Thursday, 19 June 2014

A stroll through Hanoi's Old Quarter

After our leisurely breakfast at the hotel, my wife and I set off for the Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Hoàn Kiếm Lake) again but this time, with my daughter and son in tow. We had to take them there to see the lake before heading into Hanoi's Old Quarter.

By 9.30a.m. Vietnam time (10.30a.m. Malaysian time), the crowd at the Hoan Kiem lake had thinned out considerably although there were still people taking in some quiet moments:

We headed out to the Old Quarter. Now, this was really the colonial part of Hanoi. Hanoi with its rich colonial past, full of cultural heritage. A part of Hanoi that hadn't changed much from the days when the French ruled Indochina. Still the narrow streets, still the old houses with their narrow frontages, still streets lined with trees. But of course, there have been progress. A city like Hanoi with no progress would not be a living city at all, and Hanoi embodied a city that was modern and thriving despite the retained quaintness of the Old Quarter. This is something which I would like to see in my George Town as well.

Various signs of progress in the Vietnamese capital: one, the abundance of motorcycles on the roads, and two, the inescapable mess of overhead electrical cables.

Of course, it was easier to take a picture of the motorcyclists as they zoomed away. Less dangerous that way. Even before we had arrived in Hanoi, well-meanng friends had already told us that in order to cross the roads, one must be fearless, step out from the curb and walk slowly across. The motorcyclists know how to avoid you as long as you do not stop suddenly in the face of approaching motorcycles. Easier said than done, actually, when we faced the oncoming vehicles. Some motorcycles just could care less of whether or not you had stepped into their paths and we had to jump back.

I hear that this tangled mess of overhead cables is quite common in many cities in third world countries. I don't know about other places but I was truly amazed by the cables. They were everywhere! It is a wonder how technicians can ever deduce which cable are theirs just by looking as them.

When we were walking in the Old Quarter, whether by day or by night, we couldn't help noticing that motorcycles were parked on the pavements. It was well and good if the pavement was wide, such as in the above picture, as there were still enough space for people to navigate in-between the motorcycles. But there were many streets with narrow pavements and the presence of the motorcycles, though lined up in orderly fashion, meant that people were forced to walk on the roads and had to keep an eye out for traffic at the same time.

It didn't help that we were unused to the traffic flow in Hanoi, as the vehicles travelled on what we would call the wrong side of the road when compared to our own inherited British flow of traffic. Whenever we thought that a motorcycle could come at us from the front, it actually came from behind us. Looking left and right took on a completely different approach!

Anyway, wherever we walked, there were always the local residents (and some foreigners) sitting at low tables and chairs outside some shops and eating, drinking, smoking and chatting away. This was a weekday and the time was probably close to noon in Hanoi. Weren't these people supposed to be at work instead of enjoying themselves drinking and eating? I never found an answer to my inquisitiveness.

But they were everywhere, as these two pictures above and below would show. 

See the overhead electrical cables? They really are everywhere too.

The locals set up their stalls almost everywhere. Here's one selling pickled fruits on makeshift stands right outside their shop front. Looked pretty appetising but we didn't buy.

Could this lady be calling me to come over to try her durian or was she trying to prevent me from taking her photograph? Actually, she didn't want me to take her picture. But there you are, local Vietnamese durian on sale in Hanoi. No, we didn't buy. No point. No overseas durian can ever be better than our own homegrown ones.

Even down a dark alleyway, there is no escaping seeing people doing business. At that other end of this alley, we could see a lady hawking her ware at a drink stall.

One of many small temples that we came across during our walk.

And very interestingly, we noticed a bag of fresh shellfish, still muddied, being offered for prayers at one of these temples.

By above noon time, the sun was really up in the sky and the humidity had gotten to us. It was stiflingly warm and we couldn't walk any more, despite making various pitstops at some coffeeshops to enjoy a cup of coffee or some of their fried springrolls. Besides, we were getting real hungry. So we decided to head back to the hotel and have our lunch at the pho ga (chicken rice noodle) stall next door to it. Back in our rooms, it was time for an afternoon siesta as well as to begin packing up for our return to Penang.

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