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Hanoi’d when we had to leave this gem of a city

August 12, 2012

Hanoi’d when we had to leave this gem of a city

August 12, 2012

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by Kt



After only a few days I immediately love, love, love Vietnam and Hanoi has my heart. We stayed in the Old Quarter which is full of character and craziness and I adored it. The traffic is the most insane I have ever seen and having been to Bali and Thailand I have seen some craziness.
Our taxi on the way in, overshot the road he meant to go down a little and stopped in the crowded street to reverse back to make his turn – trouble was he had mopeds coming at him from every direction so he could only edge slightly. It took a while but we got there in the end. It was very amusing but it didn’t bode well for us hitting the streets without the protection of a steel cage.
When we first walked out, we realised that although there were pavements, they were covered by goods and mopeds so you had to walk in the street with the hundreds of motorbikes coming at us from all angles. I think Mark wanted to go home then and there. I found it quite amusing still. To be honest the traffic is so busy that it’s not going that fast so I suppose it’s less dangerous that way.

Along with the crazy traffic comes the beeping. Like the Bali school of driving, they use the defensive method of driving. Beeping to let people know they are there. But with 5 times more traffic than Bali – this is a lot of beeping. All the time. Day and night. I found I could generally tune it out but sometimes you just wanted to scream SHUT UP! And of course there were people carrying the craziest things whilst driving said mopeds.


We hit the lake, which offered some respite from the traffic craziness. You could watch all kinds going on there. Old folk doing their long, slow daily exercise., kids on trikes, lots of sitting and chatting. Couples go to sit on benches and kiss apparently.

Then we went to cross the road at the top of the lake. We’d been told that you just have to walk out into the traffic and they will move around you. But there were hundreds of mopeds and cars. We stood and we looked. Then a young vietnamese woman who’d started to cross, noticed us, came back and walked across with us. We really did just walk out into it. Into deep traffic. And they moved around us. Cool!
So that was the way to do it. It is often pretty scary and you do need to have an eye in every direction but you just have to go for it. I really rather enjoyed it – think it was a bit of an adrenalin rush – who needs bungy jumping eh? Watching the traffic from higher floors of buildings is an afternoons entertainment in itself.


The streets in the Old Quarter were grouped together by what they were selling – silverware, hardware, shoes, decorations, bamboo. And the shops weren’t just selling stuff, they were making it too. I could walk those streets forever (with lots of rests in between as it is hard work). So much character, so much going on. Some interesting things for sale too. Not tourist tat, though – everyday stuff. Of course there is the tourists catches – fake watches etc. But also some incredible, genuine old stuff – watches and cameras were especially tempting.
The grave stone selling street was interesting – they were so beautiful and detailed.


I was surprised to see everywhere, ladies with the traditional south east asian hats and sticks to carry heavy goods. You expect to see this out in the fields but wasn’t expecting it to be all over the streets of a city. Occasionally the younger ones try to get you to perch one on your shoulder for a photo opportunity for cash – got used to ducking and diving. The older ladies wouldn’t have dreamed of such a thing though, they were just getting on with it – moving or selling their goods.


Here more than anywhere else we’ve been, they wear the face masks. The girls also, in Hanoi, wear little hoodie style jackets, usually in a cute flower print – sometimes with mask to match:


Food wise we of course had Pho, the ubiquitous street food Vietnam is most famous for. We also tried some Hanoi specialities. Their spring rolls were a bit different with minced pork and other mushy stuff but were really nice.
My favourite was Bun Cha. This is small pork patties which you have with rice noodles, fresh herbs – some kind of bitter mint – all mixed in together in a sweet fish sauce. Mmmmmm.


Marks favourite was the Vietnamese Coffee – this was getting filtered coffee with evaporated milk in the bottom to mix in. Yuckity. With that and all the pork fat he’s been having in Asia, he’s so gonna have a heart attack soon.

Having been French ruled for so long, this affects not only the look and style of the city but also the food. There was lots of french touches and food available, though of course it tended to be a little pricier.
It was a nice treat to have French Onion soup for breakfast one day!

We did a little trip on the electric car tour. They are like oversized golf carts (with seating for maybe 9 people, that drive you around the old quarter area for about an hour stopping at some of the key stops for you to pop out and take photos. This was cheap and a really great way to get around because it was so slow, so you could properly look at things and take photos. It’s generally too dangerous with the traffic to stop and take a photo on the busy streets. We found some great streets that we could then walk back to later so was great for orientation. Only downside was that being electric, it’s really quiet, so people couldn’t hear it coming so we had a few close calls and one little bump with a cyclist!

On Sunday, I dragged Mark around the Museum of Revolution was was fascinating to me and which he did enjoy some bits of. It’s an amazing country which has been through so much and they have an amazing sense of pride. I particularly like the communist illustrations and imagery. You got a really good idea of the crap deal this country had had for so long – everyone’s kicked it about a bit over the years.
We were there during the 65th anniversary of Communist independence from various control they’d been under for so many years and the advent of the Ho Chi Minh years so the city had flags and posters up everywhere which I was rather geekily excited about – they were a modern day take on the famous communist imagery.



