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Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting lost in Hanoi's Old Quarter


Hectic, noisy, chaotic, adjective, adjective. Describing Hanoi's oldest district is somewhat of a waste of breath. No need to ramble on about where exactly to go in the Old Quarter either, as the weaving and winding streets are best explored by aimless wandering. No destination. No pre-planned route. Just left, right, or straight ahead. 
There is no road "less travelled" in this part of town. They're all loaded with scooters, cars, bikes and people so the main bit of advice we'd give is to watch your step but be assertive when crossing the road. Don't second guess your moves, look both ways, and enjoy the fact that yes, you are standing in the middle of the road with dozens of scooters whizzing by on both sides. 
Hanoi is hot in the summer time. We're talking 30 to 35 degrees Celsius at a very, very high humidity, so for a walking tour take lots of water and expect to sweat. The sweating is worth it, as the view of street life you get by covering the district on foot is fantastic. The neighborhood has over 1,000 years of history coursing through its meandering street veins, pumping with life representing both the past and present.
For those able to stand the heat, one full day exploring should do it. For those with less heat tolerance, taking two days at around four hours each day is recommended. Or simply visit during the cooler Fall or Spring months.
Electrical wires string along many streets in hap-hazard fashion. Much of the infrastructure looks like it is being held together by duct tape.

Old buildings line Hang Dao road, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Rush hour in Hanoi's Old Quarter is an experience. You must be on your toes at all times as the streets fill with scooters, bikes, cars, and people. The rules of the road are "pay attention and whoever flinches first loses the right of way."

The sidewalks can be just as chaotic as the middle of the street. Locals stake out their spots with small plastic stools and the wares of whatever trade they're plying. The ever-present scooters are parked at all angles. Small dogs skitter about. People bargain and negotiate for goods and food, and fans sprout from everywhere.

A family sits and chats in the hot Hanoi summer heat in front of their tombstone business.

The Hoam Kiem lake park is a green, shady spot locals like to use to escape Hanoi's seemingly ever-present frenetic energy. The northern tip of the small lake borders the Old Quarter on P Dinh Tien Hoang road.

One of the Old Quarter's street markets.

A woman relaxes in the market. Expending as little energy as possible is a common strategy for fighting the heat.

Vendors in the market are mainly women.

A woman barbecues on the sidewalk in 32 degree Celsius heat. Hanoi has a rich street food culture, worthy of a book let alone another article.

Crabs and sea snails ready to be bought.

Locals eating a quick noodle meal.

Various animals roam freely in some parts of the Old Quarter. This scrawny little chicken looked too sad for even a bowl of soup.

An old stuffed deer sneering in a rictus death grimace from a shop window. A sight only seen by walking the streets for hours. Similar random sightings can be expected when least expected.

The Old Quarter has many streets dedicated to specific trades. This was the toy street. Others to be found included streets dedicated to shoes, clothing, tombstones, antiques, and scooter repairs.

These tourists opted for a more comfortable whirl around the Old Quarter. Though it is good to be wary as these rides are often overpriced

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