The streets of Hanoi are full of life and vibrancy. Whether people are shopping, eating, or simply walking from A to B, the city streets are like a stage, with everyday people fulfilling the roles of actors playing their part. When I visited Hanoi, simply walking around the streets and observing life as it was happening was one my favourite things to do.
Hanoi is a very interesting city architecturally. There is a mixture of run-down shop houses, grand colonial era French buildings, brutalist concrete structures and modern gleaming glass skyscrapers.
To the right of this photo (you can see the black bricks) is an ultra modern building with big glass windows and expensive designer clothes that those who live next door could never hope to afford. The contrast between new and old, rich and poor is everywhere to be seen. I am curious about how long the two worlds will be able to live side by side before the poor are moved away to make way for a more moneyed populace.
As with everywhere else in Vietnam, the scooter is the king of the roads.
One of the themes that is often discussed by urban planners around the world is that of “transit oriented development” – essentially the development of residential/entertainment/business precincts around public transport. With trains still actively running along these tracks, these developments are certainly transit oriented.
One of the big advantages of riding a scooter is that you’re not just restricted to the roads. This does, however, provide pedestrians with an added incentive to be alert.
Hop onto the back of your friend’s scooter.
Go on a family outing.
Transport goods from A to B in a single trip.
The Dong Xuan market is very large and all sorts or things can be found amongst its vendors. It is quite touristy and there are a lot of shops selling tacky useless stuff. The second storey appeared to be more popular amongst locals, with lots of fabric and material for sale.
I found the streets and shops outside of the market to be much more interesting. I bought a few things from one of the many cookware shops outside and saved a lot of money versus what I would have paid in back home.
There were heavy showers forecast for the afternoon on this particular day. As the skies turned from blue to grey, and the inevitable drew near, the streets of Hanoi took on a different vibe. Shop keepers brought in anything that looked like it could be blown away, vendors selling ponchos and umbrellas appeared out of what seemed like thin air, other street vendors hurriedly packed up their wares and headed for shelter. Before I knew it, the streets were (by Hanoi standards) very quiet and soon afterwards, the skies opened up.
Looking through the photos above, you could be forgiven for thinking that everywhere in Hanoi is intense and hectic. You wouldn’t be too far from the truth, but there are certainly pockets of the city where it felt like being transported to another place.
Just to the north of the old city is an area full of very nice homes that is clearly very popular with the French expatriate community (given the shops and cafes in the area). Compared to what I had experienced in Hanoi up to this point, it felt like the world was standing still and everyone around seemed very relaxed.
There is a lot to do in Hanoi as a tourist, and it’s all very affordable. One of the best things to do in the city however is completely free and if you ever visit, I would highly recommend you set aside a decent amount of time to simply walk around. Skip the cabs, skip the rickshaws that seem to be so popular with tourists and walk.