(two men chat at Hoan Kiem Lake.)

Crossing the street in Hanoi is an exercise in faith and false confidence -- the zillions of mopeds swerve gracefully around us, a sea parting for our tiny human island. My sense of security and safety has escaped with the buzz of the bikes whizzing by. An odd calm takes over and I find myself untouched and breathless on the other side . . . Being in Asia for almost five months, you'd think I'd get more relaxed about this business, but I still find my heart fluttering and my feet leaping to the curb. I've made it yet again!

(alley wall)

The buzz just ripples outwards from the steady hum of the streets -- permeating every surface and experience in Hanoi. A meditative oasis Hanoi is not, rather a city-lover's haven. Powered by the Vietnamese liquid heart-attack coffee (this stuff will make your eyeballs burst from your skull) and delicious desserts, one can easily get lost for days walking narrow streets, back alleys, and around the city lakes.

(peppers and fresh produce on the street.)

In Hanoi, even the fashions are on high-speed -- trendy sky-high boots, trim wool coats and coiffed hairstyles abound. A 5-inch Laboutin heel can push a motorbike up the curb and handle 3-point parking no problem -- A feat and understanding of space I could never accomplish in a pair of converse. My Vietnamese sisters must get their strength from the sesame street donuts.

(the alley near by the Com Chay Ha Tranh Restaurant.)

The streets here sell endless variations of the same item -- one lane dedicated to tombstones, another Chinese New Year papers and decorations, an entire block for spices and medicine/herbs, how about zippers and buttons? I swear you could find ANY button ever made here, right down the street from our hotel. Baby stuff street? check. Candy, kitchen supplies, hats, pajamas, toys, watches, books, silks --every commodity demands a street with at least 10 different stalls selling the EXACT same goods. My American sense of capitalism and diverse marketing strategies (like a sale or a way to stand out) just go nuts. How can they all co-exist? They do well! And the vendors (competitors?) sit down for Pho (Vietnamese street soup) together for lunch. Mind boggling.

(a perfect cappuccino speaks for itself.)

It's a little tougher being vegetarian here than other countries -- the concept of "no meat" and my hand gestures in a big x while pointing at cow parts are loosely interpreted... There is an exception to the difficulty of finding vegetarian food though -- a short walk down a good-looking alley will lead you to Com Chay Ha Tranh, the hand holding a lotus on the sign will beckon you to come into the unassuming restaurant (with about 30 other crammed locals) and tuck into a bowl of purely vegetarian pho or whatever other faux-meat dish you can imagine. Veg or non-veg, this place has got funky delicious flavors for about 1.00 US per dish. I didn't venture into the vegetarian pig ears, but if you've got the curiosity, they've got the fake-meat counterpart to almost all things animal . . .

(the end of the bun bo hue, so sad it's over.)

Our Bun Bo Hue (a huge bowl of noodle soup with fake beef) was a wonderful example of sour, sweet, salty, fresh and hot (both in temperature and flavor), a harmonizing combination of all the flavors that so characterize Vietnamese cooking. After a big bowl of soup, we indulge in a pastry at L'Epicerie du Metropole -- it's divine and pairs perfectly with a strong Vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk or an "Italian style" cappuccino. Good thing we're well-fueled and high off the sugar and caffeine --you've got to be alert and buzzin to truly take this place in.

If you go:

Hanoi Opera House -- classic French architecture, lovely to people-watch on its steps
1 Trang Tien St.
Tel: 84.04.(9330113 - 9330114 - 9330131- 9330132)

Hoan Kiem Lake -- do as the locals and do a brisk stroll, pausing for stretches and boba tea
Hoan Kiem District

Cinametechque -- Art House Movie theater, wine and sodas are available to bring into the movie
22A Hai Ba Trung
Hoan Kiem District
84-04 936 2648

L'Epicerie du Metropole -- the most perfect chocolate tart on Earth
Hotel Metropole Hanoi
Le Phung Hieu St.
tel. (84-4) 3826 6919 ext. 8702

Thai Express -- lacking in atmosphere (like being in a mall restaurant), but the yellow curry with tofu and mango salad (a favorite of the Thai Princesses, so the menu says) are fresh and delicious
No. 7 Dinh Tien Hoang
Hoan Kiem District
tel. (+84-4) 62 822 822

Com Chay Ha Tranh -- unbelievable vegetarian restaurant, down a superb alley
116 ngo 166 Kim Ma
Ba Dinh District
tel: 04 37263381

1 comment:

  1. really enjoyed your narration of hanoi...it takes us back to the city