Day 32: Hanoi old quarter
Claire: Hanoi is a city with more motorcycles than households. And it's been named the worse city in Asia for air pollution. There are 4.9 million motorbikes / scooters on Hanoi roads... which is crazy when you consider their population is only 7.5 million!
The old quarter is made up of alleys and side streets, that even if you could afford a car (for some reason it costs you twice as much to own a car in Vietnam than it would for you to own it in neighbouring Laos/Thailand) you'd never fit down the roads anyway.
We begin our day with a delicious Long Black and Flat White at The Hanoi Social Club which was a tasty change from the coffee we've tasted of late. Traditional Vietnamese coffee tends to be served on ice, with sweetened condensed milk — so we're on a constant search for anything but that. Gav did give it a go but it's sickeningly sweet, which we soon gathered is to balance the incredibly strong brew. Other variations we've seen have been coffee with yoghurt, egg and even fruit! If we had to choose a Vietnamese style though, we'd opt for the classic Phin.
A pretty relaxed day of meandering though, we stroll the Old Quarter and take in the atmosphere — albeit weaving motorcycles / chickens / sidewalk vendors.
There's a lot of French colonial buildings here and we've see quite a lot of Christmas decorations too (and even a cathedral)! Vietnam is a predominantly buddhist country, but they do celebrate Christmas and apparently it’s one of their four main annual religious events! Yay for us.
All the buildings are tall and narrow in Hanoi, generally one room wide and 4 / 5 floors high, because tax is based on the width of the property. The front part of the building is where the family meets and trading happens... everything from cottons, jewellery, herbs and silks. Traditionally they tended to be a one-shop house with many generations in, but I think these days many are divided into separate apartments.
Shopping in the Old Quarter must be pretty easy for locals as everything is collected into streets. Which for us is a little strange as it means most shops sell exactly the same as their neighbours.... there's a Silk Street, Paper Street, Shoe Street, Bamboo Ladder Street, and even a Metal Street (complete with welders on the pavement)...
Gav's day 32 takeaway
Sitting down on a small stool, the kind you normally use when as a three year old in a street food cafe that had about 3 things on the menu but is packed full of people, we felt nervous about what our dining experience might be like at Bún Bò Nam Bộ. After being virtually thrown the menu by the staff who ran about more like they were luggage handlers than waiters, we ordered drinks but didn't even get chance to order food before we both got given identical bowls of some kind of beef noodle thing! They either had one thing left or they'd decided on our behalf this dish would be for the best! Brilliant.
Either way it was deliciously delicious and even more deliciously cheap.