching the world pass by. There are thousands of cafés in Hanoi, some built in extravagant style, others consisting of no more than a few plastic stools on the sidewalk. Life in Hanoi happens on the street, and there’s much to learn and enjoy in simply relaxing and observing it.
Finally, most people with experience living abroad find that their fondest memories are of friends they’ve made, rather than of what they’ve done. Making friends with locals will give you unique insights into Vietnam as a place and its culture, and getting to know other expats will make all your entertainment activities more enjoyable. One of the most pleasurable activities of living in Hanoi can be talking with a fellow expat about how crazy, exotic and beautiful this city and country are.