Business has brought me back to Hanoi this week with a schedule that (happily) gives me some time in the evenings to dig deeper into the gems this place has to offer.
And there’s no better way to start off than taking care of an appetite so the first stop was to walk, look and breathe the fascinations of Hanoi’s largest covered market – Dong Xuan. There are plenty of places around here to try cuisines from all over Vietnam – fresh fish, pork crepes, fruit are all available from small vendors try the famous Banh mi: Vietnam’s baguette with local-style pork, pate, cucumber, fresh herbs, mayonnaise, pepper and chill sauce….they like it spicy here.
For first-timers here there are new choices and ways to know this city without the stress of typical tourist traps. My fav has to be hanoikids.org – a student-run organisation offering free city tours. The whole programme provides local volunteer students with the opportunity to practice their English and provides visitors with a great value guide to Hanoi. They will hold your hand through an evening street food tour or wander round the museum with you waiting patiently while you take yet another picture. Book early though, despite having over 200 registered students Hanoi kids are always in demand,arranging tours and commentary that are personalised for each visitor.
But this is Vietnam after all and so local knowledge or not, this place always throws up the unexpected. I was in a taxi this afternoon on my way back to my hotel when a policeman jumped in front of us and waved the car driver over to the side of the road for a ‘discussion’. A few louds sentences followed, papers were produced and then money passed hands before we were allowed to resume our journey. We pulled sharply away again but only around the corner to where the driver slammed on and unceremoniously kicked me out….like it’s my fault that he had to pay some bribe!
I figured I couldn’t be that far from my hotel so I decided to walk, I could’ve just signalled and paid anyone on a motorbike looking for some cash for a lift, but heels and a business dress don’t make for comfortable pillion rides, they don’t help with navigating the randomly constructed pavements either but walking can’t be beaten if you want to catch the small details of a place.
Right now it’s a balmy 26⁰C and the evenings spent dining outside are very welcome to someone who’s just escaped some notoriously bad British weather. I think tonight I’ll wander down to Hoan Kiem Lake, grab a table at any one of the cafes down there and find something new to try, maybe an egg coffee…..which sounds disgusting I know but has to be tried at least once when you’re in this town.