Trishaw Ride through Old Quarters, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi’s Old Quarters are like two sides of a coin at different times:  both bustling, both full of life, but subtlely different. At night, the fluorescent white lights are turned on along with the noisy hum of motorcycles and small generators; the smells of cooking and smoke waft into the air while men and women stroll through the streets with sleeves rolled up in the hot summer air.

In the day, the makeshift clothing racks disappear, along with the tiny stools taking up the walkways where people snacked on peanuts and pho the night before. They are replaced instead by peddlers on bicycles, their tanned faces shaded by pointy leaf hats. Some spread their goods on the ground – kilos of fresh fruits and vegetables – while chatting happily with their neighbours.

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We did the touristy thing and took a trishaw ride around the streets to soak up the sights and sounds. Remember to tip your driver at the end of the ride to avoid any unpleasantness. Also to appreciate their effort – it’s not easy peddling people around in the hot sun. What is easy though, is getting lost, especially if you’re not with a guide, as the Old Quarters are made up of 36 streets, all linked together to form a massive maze-like area.

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Bikes everywhere. Cars are fairly uncommon, so there are only a few slots reserved for them on the street. No massive multi-storey car parks like in Malaysia.

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‘Window shops’ are so tiny there is barely space for the owner to sit in, and customers usually request what they want over the counter instead of browsing for goods inside.

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Peddlers selling fresh produce by the road.

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An old brick archway.

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The Internet shop was so narrow! I think it measured less than five feet across and it had two rows of computers packed inside. See how close the people are sitting, back-to-back against each other? You can’t afford to be fat in Vietnam. Fun fact: Vietnam has the lowest rates of obesity in Southeast Asia.

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Speaking of fat… lunch. Crab meat soup, salad and deep fried egg plant with sweet chilli sauce.

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Grilled chicken chop with glutinous rice cakes.

And with that, we come to an end of our visit to Hanoi. It has been a fascinating place with both natural and historical attractions, worth a visit if you’re ever in South East Asia. Til next post!

Exploring the Old Quarters in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it’s centre of political administration. Since the country opened it’s doors to an open economy, business has boomed in the city; and with it high rise buildings amidst old world streets, which are in danger of being swallowed by development.

We spent our evening wandering the charming Old Quarters near Hoan Kiem Lake. Situated in the middle of the city, the place is a popular spot among tourists and locals alike. There’s never a lonely moment in this bustling capital of 7mil people.

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Immediately after getting off the bus, we were greeted by the noisy rumble of hundreds of motorcycles and the honking of cars. Crossing the street at the Old Quarters is an adventure on it’s own, as there are no traffic lights and the vehicles keep going in a constant, unending flow. And I thought traffic in Kuala Lumpur was mad!

The 36 streets of the Old Quarters have existed since the 1000s, and were home to specialised merchants selling silk, silver, gold and jewelry. These days, they house chic looking cafes, clothing and souvenir shops to fresh fruit and noodle stalls manned by loud, sweaty middle aged women. Most shops were just turning on their lights for the night.

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I accompanied JQ to go ao-dai hunting. Came across these souvenirs instead (no, they’re not real. phew!)

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Low tables and stools line the five-foot walkway, which locals squeeze themselves into, sitting shoulder to shoulder over steaming hot bowls of pho topped with herbs, or groundnuts.Since it was summer and the weather can reach up to 40 degrees, some men had their shirts rolled up over their bellies while others simply went topless. Everyone chatted over their meals in good cheer.

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A back alley selling cheap summer dresses and tee shirts.

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There is definitely no shortage of sights, sounds and smells while walking in the Old Quarters. A resourceful peddler overturns a couple of plastic chairs to serve as a table for her fruit and pickle stall.

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This lady must have been toting her lychees in two wicker baskets for the whole day, putting my very unfit self to shame.

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Women selling French baguette, a legacy left behind by their once colonial masters. We managed to try the one stuffed with meat and vegetables, dubbed banh mi by the locals. It was spicy and juicy and delicious, with a hard outer crust and warm, soft gooey meat and veges on the inside.

Makeshift stalls are really just boxes made into tables, propped up by plastic chairs.

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Cheap shoes and pirated Nikes galore.

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Just opposite the Old Quarters is the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, or ‘Lake of the returned sword’. On an island in the middle sits Turtle Tower and Bridge of the Rising Sun. Unfortunately it was closed at this time. There were lots of locals taking a stroll on the outer edges of the lake, munching on candy and snacks.

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Then we had a fancy dinner at a French/Vietnamese restaurant. There was seafood and corn soup…

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Salad…

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Stir fried shrimp

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And deep fried rice cakes. These were insanely addictive, with a crispy outer crust and chewy insides.

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Thick slices of beef topped with chopped nuts. These were pretty good albeit a little tough.

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Fried rice

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Veggies.

The Old Quarters are definitely worth a visit for travelers to Hanoi for their great shopping deals. Even though prices can be jacked up at times, one can always negotiate and they are still cheaper than anywhere else.

Getting There

Hanoi Train station is 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes walk from anywhere in the Old Quarter.

Taxi costs $2 or if you have time, walk down Hang Bong street until you reach Tran Quy Cap station.