Flying in somewhere new always leaves us with a sense of awe and excitement. We find ourselves wondering what our first stop looks like. What delightful foods we might devour first. How many fellow travelers and amazing locals we will meet. And, of course, what things will surprise us most.
As we sit down after a morning of meandering around Hoan Kiem Lake enjoying the early morning breeze and watching people practice Tai Chi, we thought we’d share our first impressions with you! So, here’s a little bit about what to expect when traveling to Hanoi.
Hanoi At First Glance
1). Beautiful Nhat Tan Bridge
Flying into Hanoi’s airport you’ll most likely cross this impressive bridge on the way into town as it connects the city to the main airport. If you fly in at night, this cable-style bridge will be lit up in 5 colorful spans (each one represents the five ancient gates to the city) that dance around as you drive through them. Quite the welcome to Vietnam!
2). Flowers Tower Over Motorbikes And Bicycles
As you drive, or walk, around the city and peer to your left and right you’re guaranteed to see motorbikes and bicycles laden with massive assortments of flowers. In many cases, you may even wonder how they see or change lanes.
The majority of these are headed to, or from, Quang Ba Flower Market which is worth an exploration if you have the time. Flowers here are sold by the motorbike & bicycle full and it’s fascinating to watch them load and unload these magnificent towers of blossoms.
3). Multitude Of Ankle-High To Calf-High Stools And Tables
If you’re looking for a delicious bite look no further than the tiny restaurant or food cart boasting tons of miniature tables and short stools filled with locals. Unlike many other Asian countries with full-sized tables and chairs, prepare to squat and sit as you enjoy delicious meals.
You’ll find delicacies like Green Papaya Salad (Nom Bo Kho), Vietnamese Sizzling Cake (Bahn Xeo), Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue), Fried Spring Rolls (Nem Ran), Grilled Pork with Lemongrass ( New Lui), and countless other delicacies. Vietnamese food is one of our all-time favorites and sitting on these fun stools only enhances the culinary experience.
4). Streets As Super-Store Aisles
When you walk through Costco, Walmart, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, and Ikea everything is laid out in a methodical way to help you navigate the store as easily as possible. You have the electronics aisle, crafts aisle, food aisle (ok, aisles), hardware aisle, and so on and so forth. It all makes sense and it’s pretty easy to find what you need.
Well, Hanoi’s streets are set up like the superstore you visit. Each street/alleyway has a specialty and virtually every establishment on it sells that particular item/items. There’s the glass street, electronics street, wood street, art gallery street, metal fabrication street, etc. Each trade and good is separated into distinct streets (or aisles) and it’s a blast walking around from one to another and seeing where you end up.
5). Traditional Selling
Sales aren’t reserved solely for shops, restaurants, and hawker stalls. Instead, Hanoi is full of women (yep, mostly women) in traditional conical hats pushing enormous carts full of clothing, walking bicycles covered in flowers and fruit, and carrying a bamboo yolk full of food.
It was fascinating to see such a bustling (and modern in many ways) city with such rich cultural traditions. Day to day life continues as tourists visit.
Wake up early and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as you watch local life pass by in front of you. Marvel at it, learn from it, and appreciate it. Things change rapidly as tourism enters and who knows what each place you visit will look like 5-10 years from now.
6). Sheer Density Of Streets And Tall, Skinny Buildings
Hanoi is a large city squashed into a beautifully small area that holds so much charm. The Old Quarter, where most travelers stay, is full of tall, narrow buildings and an enormous number of them. Coming from the West Coast of the US, and the large open space we have, this was a huge difference.
The builds here are beautiful in their own right and are typically narrow and very tall which comes from years ago when taxes on homes and properties were determined by the width of the building! You’d probably build up too if you were taxed for building out!
7). All Of The “Viet-NOMS”
As foodies, culinary whizes (at least we like to think so), and meal-preppers… delicious foods hold a special place in our hearts. Vietnamese food (at least the version we could get at home) was a favorite of ours before we ever started our epic SE Asian Journey. And now, it’s even more of a favorite!
From sampling Bahn Xeo (sizzling moon crepes) to Banana flower salad and from Bun Cha (vermicelli noodle with grilled pork) to Ca phe trung (egg coffee)… and everything in between, we’ve found ourselves wanting to lick each plate, cup, and bowl clean! If you’re traveling to Hanoi, or any part of Vietnam, prepare to embark on a culinary adventure you’ll never forget.
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