Everyone told me that Hanoi is chaotic but experiencing it is a different story altogether. It is a beautiful city with vibrant colors; Sino-Vietnamese traditions mixed up with french colonial influences. I can’t help but remarked many times how strong the Chinese influence is in Hanoi; from the architecture design, colors to cuisine and culture. Well, it is called Sino-Vietnamese for a reason.
Hanoi lives up well to its fame; the traffic is really chaotic with many motorcycles going around with nonstop honking, the food culture is vibrant, even the street vendors sell fantastic food; the city is beautiful with colorful rundown buildings lending the city a very pleasant rustic atmosphere. This is a city that seems to have grown organically, built by the people in any way they deem suitable. One moment I thought I am settling in and the next moment, I am in for a surprise.
We stayed in the old quarter and turned out to be a fantastic choice. There are many great food options around the area, the streets of the old quarter is a really charm to walk around and get lost in. The sights are all within a short walking distance from our hotel; what else can we ask for more?
36 Old Streets of Hanoi
The highlight of the trip for me is the 36 old streets of Hanoi; also known as the old quarter. Different street specializes in different craft and we found a street selling bamboos, another street we stumbled upon sells sewing materials, and the third for the shoes. Many of the shops are still occupying century-old rundown colonial era buildings. For some, this might sounds hazardous but this certainly give an air of history and authenticity.
I find the streets so interesting and picturesque although evading the motorcycles while clinging very closely to my life is not an easy ordeal. This is an exaggerated statement from a very subjective view, I have the tendency to find beauty in this kind of chaos.
Temple of Literature
When I was researching for Hanoi, I felt that the trip would be more about exploring the city to experience the lifestyle and the food because there aren’t many things to see in Hanoi. So, I didn’t have high expectation before visiting the temple of literature and I was in for a surprise. Lucky for us, the weather was pleasant and there isn’t a lot of crowd at the temple, made the visit really enjoyable.
Dong Xuan Market
I contemplated for a long time before deciding on this; Dong Xuan market. I am pretty sure someone somewhere has named this place ‘The Grand Bazaar of Hanoi’ but this is just a big wholesale cloth market like any other. The interesting bits for me are the surrounding streets where the fresh produces, cooking tools stall are; I always like visiting the fresh market where the locals buy groceries, so it was a pretty cool experience for me.
If you need a break from the noise and chaos of old quarter, french quarter is the place to go. The streets are wide with spacious pavements, the buildings and gardens are majestic and you can find high-end restaurants and fashion boutiques here. This was another pleasant surprise for me, after all, there is another side to the Hanoi old town. Despite all the economic developments and modernization, the french quarter maintains the old world charm and it really feel like stepping back in time.
Food & Cafe culture
I doubt that you can claim that you have visited Hanoi without trying out the local dishes or their thick strong Vietnamese coffee. We went to a lot of food places; mostly are small establishments specializing in one type of food while some places are just roadside stalls. We got a lot of amusing glances from other local diners for being overly excited on the food and attempting to try as many things as possible.
When we talk about cafe hopping, cappuccino comes up. No sir, not in Hanoi. The cafes here focused on thick strong Vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk, not espresso mixed with fancy frothed skinny milk. Well, when you have a great originality in your traditional cafe culture, there is little room for a skinny latte. We visited a few cafes on our visit and every cup tastes great. I stopped thinking about the amount of caffeine after my second glass of cà phê đá (iced coffee).