The Bustling City Of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a colorful bustling city.
Every sidewalk is actually a restaurant, with tiny plastic tables and stools that come up to my ankles, and are barely wide enough to fit a kid’s bum.
The restaurant owners cook, serve and wash the dishes right on the sidewalk, which leaves very little room for pedestrians to walk.
The rest of the sidewalk is usually used as a parking lot for scooters.

Women walk the streets shouldering bamboo poles, with bamboo baskets on both ends, laden with fruit, vegetables, cooked food, flowers, household goods or clothing.

Vendors with bicycles full of produce or flowers, or baskets full of goods, weave their way across the busy streets, and there are so many scooters that crossing each street is a mission.

Our hotel in Hanoi gave us a list of “Survival Tips” on how to cross the streets, (be confident, walk forward resolutely and never go back) negotiate in the markets, hold your cell phone with both hands, never leave your wallet in your pocket and how to deal with pushy vendors who will take your shoes off your feet in order to shine them, like it or not.
It was a funny introduction to a great city, but not at all real.
It is true that the traffic is horrendous, but the city actually feels very safe to me.

Elderly women cook and grill food on the sidewalks, or bring food they prepare at home to sell on the streets, and plenty of people sit and eat the foods that these moms and grandmothers cook on the sidewalks.

There are lots of places to get fresh juices and delicious coconut water, and elegant vegan restaurants with delicious Vietnamese food from recipes that never make their way to the USA.

The cafe culture here is fantastic.
There are so many cafes serving great coffees and specialty teas.
Healing pots of teas blended with herbs, flowers and fruit are served in glass pots, and are available in many artfully designed cafes.

Some of these cafes are accessible through dingy corridors between crumbling old buildings where you feel like you’ve stepped into a magical garden, or charming period homes with wallpaper painted with song birds and linen tablecloths, serving scrumptious mini tarts and dainty cups of delicious teas.

The coffee choices are not just cappuccino, espresso or latte, but delicious coconut milk iced coffee, topped with salted sweet egg foam that makes the most flavorful iced coffee I have ever tasted.

The city is full of tourists, mostly large groups of people being carried around by bicycle rickshaws, buying silk, admiring the old pagodas and strolling around the weekend night market.

There are lots of small shops with artisans stitching by hand amazing embroideries of flowers and dragons, artisans carving wood, painting or offering tailor made traditional Vietnamese dresses.
I have tried some of these traditional dresses, but none fit me well.

Most Vietnamese women do not buy clothing off the rack and no store sells the same design in small, medium, large and XL sizes.
When a woman wants a traditional dress, she goes to a store to select the fabric that she likes, and then she gets measured for a handmade dress.

I did not intend to get a tailor-made dress, but in one store I admired a fabric, and before I knew it, I was pulled in by a smiling woman with an iron grip.
In one hand she held onto me like a strong vice and in the other hand, she held a tape measure, a pen and paper.

An old man, who seemed to be her father, was laying on a wooden platform at the back of her store, with a bag of oranges at his feet and a bag of fresh basil leaves and sprouts by his side.
He seemed to have suffered a stroke, and was recovering at the back of her shop, as she was hustling to make enough money to support her family and elderly parents.
Suddenly, getting a tailored traditional Vietnamese dress seemed like the right thing to do, even if I have very little opportunity at home to ever wear it….

The traditional Vietnamese Áo Dai dress is a two part dress.
It includes a long tunic with long slits on both sides, and wide legged pants in a counter yet complimentary color.
The neckline design comes in slightly different styles.

I will write more about this dress, as it is surprisingly integrated into the history of Vietnam.

We run around two lakes in big parks in the city.
The bigger park, Công Viên Thống Nhất, was full on the weekend of hundreds of runners and walkers.
It was planted with fragrant roses and colorful flowers.
They had numerous cafes to drink fresh coconut water or iced coffee and plenty of toilets.

I have enjoyed our time in Hanoi, and felt happy we left ourselves enough days to walk around the city, and also to take day trips to the nearby beautiful countryside.

At night, the old quarter of Hanoi turns into a colorful display of light.
The old bridge to the temple and pagoda on the lake is lit with bright red colors, looking like a setting from an old fairytale.

The old quarter really comes alive on weekends, where they close the streets around the lake to cars and scooters and a huge night market takes place.
There is music, dance and other performances.
People stroll, buy snacks and toys, trying to make their way between the remote controlled cars and scooters driven by happy toddlers.

From Hanoi with love,

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