Overcharging is common in Hanoi, especially on tourist markets. The mentality here is that “it is acceptable to rip off rich” – many sellers truly believe this is how they take back what was “stolen from them”. Of course “rich” is defined as “anyone with more money than me”. This is not limited to white foreigners only, even Vietnamese, especially from South, are routinely overcharged in Hanoi. A number of sellers won’t even haggle at all after quoting a ridiculous amount, as they would rather sell a single item with 2000% profit than sell much more for a reasonable price. So if you’re going to other cities, do your shopping there.
If you do need to shop in Hanoi, try to buy from younger sellers, they seem to be more honest than older sellers. Which means they’d only try only to ask 4x of the item price, and not 10x. Also at the tourist markets some stalls have “no discount” sign, and those typically offer prices much closer to reality, which should be used as a reference. Note that in Hanoi it still won’t prevent a seller at the next table to ask twice the price of the “no discount” table for the same item.
Avoid sellers who set prices in dollars/Euro, as this dramatically limit your ability to haggle. Note that even $1 is still too much for many souvenirs, for which the fair price is 20,000 VND.
Money changers are usually in most guest houses and banks, and they give bad rates. Don’t exchange money from the black market people on the streets. The best place to exchange money is at Ha Trung road and Hang Bac where they give real good rates. Just walk into the gold shops or jewellery shops and ask them if they change money and ask to show their rates. Ask up to nearly 5 or more shops to see which shop gives the best rates. Best rates are at Ha Trung which is 15-25 mins walk West from Hoan Kiem lake. Look for Hang Da Market on the pedestrian map. Its a short street of Gold traders, and small sewing factories. Correct as at Dec 18th 2014.
Inside the Noi Bai airport arrival hall, there are several money changer booths of major local banks; unlike in many airports, their exchange rate is competitive (around +/-1% to mid-market for USD) and do not seem to differ from the rate in the city offices (which you won’t find at Old Quarter anyway). Besides US dollar and euro, they will change currencies of major Asian countries; that may come handy if you come from (or was traveling in) these countries. Rate vary slightly between the banks, so you may like to shop around and to see what you will get.
Currencies accepted for exchange (into Vietnamese Dong: VND) at Vietnam banks include USD / EUR / HKD / JPY, etc. But a warning about Chinese Yuans (RMB or CNY): for some strange reason Vietnam banks (at least all the ones in Hanoi) do NOT exchange Chinese currency. *If you need to change RMB into VDN, go to the gold shops @ ‘Ha Trung’ road (as explained above).
ATMs are everywhere and cash is king here. The most common transaction limit at the vast majority of ATMs is 2-3,000,000 dong. A few notable ones allow larger withdrawals. Be sure to check the fee they charge. The Techcombank SE of the Hoa Lo Prison allows transactions of at least 7 million dong (these statements may be outdated). In the Old Quarter, Techcombank, Vietcombank, DongA, etc etc all have limits of 2,000,000 – 3,000,000 dong with the majority sitting at the paltry 2,000,000 dong limit. The notable exceptions are ANZ, HSBC, and CitiBank; the ANZ on the western shore of the Hoan Kiem Lake allows up to 5,000,000 dong (updated June 2014), all HSBC ATMs around the city have a limit of 5,600,000 dong (June 2014), and Citibank (there is an ATM on the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake for example) leads with a 8,000,000 limit (July 2014).
Check exchange rates daily. Jewelry shops will consistently offer a better rate than banks or hotels.