The first thing most guide books mention about Hanoi is the manic scooter traffic in the Old Quarter, where the pavements along the narrow streets are blocked by parked scooters, and you constantly have to duck and weave your way through the traffic no matter where you are going. Add to this street peddlers, confused tourists, and determined locals, and the chaos is complete.
When we first arrived off the night bus at 6 in the morning, in the rain, the overall effect was quite overwhelming. But as we spent almost a week in Hanoi, and the sun eventually came out, I grew to like the city (although I never really learned to find my way through the maze like streets of the Old Quarter).
Hoan Kiem lake
Hoan Kiem lake lies in the centre of the Old Qarter. Legend has it that while the emperor was boating on the lake one day the Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for the magic sword to be returned, which the emperor had been granted by another god during his revolt against China.
On weekeends the streets around the lake are closed for traffic, and taken over by locals walking their tiny dogs, children playing, and various kinds of live music. The lake looks very pretty when all the buildings around are lit up at night, and it was nice to get a break from dodging scooters all the time.
Street life and food
At night in certain streets the plastic chairs come out, and locals and tourists crowd the streets drinking fresh beer and eating wonderful Vietnamese food. One of my favourite things about Vietnam is the food, in particular Bun Cha (rice noodles and pork) and Banh Mi (baguettes, preferably with BBQ pork). I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as many spring rolls, or as much pork. The fresh beer is quite flat and watery which I really liked. It’s also very cheap, which of course is a great novelty.
Water puppet show
Water puppet shows are a traditional Vietnamese art, originally played by farmers in the rice fields. We went to a show one night at one of the theatres along the lake. The venue was packed with tourists. To get around the language barrier, the show didn’t have a traditional narrative, but consisted of 13 tableaux portraying traditional Vietnamese life. It was quite fun, if quite random – and the music was great.