August 09, 2007

Vietnam: August 2nd Hanoi

After the visit to the lake, it was time for a stroll around the maze of streets that make up the Old Quarter. Originally there were 36 streets each lined with shops for certain trades. Nowadays the main trade in the area is souvenirs for tourists, but some streets are still reserved for certain kind of shops ~ one street is full of shoe shops, one rather aromatic street is full of shops selling herbs and spices, another full of shops selling Buddhist statues and other related goods, while yet another features mirror shops, and so on.

The colonial era buildings are in various states of repair and few have lost their charm, and when I wasn't looking left and right to dodge the oncoming traffic, I spent a lot of time looking up at the fronts of the old shophouses. On thing in particular I liked was the way the trees on the streets were almost left to their own devices ~ to the extent that in some cases they began blending with the buildings around them, as can be seen in a couple of pictures above. Quite different to the well-groomed and trimmed avenues you might see in Europe or Japan.

A couple of hours wandering through the maze of streets was enough to work up an appetite and it was also time for a break from the heat and humidity. Opted for lunch at a rather nice-looking place called Golden Land, and I had grilled peppered chicken in lemongrass skewers with fried sticky rice patties, which was great.

After lunch, more wandering around, taking in the St Joseph Cathedral and the streets around it and later stopping for a coffee in one of the cafes along Pho Bao Khanh.

After making some travel arrangements and taking a bit of a break at the hotel it was time to hit the town for dinner. Tonight Old Hanoi at the bottom of Ma May was the restaurant of choice. It's a friendly place with a pleasant atmosphere and some great Vietnamese food. For my dinner I chose fried spring rolls, stir fried vegetables and grilled pork chop in honey, which was mistakenly and amusingly spoonerised by the waitress ~ "Sir, here chalk pop."

Before retiring for the night, I decided to sample the 'Bia Hoi' experience. On many street corners you can see small impromptu bars set up where you can sit and watch the street life and drink a glass of cold draught beer fora mere 2,000 dong (about 15 yen or 7p!). In the Old Quarter, many of these bars are full of backpackers, though elsewhere in the city they are a very Vietnamese institution.

As tempting as it was to stay for longer, I had to get back and sleep after an eventful and long day, especially as it would be a very early start the next day.

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