Hanoi Vietnam, like so many places we have been to on PacRim, was more than I ever could have imagined. A city is a living breathing thing and no matter what anyone tells you about it, being in the city is so much more. I think that writing these blog entries are incredibly difficult for exactly this reason. I think it is a lot like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle. Kelsey and Katelyn suggested that I describe the city the way we saw it most days; the part of Hanoi that we would see when we walked from our campus in the south eastern part of the city up to the old market.
We stayed in the foreign student dorms of Vietnam National University. Right across the street were several football pitches. Pick-up soccer games could be heard at almost any hour of the day. It seemed like guys were out playing from 5 in the morning until the lights shut off at midnight. Take a right out of the gate of the dormitory and you walk down a side street that is cluttered with scooters like all of the side streets in Hanoi. If you walk outside the gates after 11, you could buy some fresh fruit from a bicycle vendor. Pineapples were especially fun to get because they were very small and would be cut in such a way that the stem could be used as a handle and except for the stem everything can be eaten. The core has the texture of sugarcane but is edible as well.
Another right at the first intersection then walking straight will take you by one of the best Pho soup restaurants near campus. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup that is a very simple base with rice noodles, onions, garlic, hot peppers, cilantro, lime and a variety of meat. Past the Pho stand, the main street takes you straight to the heart of town.
Heading north on this main street will bring you to one of the first major street crossings. To the uninitiated, crossing a street in Vietnam can be a harrowing adventure. Though people pay much more attention to the street lights now, according to Elisabeth Benard, crossing traffic still is much more similar to forging a stream. You have to start across and keep your eyes on the prize. If you keep your pace and don’t make any sudden stops or deviations from your course the scooters will find a way around you. Though it sometimes seems to me like a real life and death ‘frogger’ game, I think that crossing the street is pretty exhilarating. I might have to run across a few lanes of highway traffic to get the same adrenaline rush back in the states. But I think I have had my fill for quite a while.
Once you are across the street, it is a pleasant walk down a tree lined boulevard. The majority of the buildings towards the “old quarter” of town are done in a French colonial style. The buildings are a buttery yellow color with white trim and have verandas that overlook the street. Shops spill their wears out onto the sidewalk during the day and there are numerous coffee shops along the way too.
Coffee in Vietnam is STRONG. Generally served cold, the coffee also comes either dark, with a little bit of sweetened condensed milk, or a lot of sweetened condensed milk. Because the coffee is so strong and the atmosphere is relaxed, it is easy to spend hours in Vietnamese cafes on a hot afternoon.
The closer to the lake you get, the more tourists can be seen and more tourist shops appear selling all manner of t-shirts, hats, knock off backpacks, and snake wine. Xeom (say oohm) drivers are everywhere shouting offers for rides on their motorbikes. Hanoi is a vibrant and fun city to walk around in. There are numerous neighborhoods outside of the touristy areas that have a lot of interesting sights to offer. While returning from walking to the US Consulate, Marlene and I happened to walk past a food stand that was selling roast dog. We did not stop to try it. Most of the other street food is more normal fare and is incredibly good and incredibly cheap.
Hanoi is a blend of traditional Vietnam with the Vietnam under French imperialism and a modern Vietnam. I look forward to returning to Vietnam and Hanoi soon.
(Article by Rachel J.)