Monday, November 07, 2016

Things I've learned about Hà Nội, Việt Nam

I feel like I've been on vacation for more than a week. After my time in Viet Nam, I feel so much more relaxed and rejuvenated. An indicator of how stressed and tired I was leading into the break, I suppose.

As with my trend in travelling, I knew very little about Viet Nam before I decided to make it my next destination. I don't recall ever hearing the language before, wasn't sure what was considered "vietnamese food," and didn't know what to expect culture-wise. ㅎㅎ. I know of the Viet Nam war, but I don't really know the details of that either. For me, that's what makes it fun: stepping out into the unknown to learn whatever I can.
This picture was snapped between passing cars and trucks; one of my first views after arriving
My first couple of days in Hanoi were overcast and rainy. Not really the best start to my vacation... But, you can't order the weather and I was determined to get out and do things (although I was tempted to stay inside). My hostel was located in Hanoi's Old Quarter, which I quickly realized is foreigner/traveller central. Every other booth seemed to be a souvenir shop, a tour booking agency, restaurant, or a hostel/hotel. ㅋㅋㅋ. Thus one of the first things I learned: tourists are abundant in Hanoi. Meeting other travellers is a very different dynamic than meeting locals, but still a lot of fun. I like hearing where people are coming from, where they are going, and asking if they'd like to do some exploring together.

2. The Old Quarter's Themed Streets
As you explore the quarter, you'll quickly notice that merchandise is localized. There will be a block where every store sells scarves and then a block later everyone is selling shoes. Do you need jackets? Go to the street over there. Dried goods? Check the one in that direction, and so on. I'm so used to the big stores that sell everything that it was cool walking past shops that were specialized--especially when I passed a stuffed animal store next to a Styrofoam store. Quite the contrast.
The stuff animal and Styrofoam stores
3. 'Bicycle Venders'
I wish this was a thing where I live. Many women (I don't recall seeing any men), have baskets on the front or back of their bicycles filled with produce, flowers or other merchandise. They walk their bikes along the streets, occasionally popping up their kick stand to "set up shop" at a certain location. There were so many people selling fresh cut flowers! I would love to buy fresh flowers from a bike vendor whenever I felt like it. Definitely a perk to the Hanoi life.
Flower power! (There were also fruit vendors at their backs)
A number of fruit vendors set up along the roadside
A bicycle vendor on the move in the traffic
4. What road rules?
Speaking of bicycles, they and motorbikes appear to be the most popular method of travel. I have no factual statistics to back that statement besides my eyeballs. They wiz in and out of everywhere. To cross the street, you just hold your hand up and walk, expecting traffic to part like the sea. It can be quite nerve-wracking at first, but surprisingly the system works. There's an ebb and flow that makes me think of those animated scenes from Finding Nemo.
In such a bustling city, this vacant railway stands out
5. If you are a foreigner, you will be cheated. No ifs ands or buts.
Sad life, really, but I don't think you can avoid it unless you are with a local person. If you're travelling in the first place, you must be rich, right? But in all fairness, even when I was cheated, I don't think it was very much by western standards.

6. A lot of people want to practice English.
A French tourist and I were walking around the lake near the Old Quarter and were stopped at least 5 times by university students and children wanting to practice English, asking us questions and so forth. Another traveller said that we were probably the victim of pick pockets, but I didn't have anything stolen and I don't think my friend did either. Honestly, it got to the point where we switched to French because otherwise we would never have reached the restaurant.
Night lights reflecting on Hoàn Kiếm Lake
7. The food is delicious
I had a lot of noodles (naturally) and only scratched the surface of the different Vietnamese dishes. There were too many to try in only a couple of days. In the picture below, the woman was steaming rice water (or milk, I'm not sure) until it became more like a pancake. Then she rolled veggies and meat inside. Tasty. It's a shame, but I suppose I'll just have to go back...
At a whole-in-the-wall restaurant you can find some delicious food
Love and Hugs.

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