Hanoi, Vietnam… a city that lives, eats, drives, sells and breathes on the streets. Grab a chair, put it on the pavement and we have a restaurant. Stick a mirror on a wall in a road and you have a barbers shop. Put some veggies on paper on the sidewalk and you have a shop. Live, eat, drink, fix motorbikes, make a fire a boil a kettle… on the street.

We stayed in the Old Quarter which is made up of 36 streets. Each street has a speciality, so one street just sells sunglasses, the next hardware and paint, the next gaudy religious icons, the next silk, one for toys, even one for custom designed scooter seat covers! And boy, did we walk those streets – coffee frappe in hand – salivating at the exquisite clothing that so wanted to be bought but no space in our tiny bags! Ladies, this is where you come when you want to stock your cupboards with summer dresses!

Real estate costs a pretty penny here, so shops try and maximise every inch of space they have!

The traffic – oh my word! Crossing a street can be positively terrifying until you learn to just walk – slow and steady and never hesitate – and somehow the multitude of scooters and cars just keep flowing and you pop out the other side.

We did an entertaining street food tour with a hilarious guide who went out of his way to find us the most outlandish food to eat – kidney & liver pate, deep fried eel, the rankest seafood paste I’ve ever smelt, baby rice deep fried in egg that had the texture of sago pudding – we barely ate, but laughed till we cried.

He took us through the streets of the Old Quarter, stopping at various “restaurants” food stalls, where he would present us with our next bowl of exoticness! We sat with locals, got to explore the city, sampled things I may never try again and found out a huge amount about the Vietnamese culture from our guide. We ended the evening in a beer house – which you should never enter if you are a single girl – you will be seen as a “loose” woman! If you are i Hanoi, then a street food tour is an absolute must!

The Museum of Ethnology was a real hit with Tai! There are 54 recognised ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, each with their own traditions, cultures, clothing, housing and languages. The Ethnology Museum has huge sprawling grounds with a number of houses modeled after the traditional architecture of the ethnic minorities. Each one is magnificently crafted and furnished to depict the daily life of that minority group. We loved climbing up the steep ladders, exploring all the huts and seeing how they lived, ate and slept. There is also a water puppet show, with 6 daily performances, but we didn’t see it as we had already seen a show in Hanoi Old Quarter.
Hoan Kiem Lake, in the Old Quarter, is the very scenic historical centre of Hanoi. In the midst of the chaotic hustle and bustle and traffic, the lake and its manicured gardens offer a tranquil setting to watch the world go by. Walk over the red bridge to the island housing the Ngoc Son Temple, visit at dawn to see the locals practicing Tai-Chi or take an evening stroll and play shuttlecock golf!!

When travelling with kids, how could you say no to a puppet show? So off we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and it really was very enjoyable! The orchestra used some weird looking traditional instruments that made beautiful music with accompanying singers singing in Vietnamese. The whole show was done in water, with puppets moved on long bamboo poles. The scenes were clever and well thought out, in their depiction of daily traditional life. We all thoroughly enjoyed it!

Hanoi has an interesting architectural history which has left it with a unique melding of Chinese, French, Russian and local Vietnamese architectural designs. From ancient to modern and from Oriental to French, all happily co-existing alongside each other. It makes for fascinating strolls and lots of Kodak moments!

St Joseph’s Cathedral on the left

The more time we spent, the more the city grew on us. I could go back tomorrow… although with an empty suitcase!

Tai doing the “dab” as we leave Hanoi

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