Oh boy, it’s Hanoi!
“DON’T worry, they know how to avoid you.”
This was the assurance made to us by our tour guide as we navigate by foot the busy, chaotic streets of Hanoi, Vietnam amid what seemed like millions of motorbikes.
And much like its narrow streets full of swerving motorbikes, Hanoi will hit your senses all at once.
Arriving on a balmy Saturday afternoon, a day after Vietnam celebrated its Independence Day on September 2, the Hanoinese were still on a holiday mode.
Traffic was moderate and many locals were out either dining, or shopping.
Our first stop was the Ba Dinh Square and in its center was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh was preserved.
The body lies in a glass case with dim lights.
The building was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. And that’s one thing about Hanoi: it is proud of all its heritages and influences.
Ba Dinh Square was also home to the Presidential Palace, built in 1902.
The Parliament House, which was inaugurated in late 2014, was also on Ba Dinh Square. A short walk or turn from the Square, and you would find yourself in the tree-lined avenues where most foreign embassies were.
Hanoi, like most cities of developing economies, is full of life. One thing that stood out though is that its proud, defiant display of Chinese, French, Soviet and local influences.
In the Old French Quarters, you would find the narrow streets and narrow buildings and structures. Vietnam, was of course, one of France’s colonies in Indochina.
Along the roads, and you see various Taoist temples – one of the major contributions of China. Vietnam was once part of the Chinese empire, but an independent Vietnamese state was formed after a victory over the Chinese in the battle of Bac Dang River.
Vietnamese dynasties then successively ruled the state until the French colonized the Indochina Peninsula.
But perhaps, the most significant part of Vietnamese history was the Vietnam War (1954-1975). It was a proxy war between then two superpowers – the US, which supported the South Vietnamese Army; and the Soviet Union, which supported the North Vietnamese army.
The North, eventually subdued the South, resulting in the reunification of Vietnam and the spread of communism in neighboring Cambodia, and Laos.
But if these history details bore you, then Hanoi still has more to offer you.
With cheap prices and famous cuisine, foodies would be delighted in Hanoi.
Walk down the streets and you would see stalls of the famous Vietnamese noodles pho, and people on the sidewalk happily slurping its hearty soup. Other must try dishes were the fresh and fried spring rolls. It is said that during the days of royalties in Vietnam, only the aristocrats got to eat the spring rolls, hence its importance in Vietnamese cuisine.
One trademark of Vietnamese food is the freshness of its ingredients and this was evident in the way they cooked their fish, and other meats, as well as the abundance of vegetables in the food that they serve.
During weekends, Hanoi streets get their buzz from the night market and bars and restaurants filled with tourists and locals alike.
In the night market, one would find a wide variety of knick knacks, customized gift items and lots of street food. The best thing about them? They were sold cheap and one could still haggle for a cheaper bargain.
If you still have time in Hanoi, then a trip to the spa and the water Puppet Show should not be missed.
The Water Puppet Show is where you appreciate the uniqueness and the likeness of the Vietnamese culture from the cultures of its colonizers and its neighboring countries.
When walking around Hanoi, though, one must always be mindful of the motorbikes and their riders that seemed to ignore most traffic rules. But the Hanoinese more than make up for it by greeting each tourist with their sweet smile, gentle demeanor and their generosity of “Xin Chaos (hello)”.
And don’t worry, those motorbikes and their riders indeed know how to avoid you anyway!