the old quarter
Arriving to Hanoi
was a frustrating experience. After a week and a half of experiencing the local culture away from hectic cities I am now in the capital of Vietnam. No more beaches, the freedom of a motorbike or relaxed, friendly people. I exit the airport and feel lost. I don't like airplanes anymore so I am glad the flight is over, but I don't want a taxi that will take one hour to the city centre where I'll be the surrounded by touts and moto drivers. I just want to hop on my moped and hit the first street kitchen I see. Can it be that bad?
Hanoi is supposed to be much quiter than Saigon. In my experience this is only partially true. The old quarter, right at the centre of the city where the majority of the hotels are located, is completely mad.
dusk at Huan Kiem lake
As soon as I walk outside my hotel my head starts spinning... I am trying to avoid the motorbikes zooming past me in the narrow streets while turning down about 20 moto drivers offering a ride. At the same time I am tripping over shoes, handicrafts and everything else that is for sale on the pavements. Oh, and not getting lost is quite a challenge! Even with a map I ended up zig zagging through the streets of the old quarter.
There is however another side to Hanoi. Huan Kiem lake is only a 10 minute walk from the old quarter and offers a piecefull environment to relax, watch the locals doing aerobics in the evenings (!) and enjoy the beautiful view. And then there is the food. Delicious, although it helps if you know a local that will take you to the right places.
another delicious plate of noodles awaits
Apart from the street stalls that have yet to fail me, there are some really good (and quite cheep) restaurants offering mouth watering delicacies. Although some dishes are not for all: up to now, there have been numerous occasions were I've had looks of wonder (and disgust) from my friends when they see me eating a fish's head, including the eyes and cheecks. My reply to them has been that the eyes are actually the most delicious part of a fresh fish and that in Greece we eat the whole fish. I was wrong. In Greece we clean the fish first. In Vietnam they eat the WHOLE fish, including its eggs, and organs. Yummy.
Regarding the people of Hanoi, I'll just mention that their ways reminded me I am still in Vietnam. One of the most hospitabe countries. This of course doesnt go for everyone that is trying to sell you stuff and the range of things for sale is quite impressive - so is their persistance! As one English guy mentioned "they are the most enterpreneurial communists I have ever met!"
I stayed in Hanoi 5 days and the reality is that even though it turned out to be quite a beautiful city I've decided I am not a fan of big cities anymore. I am happy to move on.