Hanoi. Chaotic, heaving and paradoxical at times. This city is like a labyrinth and I feel like I need another ten eyes just to try and take everything in. There is a constant cacophony of car horns and street vendors yelling. The air is pungent with fuel and incense and ash. I am constantly checking for street names to orientate myself , constantly checking the sidewalks, sidestepping piles of rotting garbage and avoiding stepping onto oncoming motorcycles. Little weatherbeaten ladies under conical hats, holding deep wicker baskets, shove donuts rolled in honey and sugar under your nose, or try and hoist their yoke (the long strip of wood they use to carry baskets) onto your shoulders so they can charge you 15,000 đồng for a picture. Whilst you are trying to take in all this it is so important to remember to look up and around at all the buildings. The architecture here is something else and you never know what you might see.
We have spent our days eating and walking, walking and eating. With a little sight seeing to keep things interesting. Usually we begin with a visit to our favourite coffee spot, Oriberry, a pokey little cafe under the shadow of a great gothic style cathedral. The walls are lined with beautiful pottery and celadon and the banana cake is light and fluffy. A decent cup of Coffee is something that is easily found in Hanoi now. When my family first started traveling here 15 years ago the only coffee you could get was the instant kind or the thick gritty bitter vietnamese coffee that was lightened with condensed milk (actually quite delicious!).
Then it is onto the sights of the day. My favourite is Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake (the "Lake of the returned sword"). Partly because of the legend of a Golden turtle god who saved the day, partly because this is a spot where you can see Vietnamese society broken down into its many forms. Both tourists and locals gather here. University students gether here for lunch and coffee, at night they skate and play music. Old men play board games or sketch. Little ladies cook meat skewers over makeshift stoves. Its all happening here. Hanoi is full of places to explore. Temples, galleries, old war museums - it is very hard to be bored here.
We are sometimes faced with choice paralysis at eating time. Where to eat What to eat? There are just so many choices and so many delicious things to try. A good rule of thumb is generally to avoid restaurants that cate specifically to westerners - their vietnamese dishes are often under spiced, over sugared and just blah. My go-to at the moment seems to be a banh mi off a street vendor for ₫20,000 ($1.25) or minced beef wrapped in betel leaves. Big bowls of pho or cha ca (tumeric and dill spiced fish soup). I have so many favourites. The food here is definitely the biggest draw card for Vietnam.