Why I Love Hanoi

HanoiSwarms of motorbikes, fruit sellers, taxis, more motorbikes, noise, pollution, honking, hawkers, amazing coffee, street dogs, delicious street food and have I mentioned motorbikes? It’s intense but not overwhelming, maybe I’d say addictive, and it’s perhaps the most livable city that I have visited on my travels. Not since Kathmandu (strange choice I know) have I come across a city that I enjoyed so much and would consider living in.

The last three weeks of my life have been spent in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, where photography and writing took a backseat while I explored some other interests during my time there. It’s only now, as I find myself half way down the Vietnamese coast on a sleeper bus that I put pen to paper again. A half hour stop on a marathon 18-hour bus journey allows me some time to write-up. I’ve slept about 2 hours after being thrown around on a ‘Vietnamese sized’ bed on the bumpy roads down the coast throughout the night, but for some reason I feel wide awake. It’s 10 am and it’s the breakfast stop as sunburned Germans rummaging through a freezer looking for gluten filled sugary snacks surround me! Been eating really healthily of late here in Vietnam. It is undoubtedly the easiest country I have visited in which to do so. Cheap healthy food is plentiful and it’s easy to forego an ice-cream for breakfast!

Hanoi – A place to Live?

I’m the worlds worst tourist, with next to no interest in seeing museums, palaces, statues, monuments or landmarks. I’d much rather befriend a local and enjoy the culture that exists in the place I visit. In Hanoi there was no shortage of opportunities for that. I felt there were never enough hours in the day to fit everything in as it’s a buzzing place with so much going on. As chance would have it I have been reading a book of late called ‘social’, which discusses how our brain will always revert to social thoughts, thoroughly explaining how evolution has wired us to be social creatures. It’s an eye-opening read, and after spending some time studying eastern philosophy, it certainly helped me connect a few dots.

In Hanoi, you’ll never be stuck for an outlet to socialise, whether you’re drinking tea with locals by the cathedral or are one of the thousands on “Beer Street” on a weekend night in the old quarter. I’m not much of a drinker these days, but not since I was 16 have I got drunk on $2! On Beer Street, the beers go for a mere $0.25! Meetup.com is awash with events, and it’s so easy to strike up a conversation with a local just about anywhere. It’s hard to sit in a cafe, take a walk around the park or board a local bus without making a few new friends.

After three weeks in the city sampling numerous cheap and healthy dishes, drinking the best coffee I’ve had for a while and making a few new friends along the way, I leave with a facebook wall filled with status updates in a foreign tonal language which I will never understand!

Fishing at West lake at Sunset

Fishing at West lake at Sunset

The Lotte Tower, Vietnam's 2nd highest as seen from West Lake in the evening twlight

The Lotte Tower, Vietnam’s 2nd highest as seen from West Lake in the evening twlight

Central Hanoi on a Monday Night

Central Hanoi on a Monday Night

Light Trails at Trang Tien Plaza

Light Trails at Trang Tien Plaza

Xe Om Driver - Waiting around until a ride comes along

Xe Om Driver – Waiting around until a ride comes along

Sleeping on the Streets of Hanoi - Almost got myself in trouble for snapping this one!

Sleeping on the Streets of Hanoi – Almost got myself in trouble for snapping this one!

Xe Máy – The Motorbikes

How to cross the road in Vietnam is a commonly conversed topic. The swarms of motorbikes that occupy the streets make it overwhelming at the best of times. People have different opinions on how best to achieve it and arrive safely to the other side with your limbs still attached. One local I met once stopped a taxi and asked to be driven across! As traffic lights and zebra crossings mean little in Vietnam, my advice is to just go, and keep going at a steady pace. Any sudden movements may well turn out to be your last! Out of the corner of your eye, each time you take a step you’ll notice the drivers lean ever so slightly to the right or left, the signal that you should keep moving and allow them to magically part around you. I did however have my closest brush with death for the first time in a while as I crossed the road in Hanoi, still not sure how I managed to get out of it unscathed.

I’m not such a good photographer in the urban surroundings, I’ll be the first to admit that, so I did find myself shooting the obvious subject in the limited time I had with the camera, which were the motorbikes. Here are a few shots to give you a flavour of what it is like.

Commuter

Commuter

On the phone - think twice before walking out in front of some of them!

On the phone – think twice before walking out in front of some of them!

Don't walk out in front of this one either!

Don’t walk out in front of this one either!

Do it when she's not looking!

Do it when she’s not looking!

3 on a bike

3 on a bike

Pannnig - motorbike in Hanoi, Vietnam

Pannnig

Vietnamese Vespa

Vietnamese Vespa

Couple on a bike

Couple on a bike

Father and Son - Motorbike, hanoi, Vietnam

Nice sunnies

Family on a bike

Family on a bike

 

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  • Jack Stafford

    Now that’s a lot of scooters!

    • Yeah, it’s insane, a little overwhelming at first, but you get used to it!

  • Dermot Dolan

    Excellent as always. Would love to be there.

    • Thanks Dermot, yeah I’d definately recommend it. Although not sure how favorable the country is for walkers! I’ve had a few near misses on the roads!

  • Ricardo Vega Dosal

    Where are the motorbikes?

  • Ow. I’ve noticed only that none of the children in your photos wore a helmet.

    • Yeah it’s kinda crazy that, although I’ve come to see it as the norm after spending so much time in Asia. Even the helmets they do wear are made of cheap plastic and don’t stand up to much of an impact.

      • yep, you’re right. It’s just… every time I’m in Vietnam there’s a campaign to wear helmets and still no results.

  • Alex Sinclair Lack

    Great blog, some of the latest photos would definitely fit here: http://onabikevietnam.wordpress.com/

  • wandering_j

    I agree … Hanoi is a huge collection of awesome. Great, now I have a craving to make some cha ca la vong (can’t find it any local restaurants).