Ha Noi hustle and bustle

11 Feb
Ha Noi old town

Ha Noi old town

(more pics later) Even though Ha Noi is the capital of Viet Nam, it is and feels smaller than Sai Gon. It was clear from talking to some people that the two cities (as well as the North and South of the country) compete with each other: which is the biggest, who has the best food, etc. The north has pink cherry blossoms for the Vietnamese New Year, the south swears by yellow peach blossoms.

We were lodging in a nice hotel in the Old town, with small winding streets and alley ways and thousands of shops and restaurants spilling out on the side-walks (see pictures below). This means that the motorbikes are half parked on the street, so the pedestrians walk on the street, together with lots of cyclos (taxi bikes) hunting down tourists. This then doesn’t leave lots of space for the zillions of motorbikes and the cars moving around. Having said this, Ha Noi has a lot less traffic than Sai Gon (except when the schools are

Busy enough for you?

Busy enough for you?

out – then the streets are worse than a ants nest of motobikes and children swirling around each other).

The old town is bordering the Hoa Kiem lake (the lake where one of the Emperors sank the sword that won him the battle for the city), with a lovely walk way all around (great for jogging, or watching the old grannies and families do their ‘sport’) and benches to take a rest, overlooking the pagoda in the middle of the lake.

What I loved most is driving around in a Cyclo (they are banned in Sai Gon – too slow for traffic) – just plain lovely and romantic. The two of you squeeze into a space for one – sitting in the seat which is actually in front of the taxi-bike. This also means that if there is any collision (and there are many near hits – that’s the norm rather than exception) you’re taking it first. Also when the driver steers, you are attached to the steering wheel, so you are swanking left or right according to the driver’s judgment of the traffic situation. The only way to survive is to surrender… and smile…

Many of the shops in the old town are tourist shops, but there are also food stalls set up everywhere. So basically wherever you see those mini plastic stools (easier for carrying), you can sit down and when lifting your finger saying ‘mot’ (pronounce ‘moop’, don’t ask me why…) you will get a portion of whatever they are selling. This is of course only for the smaller stands where the woman (haven’t seen men selling food…) only brought along one kind of food. The bigger places, mostly with an inside dining area they would have a variety of food, so you need to specify a bit more…

One day we went to the lake in a park, to escape the hustle and bustle – everybody was just walking in and out the park gate, entire school classes, joggers, lots of vendors, couples, etc. And as soon as I arrived – white face – we had to go and buy a ticket to get in. I watched the other people going in and not a single one of them showed a ticket whatsoever. Just when some more white western tourist arrived, the guard that was almost falling asleep shook awake and rushed over to say “ticket, ticket” and point to the ticket booth – another 2 employees kept alive by tourism – and blatant discrimination. It is not the 4000 Dong (15 euro cent) but the inequality that I didn’t like.


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