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Hanoi: Street Sights

Hanoi is a dichotomy. On one hand it is a hugely populated, loud City seemingly without rules but at the same time it has a sense of order and serenity.  This was my second non-Western City I ever visited – the first being Shanghai two months earlier.  Once you step out of the quietness of the hotel, you are hit in the face with all the sounds, the smells, the sights and the feeling of being totally out of your element.  You truly are not in Kansas (or Chicago) any more.
Motorbikes whiz by you – not going all that fast though. I think the motto of Hanoi must be “Slow and Steady Wins the Race”.  In this post, I will walk you through some of my favorite photos from Hanoi.
Our first stop was the Ngoc Son Temple in the center of Ho Guom (a large lake near the Old Quarter).  This area was packed with locals and tourists alike, but it was quiet and calming. Especially since we had just arrived in Hanoi and were already a little overwhelmed by the City.
Ngoc Son Temple on Ho Goam 
Close up on the Ngoc Som Temple
Entrance to the Park
Bridge covered with a wedding party over Ho Guom

Like in Shanghai, I was surprised at how many temples were around (although much more so in Vietnam than Shanghai) considering we were in a Communist Country and my perception was that Religion was outlawed. Travel and Learn, eh?

Buddhist Temple with offerings including food and money.

The streets of Hanoi were something else. I have never been in a situation like this before in my life. Motorbikes outnumbered cars 50 to 1. The quality of the bikes ranged from brand new Vespas (like you’d see in any American City) to older Crotch Rockets, to very old (and loud) dirt bikes you’d see in films of the American War (what the Vietnamese call the “Vietnam War”).

The guide books mentioned that people didn’t really follow the traffic lights, which wasn’t really accurate. Under most circumstances we found that the traffic lights just didn’t work. Some major intersections you’d find stop lights as well as crosswalk signals, but they weren’t working (either they had broken and no one thought to fix them, or they never worked to begin with).  How do you cross the street, you ask?  Well the books suggested you find an intersection with a working light, then when cross stick close to a local. That’s total bs.  You’ll NEVER find a working light.

The first time crossing the street was a bit terrifying. I followed closely next to a local as she crossed the street.  Crossing the street is very easy, after the first few times. Basically you watch the traffic, get a feel for how that intersection works then you just go.  You look straight ahead, don’t make eye contact with drivers (don’t cross when you see a car or a truck, only when surrounded by motorbikes).  Take slow, even steps across the street. Don’t dart out in traffic. Slow and Steady.  The motor bikes just go around you – that’s why an even pace makes the most sense. Honestly, it’s like crossing a stream. The water just goes around you.  When you step onto the curb across the street, you are euphoric – something as simple as crossing the street never felt so good.

Don’t wait…just cross.

Hanoi is a large City with lots of the amenities any large City would have. Every place has electricity (mostly).  The buzz of the electrical lines was almost deafening at times. Just look at the efficiency of these lines. God forbid there is an electrical issue — where do you even start?

Model of Modern Electrical Efficiency
Narrow alley with outdoor seating and motorbike parking
Fruit Market
Elderly Shopkeep with a Table Cat
Every destination had motorbike parking

We stumbled across another Asian wedding. I was a bit afraid the bride would be set on fire as she entered the hotel.

Here comes the bride…
Holy Pyrotechnics…
Sidewalk or Motorbike Parking Lot?
Bamboo Lumber Sales
Old Hanoi Apothecary

Kitty Cat on a Leash
The final day in Hanoi, I wanted to spend a bit of time in the markets right outside of the hotel.  It was so crazy humid that morning, my camera immediately fogged up. The streets were packed with people picking up fresh fruits, veggies and meats for that days meals. Probably the biggest shock to me was that all the fresh meat was just sitting out in the open on tables – not covered, not refrigerated, nothing. Flies were quite active.
Humid fogging my camera

Fresh meat

I really loved Hanoi.  It was so different from any place I had ever visited. I felt the City was assaulting all of my senses.  The City has about the same population as Chicago, but Hanoi is much more dense.  After several days, it was time to make a move. I don’t think I could live in Hanoi full time, but I really liked it so much more than Ho Chi Minh City (review coming soon).

Have you spent time in Hanoi? What was your favorite thing to see?  Did crossing the streets cause you lots of angst like it did me, at first?

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