The Cyclos (rickshaws) were hilarious. We got one down to the museum and that’s a great fear inducing adrenalin rush. They ignore all the road rules and go up the road onto incoming traffic – with you perched out in the front. You can only laugh as you’re hurtling towards certain death. They are also really small so Mark and I not being *coughs* slight people – it was a tight fit and the old guy impressively picked up a good old speed with us. The longer journey we did the next day, from a much younger guy, he struggled a lot more with – wimp!

Walking along the streets, on the way back from the museum, we were suprised to find badmington nets setup on the streets tied to trees and buildings and the markings painted on. This was not in the busy, old quarter area, obviously, but it places where they had wide pavements and were pretty quiet. Old folk and young kids alike, enjoying Sunday badmington was fun to watch.


There was also a little area cut into one of the park areas for people to practise their tap dancing. Fabulous!!!

This area had big grand buildings, including the opera house which is stunning and the metropole hotel with is gorgeous and I totally drooled over. They had a divine couple of old cars parked outside.


Another sunday activity was down by one of the large statues in town – all the kids had their skateboards and rollerblades/skates and were happily scooting around. Teenagers down to tiny, little ones. Really nice to sit and watch, though there were a few close calls with little ones wheeling out of view towards steps, being a little alarming! Not as alarming as the old legless, lady in the wheelchair being pushed across one of the busiest parts of the road by her small young grand daughter. You know it’s not good when the locals look concerned. They made it though :)

I just found it to be always fascinating and oddly relaxing. Not sure I could put my finger on it and can so see why so many don’t like it – maybe I have a slight masochistic streak, liking the lack of over-niceness. Maybe it’s nicer when someone smiles because they really mean it or because you’ve made a bit of effort with the language or generally just not to be a rude tourist. Also, a lot of things (taxis aside) are really just straightforward and organised. So it’s a strange mixture of mayhem, noise, order and calm!!


Our hotel room
We had been upgraded and the room was lovely and spacious with big, dark wood furniture, the hugest doors you have ever seen, a balcony and 2 beds. Considering when we’d booked it had said the room had no windows, this was a bit of a result. The main thing was though, that the beds where the most comfortable EVER! I never wanted to leave that bed. It was dreamy.

Driving the 45 mins from the airport to the centre of Hanoi, I was immediately impressed with the architecture. The tall, slim but long free standing buildings looks like they could topple. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before and I like the idea of living in spaces like that. Deep into the city you get them too – jutting out high about other lower buildings. All kinds of interesting balconies and roof gardens going on too.


Soviet icons
I was quite surprised to see the soviet scythe icon in so many places. I guess it made sense as that was their big support for so long but I guess it’s funny with it not being something u’ll likely see in Russia itself. There was also a big statue of Lenin by one of the parks. Am curious if there are any standing anywhere else. I know that there is a ‘statues grave yard’ in Hungary somewhere that has some of the former soviet statues.


We saw lots of brides and grooms posing for their pics near the lake and various other Hanoi sights. They were all lovely and it was interesting to see the different styles.


Pho jokes
That jokes never stopped being funny frankly


Police uniforms
It is such a lovely shade – a kind of peachy beige. So kitsch – am sure they don’t like the idea of that but very 70s lounge musician (see Bob Downe!)


Train tracks
Pic explains it all



We were quite apprehensive about Vietnam as we’d heard so much about.

The absolute worst thing about Hanoi (and Vietnam to some extent). The taxis are notorious for ripping you off – driving you to hotels where they want to take you rather than you want to actually go, having shonky meters and charging ridiculous amounts. Even the locals complain it’s a common problem and have gotten into shouting matches when they refuse to pay over what they know they should pay for a frequent journey. We booked our transport from the airport which was good so that was sorted but after that it was a real pain that there was no reliable way of getting about if it rained (we had no probs in the dry doing lots of walking or getting the rickshaw things). We had a great instance one evening when we were a bit worse for wear and got a bit lost in the pouring rain. A taxi picked us up and drove us about all over the bloomin city – I knew he was going further and further away from our hotel so it was quite disconcerting – in the end, after driving for 15/20 mins he dropped us at our hotel which was pretty much where we had started and charged us way too much. So that definitely didn’t help with my lack of trust of taxis. It’s a real pain!

There was lots of lovely cakes on display in a few shops about the place. We assumed it was the french connection and tried a few on a couple of occasions but generally found them to look way prettier than they tasted. The sugary, deep fried treats from the ladies selling on the streets were nicer but could be soo sweet – I couldn’t handle them much – even Mark gave in.


Boy did it pelt it down. It was monsoon season and most days it would only do it for an hour or two but it was crazy hard – thank goodness for our sad ponchos

Not seeing Ho Chi Minh
I really wanted to go and see Ho Chi Minhs body which is on display each morning and people from every far corner of the country come to see him. The main reason we never ended up doing this was the two things above – rain and taxis. It was a bit too far to go on foot in the heat we were having so we’d have to either get a rickshaw, which turned out not to be possible in the bad rain which left us with the dilemma of having to get taxis which can’t be trusted so it didn’t work out in the end. But it’s the first thing I’m going to do on my return to Hanoi (which I will definitely do), after getting some tasty bun cha of course.