The advice my taxi driver gave me when I arrived in Hanoi was to “just close your eyes and go for it.” No, he wasn’t giving me some great life-speech – he was telling me how to negotiate my way across the hundreds of locals driving purposefully on their scooters around Vietnam’s vivacious capital.
I often wondered where all these people were going – perhaps to pick up some food, to meet a friend, to collect a loved one. One of the things I love about travelling is gaining a better understanding of how other people live. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own lives but there is so much we can learn from other people and cultures. When I was younger I often felt having a mixed background meant I didn’t really fit in with either my English or Thai heritage. I now know that being of mixed race is my greatest asset.
Having wandered the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter where I had booked my hotel, I soon realised that my taxi driver was right. Yes, it was a little crazy, but my best chance of not getting knocked down as I crossed the street was to just be confident, and I was – I was confident in the fact that everyone else around me had been navigating these streets for years and had enough experience to know how to dodge a tourist or two.
No matter how close the drivers got to each other, they all seemed to know how to avoid any collisions – I’ve no doubt this was aided by the obscene amount of times they hooted their horns! If I was given a dollar* for every time our tour driver to Halong Bay (post forthcoming) honked his horn, I could have paid for a flight to Bangkok. The people of Hanoi are certainly the most horn-happy I’ve come across!
My short time in Hanoi was spent in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake, which came to life in the evening, attracting locals and tourists to sit by its calm waters and soak up the community atmosphere.
Street vendors were in array, from green grocers to cobblers and florists – each street lined with vendors selling a particular type of product. Walk along one street and you’ll see stall upon stall of cooking utensils, turn the corner and you’ll be among vendors selling fabrics.
Lining all the streets there are of course numerous places to stop and eat. Like in most Asian countries eating is very much a social experience. On most corners I would see groups of people gathered around low tables on tiny stools eating local fare. There is even a ‘beer corner’ where the tourists seemed to congregate.
But as someone who would much rather go for a latte than a lager, I found a nice little coffee shop at 64 Lương Văn Can called The Note Coffee where each customer is given some happy words on a little post-it note. You can also leave your own note. They sell great macaroons and do a good caramel latte!
When the time came to leave Vietnam I felt I’d only just scratched the surface. The people are very helpful and they seemed keen to share their country and invite you back. I know there is a lot more to discover about this country and its history so I hope one day I’ll be able go back and start where I left off.
*I changed up into US dollars but you will sometimes get change back in the local currency: Vietnamese Dong. At around 32,570 Dong to £1 it was easier for me to work in dollars!