The New Hanoian and Infoshare offer expat arrivals to the capital a road map to the essentials
Elliot Price meets with the managing director of Club Opera. The restaurant's management hopes to be featured in The New Hanoian. Price, a 35-year-old American, co-founded this popular online forum in 2005, where users can post free job listings, classified ads and write their own reviews of favorite spots around town.
In 2004, Elliot Price left an English language teaching job in Taiwan and came to Hanoi. He was impressed with the city's glut of booming businesses, but he didn't know which ones to go to.
In general, he found the city lacking in online English-language resources for new-arrivals.
He wanted a directory of destinations popular with locals and long-time residents. At the time, all that was available were tourist handbooks like Lonely Planet.
In 2005, he and a British friend named Tom Lancaster launched a basic listings and local living guide for Hanoi newcomers.
For 18 months, the two roamed around the city on a motorbike, visiting nearly 1,000 bars, restaurants, hotels, cafes, and book shops the pair thought that expats might enjoy.
Price said he visited each spot, asked for basic information about its services and compiled everything into an online database. Some business owners were a bit suspicious about the pair's purpose.
Ultimately, Price said, the task allowed him to hit the streets and uncover some of the subtle nuances of Hanoi.
"It was a reason for me to explore the city. You can't completely know how a city works but in the course of your life in that city, you have questions about the city and you follow up on things."
Now, the online directory has grown into an interactive, user-contributed database of everything "that is and isn't worth checking out in Hanoi."
With about 52,000 unique visitors, the New Hanoian has become a popular online community linking people who hope to explore and share experiences about life in the Vietnamese capital. It basically functions like Craig's List offering users the opportunity to post free job listings, classified ads "” but it has a greater focus on user-generated business reviews.
Old timers can now champion their favorite spots and neophytes can reach out for advice on settling in.
According to Price, the foreigners who simply pass through Vietnam tend to think that Hanoians are less friendly than those in other parts of the country.
"I think it's a mistaken impression," he said. "Hanoians can be a bit leary of strangers but once you get over that, they treat you like families, you get invited to more weddings than you possibly can attend."
These days, an uptick in advertisers eager to tap the expat market in Hanoi has allowed Price to hire staffers to scour the city for information about start-up businesses and restaurant openings.
Despite the new help, Price often finds himself re-visiting old haunts to ensure that the info posted on The New Hanoian is up to date. "Hanoi is a city of such constant change," he wrote on the website.
Another popular online venture for Hanoi expats is called Infoshare, founded and operated by Linda Mazur, a Canadian who arrived here 12 years ago.
Mazur's venture began as an email newsletter about culture, recreation and education. She says she sent it out to around 300 people. Since then, it has also grown into a comprehensive
resource, where expats can look up practical information (like info on where to move and where to volunteer) as well as bits of wisdom on how to deal with things like culture shock and Hanoi traffic.
Originally, Mazur said she drove to local spots to personally scout out each location. Now, most places send postings about their events to Infoshare.
"At the time, it was very difficult finding information about arts and culture for a foreigner," she said. "The purpose of Infoshare is to introduce Westerners to Vietnamese culture. That makes a community and not just the Westerners over here and the Vietnamese over there."