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Hanoi – city of horns

17th November 2009

We only had one full day in Hanoi, but somehow we managed to pack in what felt like three days worth of activity into 36 hours. The city is a strange dichotomy of past and future: a shiny new Prada store sticks her nose haughtily in the air next to the street vendor peddling his home cooked wares from his front room – and somewhere in the middle are a mass of Vietnamese rushing around on motorbikes communicating in the international language of horn honking.

I was warned about this from all the members if my family who have been Vietnam, but it’s true: the only way to cross the road in Vietnam is to step out in front of the traffic with blind faith – walk slowly and with purpose, and the traffic will go round you. Obviously you need to pick your moment – stepping out in front of a huge lorry is not advisable – but somehow the crazy system seems to work, perhaps even better than our regulated system back home. If there was ever a perfect example of organised chaos, the roads in Hanoi are just that.

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The telephone lines seem to follow a similar system…

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As far as food goes, follow this rule: the closer to the pavement you get, the better the food. Yes, that quaint looking restuarant with a balcony covered in flowers, a view over the lake and a helpful English speaking waiter may look nice, but trust me, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, roll up your sleeves and get involved in Hanoi’s thriving street food culture. Look for the patient, smiling old lady with a wonderful face that looks like it’s lived a thousand lives and teeth that have seen better days, point at what you what want, squat down on a tiny plastic stool and tuck into a bowl of steaming Pho noodles, feeling your lips burn with the heat, ginger and chilli as you go. Our lovely new friends Vinh and Duong took us to their favourite local place.

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Vietnamese coffee is our new found addiction, served super strong, with ice and condensed milk. More than one of these a day and you’ll find yourself sprinting about like Road Runner after one too many Red Bulls. In any case, you’ll need one to get you started with the early mornings. The streets of Hanoi are filled with tannoy speakers (including one placed just outside our hotel window) which at 5am start blasting out messages from the Communist Party. Come back Tony Blair and your D-Ream ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ anthem – all is forgiven!

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We really only touched the surface of this city while we were there, but my lasting impressions are of a wonderfully chaotic place where you have to let yourself get swept along with the madness. Yes – it’ s noisy, dirty, hectic and chaotic, you will get ripped off and you will get lost in the maize of alleyways that is the Old Quarter. But it’s exciting, stimulating, and the pulsating heart of modern Vietnam. I could have got sucked into this urban maize for many more days, but after two hectic cities it was time to move on to something more serene.

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4 Comments...

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  1. Jayaram

    My Thoughts? Come home.

    17th November 2009 at 7:41 am
  2. Rich Kelly

    My thoughts? Sounds like R&A are missing their freelance lyrical gangster writing their press releases ;-)

    Those noodles sound amazing!

    17th November 2009 at 6:59 pm
  3. Jungleginger

    Sounds like a crazy place! I like the telephone wires the most and the comment about ol’ Tone. More please!

    21st November 2009 at 2:04 pm
  4. Miss Shmeee

    Hanoi Rocks! So glad you enjoyed it, brings back memories.

    27th November 2009 at 12:40 am