When we first started our exploration of the Old Quarters, we were very lost. First, where should we go? Each alley has a 'theme' as in they sell different things. You have the alley of fried products, alley of children's clothes, fruits, food, ladies' clothes, men's clothes...so many different alleys! The alleys are named accordingly to the products they sell but everything is in Vietnamese. We decided to just walk and explore. Afterall, that is the whole thrill about travelling - travelling into the unknown.
Second, the traffic. I have only one word for the traffic - Chaos. There are just so, so many motorcycles, risksaws, cars, bicycles, vans...all sharing the stretches of narrow alleys. There is hardly any left and right of the road. Everyone just ...drives and interlocks one another. Should any vehicle need to do a right or left turn, they just do it. No waiting or signalling! They simply horned at one another. So can you imagine the volume the many horns created? Quite a symphony. We did not see any traffic lights and when we finally did find a few, they were not even working. We took a while to absorb the madness. We saw how the locals cross the road - they, like the vehicles, just cross the road as if they are taking a stroll. To survive, we needed to do as the locals do. Daddy had no problem with the traffic while I was hesitant at first. However, after a few crossings, it really wasn't that big a deal. Somehow the traffic would make space for pedestrians. Traffic harmony...or pure survival instinct.
Here, pedestrians pavements are largely for the stores' goods. The stores would display their goods all the way to the roads as well. We did witness a few times, everyone scrambling to clear their goods into their stores when the police came by. Even the street side hawkers disappeared in a flash. The irony is that after the police left, goods started to inch out of the stores and soon, everything was bad to normal. It was very interesting for us, first timers, to take in such a sight. Rather an amusing irony, I must admit, which adds to the colors of Hanoi. And because there was no space for pedestrians on the pavement, we shared the road with the many vehicles. With 2 kids in hand, we sure take up quite a fair bit of the width. Still, it was alright as we began to relax amidst the chaos. The kids were also able to avoid puddles of water and potholes very skillfully. It was impossible to talk much when we were on the road because it was just so noisy (remember the horns?) We were able to use our hands to direct the kids' hands, by mere means of push and pull. I must admit that I am still very impressed with our 'communication'.
We spent the 5 days in Hanoi, navigating through the alleys but we couldn't finish all that we want to see. Old Quarters is just so huge and because it is so interesting, we would spend a day exploring just a few alleys. Yummy fruits, which we couldn't get enough of, were our favourite. Soursops, custard apples, rambutans and even durians. I am not a fan of durians but everyone in my family loves it. I did try one after Daddy bought one whole durian and now, I am a fan. Vietnamese durians for now. The taste was so intense and so sweet that we returned the next day to the same stall and bought 2 whole durians. We had a fruits galore in Hanoi. On top of that, we tried a lot of the street food. I do not know what they are called but we did try their spring rolls and sprimp cakes, amongst other stuff. The food is often left in the open for a while before some customers come by and buy them. I suppose because the weather was cool when we went, there were no flies. However, we were careful not to let the kids eat too much of the street food. Their main meals were taken at the hotel, which is still very cheap, while we would buy dishes from the alleys and let them try some. Good thing is the kids took to the street food very well. Everyone remained healthy throughout the trip which was a blessing.
Shopping was also very enjoyable. We were told by the hotel staff to bargain if buying from stores, at least 30-40% lower than asking price. We learnt 'How Much?' in Vietnamese from the staff and it helped. However, the store owners would start rattering in Vietnamese and we were bounced back to confusion again. We ended up bargaining using hand gestures and the store owners would fight the price battle with their calculators. If it doesn't work, just walk away. Of the few times I walked away, only one did not call me back. (Grin, grin) . However, we were careful not to ruffle their feather with a too ridiculous price. These people still need to earn a living and we felt that we should respect that. Still, I got my bargains and loved every moment of it.
|Conquering the streets of Hanoi Old Quarters|
The Old Quarters is really an amazing maze of discoveries. We can't wait to return and expand our territory.