Fruit Selling Ladies of Hanoi
After breakfast we took our backpack with some essentials like water, raincoats and sun tan cream and headed out into sunny Hanoi. With the city waking up to a Sunday morning the streets were still calm compared to the mayhem of motorbikes and cars that we had witnessed on our arrival the night before. We could see some ladies with their non la (cone hat) pushing bikes along the road. The backs of the bicycles and the saddles carried large baskets, artistically topped with pyramids of fruit. Some of the fruit we immediately recognised others we had never seen before. The women would stop upon seeing us and offer us their goods, however we declined having just had a large breakfast at our hotel.
Walking along the pavement (sidewalk for my American readers) heading for Hoan Kiem Lake we noticed, mostly men, sitting on the little plastic stools drinking tea, reading newspaper or chatting to each other. Some of these street side stalls also served hot soup with noodles, pho bo, the standard Vietnamese breakfast.
French Colonial Architecture
In this area of Hanoi we passed many grand buildings, very noticeably influenced by French architecture and almost all of them date back to the French occupation of the country, over 100 years ago. Some of these stunning houses have been restored to former glory and appear to be occupied by wealthy companies and government offices. Others, however, are in a sad state of disrepair and left to their crumbling condition waiting to be demolished and replaced by flashier, modern buildings.
The Local’s Houses
In between these mansions we could see the typical long and narrow houses of the locals with only windows at the front, overlooking the streets. In between the houses we found narrow, dark alleyways that were rather gritty looking and therefore not inviting at all. The houses are often narrow throughout the north as the land was taxed in the far past on street frontage so people avoided a wider house preferring deeper plots.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Once we arrived at the southern end of Hoan Kiem lake we noticed that the roads were closed off and everyone was walking on the wide streets. Next to the little park that circles the murky lake children were driving along on battery powered cars and scooters. Jerome would have loved this when he was little and I am sure that for most children local or tourist alike this would be a fun treat. The benches in the park were packed with locals enjoying their day off from hard work and some of the women wore their gorgeous ao dais (traditional dress). Peeking out between the leafy trees was the ramshackle turtle tower, which was built on an islet in the lake and has become one of Hanoi’s most photographed sights.
Walking west we passed the grand library and a large hospital. The street was also lined with many shops including some toy stores selling incredible fake copies of Lego sets and other toys. Again and again we noticed the guards in green uniforms looking bored in their huts or outside the gates of mansions and office buildings. Another unmissable feature of Hanoi’s street scene was the vast amount of telephone wires that were literally everywhere. They would crisscross the streets, sometimes hang so low that we had to duck underneath them, and always gather around a telegraph pole, that looked like a tree hung with black spaghettis. How anyone would make sense of the wire salad is still unknown to us but they certainly give Vietnam a unique feature.
Our journey continued towards the Imperial Citadel read about it in our next post.