The Old Quarter of Hanoi does boast a traditional indoor market, but the streets are full of hawkers and street vendors. It feels as if you’re exploring one big moveable feast.
The narrow streets, flanked by dilapidated French colonial buildings, bustle with people on foot, mopeds, bicycles, cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) and cars. The mopeds dominate to the extent that they park on the pavements, forcing pedestrians onto the crowded roads.
The vehicles sound their horns constantly. The cacophony is unrelenting and exhausting. To cross the roads you just have to keep walking steadily between the vehicles and hope they won't hit you: it takes a leap of faith the first time you do it but everyone knows the system and it works.
As you pick your way hawkers call and cajole. Did I want a rickshaw ride, a t-shirt that reads “Good Morning, Vietnam” or a piece of pineapple from a hawker in a pointy hat carrying baskets dangling from cane poles?
It was February and it was very cold. I knew Hanoi would be cooler than most of South East Asia but we hadn’t realised just how far north the city is. I was able to buy a jacket on a market stall but my husband couldn’t find anything to fit him; the Vietnamese are tiny.
The locals eat on the streets in the Old Quarter. They sit on tiny plastic stools and use chopsticks to slurp soupy noodles out of big bowls.
Some of the Vietnamese food choices on display are alarming for most western tastes. What we thought was the back end of a suckling pig turned out to be the back end of a dog. But we really drew the line when we saw a basket full of live toads… take your pick and they’ll prepare one or two for you on the spot.