Hanoi is known as the capital and also the second largest city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This city plays the important roles in culture, politics, economy and commerce of the entire Vietnam.
If you are about to visit Hanoi for a few days, it is very likely that you will reside somewhere near the Lake. The lake is considered the center of Hanoi, not only physically but also symbolically. In fact, the more you spend time learning about the lake, the more special it becomes.
If you can wake up early in the morning, at about 5 a.m., you will see lines and lines of oldies and teenagers doing anything from yoga to tai-chi to aerobics. It looks as if the whole city was up and running for morning exercise. They work out in group or by themselves, with or without equipment. In the course of one of the high profiled meetings in Hanoi, an Australian prime minister also joined the early jogging around the lake.
In the afternoon to the South end you can see a matrix of motorbikes twisting along the lake. Blending in is a gang of “cyclo” – the famous three-wheeled carriers that take tourists with cameras handy around. To the North end where the old quarters lies, an influx of colourfulclothes and shoes will dazzle you, together with the smell of trees and coffees.
When darkness takes over, you can see couples holding hands walking side by side along the lake, trying to breathe in the breeze of summer night or keep warmth against the winter cold. If you have time and really want to observe Hanoi’s life, sit down on one of the stone bench, enjoy the view and have a good talk with some local friends over an ice-cream cone.
Although the old section of Hanoi is often called the “36 Old streets, there are more than 36 actual streets. Some researchers believe that the number of 36 came from the 15th century when there might have been 36 guild locations, which were workshop areas, not streets. When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. Others attribute the 36 to a more abstract concept. The number nine in Asia represents the concept of “plenty”. Nine times the fore directions make 36, which simply means “many”. There are now more than 70 streets in the area.
Despite the buildings, streets and traffic appearing old and chaotic, the streets of Old Quarter are generally clean. As of smell, we can’t really tell if any undesirable smell exists because it is always masked with the unique smell that resembles Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs and meat.
Busy traffic on the streets is always expected, so just keep the general guidelines in mind and you will be able to enjoy walking along the streets safely while browsing through the wares of the shops and appreciating the surroundings.
Shopping malls are a rarity there so what many youngsters do as a favourite pastime is to drive around in their scooters and motorcycles, sitting on small stools outside food stalls in Old Quarter enjoying their food and chit-chatting. What a simple and economical way to enjoy their weekends
All around Hanoi, you will spot street vendors going about their business or inviting you to patronise their stalls as you walk by. It’s a wonder they could set up a stall with just some plastic stools and their food ingredients.
Though there were occasions that we were enticed by the ‘mini’ food stalls, we stopped short of patronising them due to the worry that our stomachs are unable to get used to the street food. Food hygiene is a concern to us, especially with a child.