Ha Noi city is proving to be a great place. With lower expectations sometimes comes great surprises that make such an impact. Hanoi is certainly a big surprise.
Compared to other cities we have visited the traffic here is one of the biggest shocks. Crossing the road in India was always a bit of a game of Russian roulette. Everyone drove aggressively and with maximum speed that they could muster in the traffic. Any ideas of pedestrian crossings was risky at best and we adopted the ‘move with the crowd’ method for safe crossing. Thailand is more like a western culture where they generally obey road rules and traversing a street is not such an issue. Here however is a whole new ball game. The roads a literally jam packed with scooters, motorized pushbikes and cars. To cross the road you try to find a less intense moment with no cars and just step out into the flow. As long as you just keep walking at a very slow and measured pace everyone just goes around you. The first couple of times are a bit hair-raising I can tell you. There is something very unsettling about slowly walking through a moving wall of vehicles and just relying on faith to get you through. It does seem to work though, thankfully. We have seen many less brave tourists stranded on the footpath waiting for a break in the traffic that will never come. I almost want to tell them – just be bold and be steady and you’ll get there.
The footpaths here are beautifully maintained and would be a pleasure to walk on if only there were room. It seems that a footpath is the perfect place to park your bike, set up your restaurant, play a game of cards with your mates or just hang out sipping tea. Inevitably a wander up the street means exactly that – out onto the street you go. That said, it is just like crossing the road. As long as you don’t make a sudden move everyone just cruises around you. It is quite a fun experience and certainly the life on the footpaths is one of the really neat things about Hanoi.
The restaurants that are set up daily on the footpaths are another quite unique thing compared to other Asian countries we have visited. In Thailand for example the street food vendors pay to keep their tables and chairs and the mobile cooking stall in one place and they break it down at the end of each night and cover it with tarps, before setting it up again the next day. Everything is collapsible, with trestle tables and stacking chairs and simple kitchen set-ups. Here in Hanoi it is completely different. Instead of a mobile kitchen they work out of their small restaurant in the back with all the elements of the dishes on display. The dining area is out on the footpath as the space inside is taken up with food cooking and display. The tables and chairs are childrens plastic sets with tiny little stools and communal tables of 4-8 people.
There is usually some kind of menu in English but it will only have a couple of dishes. Our technique so far has been to find somewhere that is packed with locals (and some places literally have a line up of people waiting for a seat) and then forgo the menu in favour of the point and nod method of food selection. And we have been scoring big time!!! Pretty much everything we have eaten has been amazing. Using ‘I’ll have what they are having’ means that you can see the dish and make sure it is not a collection of ricepaddy snails with calf liver served over who knows what. All of that said there are of course normal restaurants with proper menus and meal descriptions but we are quite enjoying the adventure of ordering dinner by sight.
In the centre of the Old Town is a gorgeous little lake with a couple of small temples, one accessible by bridge where seemingly everyone makes a stop and one on its own little island. Surrounding the lake is a spacious green area where locals and tourists alike go to sit and take a break from the heat and bustle. We ventured down and grabbed a bench to just sit and relax and were approached by a group of young Vietnamese students who asked if they could practice their English. It is a fun way to spend half an hour. They had all finished college and were keen to start their own businesses or get into their chosen university field of study. It was so nice to see these keen and enthusiastic people talking about their aspirations and dreams, and their English was certainly good enough to understand. Looking around the park it seemed that pretty much every tourist had a small group eager to test their language skills.
Hanoi is a city with plenty of tourist attractions and we have been out and about learning about the Vietnamese culture and history through museum and gallery visits. It is so lovely to be in a new country where we know comparatively little about and to be learning new things.
Still a few museums and Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum to check out so stay tuned for more adventures 🙂