Usually when I arrive in a new city, I can tell whether I like the place or not within the first few moments. As soon as I entered the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam, I felt so at home, as if I had been there before. Maybe that’s what inspired me to head out into the busy capital city to get wonderfully lost.
Hanoi has a long and impressive Vietnamese history, as it started as the capital of the Au Lac kingdom in 268 BC, remained the capital during the years of French colonialism and even during wartime. Now, this food hub of Vietnam boasts great economic growth and a rich culture very much its own.
Stepping out into the city was an immediate assault on the senses. As I do with most places I visit, I studied up on Hanoi on Youtube to see what I was in for. Even so, no video can prepare you for the wonders of Hanoi. The streets were a ceaseless flow of motorbike, car, bus truck and bicycle traffic, and these people sure know how to use their horns! Despite the chaotic whirlwind, there was a certain beautiful rhythm to this dance of vehicles.
The intoxicating aroma of freshly prepared food wafted towards me from the dozens of small food stands and restaurants lining the streets of the Old Quarter. Many of them were nothing more than little stalls on the sidewalk next to small tables where they could serve hot, fresh Vietnamese street foods. Wherever I walked, there was an array of various fried foods, steaming soups, fresh salads, Banh Mi, and all shapes and sizes of noodles.
After my exploration of this bustling city, what struck me the most was that Hanoi didn’t look like it was in a hurry to become more Western, unlike many places in Southeast Asia. Almost all the signage was in Vietnamese and the US dollar was not widely accepted. With its history of representing Vietnam, Hanoi remains the beautifully and authentically Asian crown of its country and a treat for any visitor.