The capital of Vietnam and perhaps one of Asia’s most nostalgic. A sleepy town, Hanoi is not. On our arrival at midnight, the street was still or maybe already bustling with flower vendors unloading flowers for transport. The alley near our hotel, though seemingly winding down, scatters with people. And, of course, during the day, it is chaos.
Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, peddlers, and pedestrians whiz by in different directions, honking, and pushing.
I anxiously brave through this confusion at first but comfortably got into the groove. “Just walk in a steady pace, do not stop.” We were advised. “Speeding up or stopping confuses the driver and you might end up getting bumped.”
Somewhat similar (but not as crazy) to how we Filipinos cross our streets and highways, actually.
Hanoi is noisy, busy and clogged with motorbikes as it is serene, cultured and delightful.
The tranquil lakes, excellent food scene, beautiful architecture, the old quarter and colonial architecture offset the madness.
This wasn’t my first time to Hanoi but coming back was something I knew would happen again and again. Seven years and I notice some changes, more charming boutique hotels for one and the night scene has gotten more packed. But many has remained the same.
We stayed in the Old Quarter, a nice boutique hotel in an alley too narrow for cars.
This district is the soul of Hanoi where travelers go to immerse in its historical labyrinth of 36 streets, each named after the trade it specializes in.
Similar to Morocco’s markets, streets in the Old Quarter are named Silk Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Appliance Street, Blacksmith Street, etc… you get the drift.
Why? The Old Quarter became a crafts area when King Ly Thai built his palace there after Vietnam’s independence. Not long after, craftsmen clustered around the palace according to their skills. These artists who worked and lived close together formed their respective cooperatives and the streets consequently earned its names, according to skills.
These rows exist to this day and still buzz with commerce. You can find about anything from the traditional down to the knock-offs.
Another quirk that remained unchanged:
The people of Hanoi do a lot of their living and working outside of their small tube houses or stores.
And they make use of the sidewalk, which, of course, is also where they park their motorcycles and bicycles. People tend to walk along moving vehicles… on the street.
With its idiosyncrasies and all, Hanoi is easy to love. Stay with me and you’ll see why.