For this post your correspondent is going to put away his inner curmudgeon (to the disappointment of some I’m sure) and try and wax lyrical about old Hanoi.
I have now decamped from Saigon to Hanoi and the cities could not be more different. Saigon with its wide avenues, Xmas lights and rampant burst of western salons and food chains felt very 21st century in many ways. Hanoi, while still charging towards that future of commu-capitalism, has its Old Quarter to firmly anchor it to its medieval origins.
The streets are over hung by old French colonial buildings that are both crumbling and patched together with sheets of tin and iron. Hundreds of motor scooters jostle with locals and tourists alike but the streets are still named for the industries and associated guilds that plied their trade in each street centuries ago. There are 36 in total, all so named. So, for example, you have China bowls street (Bat Su), roasted fish street (Cha Ca), silver or jewellery street (Hang Bac), silk street (Hang Gai), mixed fruits street (To Tich), combs street (Hang Luoc). These guilds have long gone but the streets still house clusters of similar shops. There’s a street of hardware, one of florists, clothing etc.
What really stands out is that the average Hanoi resident carries on their daily business in the quarter while the tourists, and there are many, stroll through. It reminds me of a theme park but one where the park residents don’t know it yet. Already golf carts of Japanese tourists are tootling round the quarter. It beggars belief that you would not want to walk through this beautiful area and not get involved, smell and feel the vibe. I reckon that in the not too distant future the theme park will become a reality and you will not have Hanoi residents using this area for their daily needs. You will have 36 streets of the ‘Hanoi experience’ and tourist crap. I recommend you visit – but soon.
Ahhhh, the beer. Mrs botf and the tin lids are proving superbly resilient and are punching out the klics in Hanoi walks. This is helped by having the remarkable Hassalls by our side. On one such walked we ‘stumbled’ across the Legend Beer Brauhaus at the north end of Hanoi’s feature lake, Hoan Kiem. Situated two floors up it had good views of the lake and the standard blond and dark beer on offer. The Munich style was not available. Prices were highish for Vietnam ( see photo 40,000VND is about 2 Aussie bananas ).
I only tried the blond. It had a dusty taste but was refreshing enough. Worth a visit for the view alone.