a little bit of everything and a whole lot of film

26 May 2019

A little slice of Hanoi

A week isn't nearly enough to get your fill of Hanoi, I painfully realised when I got on the plane to head back home. There's just so much to see and do and of course, eat.

And see and do and eat, I did. And quite a tiny bit of drinking, too.

Try and stay at the Old Quarter, where the primeval heart of Hanoi beats loud and clear. A dizzying mix of old and new (mostly old, which I love) greets you at every street corner, down every alleyway. Just take it all in.

Take a walk along Hoan Kiem lake, visit the temple and the Turtle Tower but try not to fall into the river as you keep on the lookout for the gentle giants - turtles 4-5 feet long, very rarely sighted but locals say that if you do see one, luck will follow you for life.

Wander down alleyways - I have found that they house the most beautiful gems (in my case, a kindred soul I met at a roadside bar where we bonded over beer and Bukowski and my new favourite tattoo to date). 

The smallest of cafes, the tiniest of street stalls may just hold that chest of treasure travellers seem so intent on finding. Walk in, sit and gobble it all up, with your eyes and your mouth. Revel in the pleasure of the fascinating unknown. It's just snails, after all.

Vietnam has a very street centered culture, as does most of Asia, and Hanoi will not disappoint if you just want to sit back, relax and people watch. One can easily while away an afternoon, sat at a cafe (they are all open air, I promise), book in hand for moments when the craziness of the streets gets to be a little too much. You will find:

- backpackers sat on roadsides swigging equal amounts of cheap beer and the sweetest coffee you will ever taste in your life
- elderly couples, arguing adorably, maps in hand (and if you look closely, some are torn into shreds - if you do happen to talk to such a couple on your travels, teach them waze)

- hawkers (mostly middle age women) who try to sell you everything - please avoid eye contact if you do not want to be disturbed because once you entertain one, the rest will follow. I am quite bad with street vendors - I try and buy one thing from each because I am soft like that ("please, madame I have not made a sale yet today and I have to feed my children") so please do not be like me or you will end up broke

- servicepeople/maitre d/bouncers (yes, they are all in one) yelling at tourists to "come try their food, best food in hanoi, cheapest beer, best view of the street, cleanest bathroom, etc"

-  the lads stumbling around drunkenly; eyes glassy, souls a little lost, hearts a little hungry
- the dame travellers, some in duos but mostly alone; eyes hungry, souls a little lost, hearts a little (or a lot) fragile
- the locals, some of the nicest people you will ever meet

Do not wait until you are ravenous to eat a bowl of pho, or else you just might find yourself ordering two (foodie tip: pho goes amazingly well with some salt fried chicken. You're welcome). For a bit of wine with your bahn mi chao, head over to Wines Corner at 2 Le Phung Hieu in the French Quarter. And if you shoot film like I do, just across the street is the best and fastest film processing lab in Hanoi, Lab 36+. Did I mention that film rolls are cheap as chips in Hanoi? Hoard as much you can.

Once you've had your fill of the city (and the bazillions of motorists who seem intent on running you over), run away to the mountains for a little while. Ba Vi National Park and Nature Reserve has some of the best homestays and premier resorts nestled amongst the trees some 600 metres above sea level.

Take a cooking class, jump into the freezing waterfalls (beware of leeches), peek into the French ruins (the French apparently built their summer houses in the mountains of Ba Vi in the 1800s and the ruins have a very eerie feel to them but make for pretty Instagram photos - I didn't but your choice), hike to the peak (but not in shorts and flip flops, like I did because, you know, snakes) and,

just breathe.


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