19 April 2012

Every inch counts

Hanoi is a fast-paced city with it’s heart in the old quarter.  What Hanoi is are lots of cars and motorcycles that are honking at each other and where pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, cars, buses, taxis and such all share the same road… because there are no sidewalks since the motorcycles are all parked on them.  To cross the insanity of Asian drivers at their craziest, the ultimate feat is to simply (though very carefully) cross the street.  Remain relaxed and alert, look in all directions on either side of the street that you’re on because it doesn’t matter what side your on as there is something coming at you from all directions, and inch your way across the street like you’re in a game of Frogger – every inch counts because buses, motorcycles and cars alike will nearly graze you by an inch or two.  You just start walking slowly and everybody adapts to you and occasionally you need to stop for the larger vehicles.  The bigger you are on the road, the more others move out of your way.  There is no such thing as pedestrians having the right of way anywhere in Asia.  On any given day, you can witness at least a few accidents, the majority of them involving motorcycles.  Also, most streets don’t have lines on the road and if there are lines painted on the road, they are merely suggestions… because people drive on the sidewalk too. 

Hanoi does have its charms in the old quarter though.  My friend said it reminded him of New Orleans, I felt like it had an old French flair to it as well.  It’s filled with small twisted streets, souvenir and silk shops, lots of cute restaurants, plenty of food carts with child-sized tables and chairs lining the sidewalks, and lastly, countless motorcycle taxis and street vendors selling their services, doughnuts, cigarettes, fruit and such that just don’t seem to stop aggressively harassing tourists.  Ever.

One thing's for certain, I had a great time at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel there on Ma May.  It's new, large, clean, entertaining, activities every night, has Western food, good tour programs, nice lounge/deck area, cool staff and great times.  It's also where I met a bunch of great people I ended up traveling with for most of Vietnam.  Highly recommended!

Awesome tree at a small temple in the old quarter

Detail of the tree

Random large island in the middle of the city where there are lots of crops and places to swim

More crops on the island in Hanoi...  The island is only accessible by bike, motorcycle, or walking


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