Sunday, 11 May 2014

Fascinating Hanoi Streetscape

Hanoi had some of the most fascinating streetscapes I've encountered, in fact, the street scene was far more interesting than any of the tourist sights we visited.  The streets were very busy and the traffic horrific, in fact, dangerous to negotiate.  We were constantly surprised by the seeming lack of accidents on the road given how chaotic the traffic was.  When the light turned green for the pedestrian, it didn't mean that you could cross without being run over.  You still have to watch for traffic coming and it was never obvious which direction they would be approaching - that was the scary part.  

We ventured out on our own nevertheless and even to the edge of the old quarter where there were multilane traffic going in different directions.  We were relieved and proud that we survived!  Out tour guide did a practise run with us the day before - we followed him closely and he was like our shield against oncoming traffic.  But we also figured out the technique - the key was to keep going and never retreat.  The motorcyclists were so skilled they had learned to estimate where you would be when they saw you crossing in front of them they were almost always able to drive around you.  On the other hand, if you hesitated and stepped back, you would truly be in danger of being run over because it was an unexpected movement.  I wasn't able to get any pictures of our crossing the street, for obvious reasons. I literally had my heart in my mouth when I stepped off the pavement for the first time.  But once we're on the road, we just need to keep walking, slowly, with our eyes on the oncoming traffic but remaining calm, and the traffic would miraculously drive around us.  By the end of our stay in Hanoi, we were acting like old pros on the streets - the traffic in Hue and Hoi An were nothing in comparison and even in Ho Chi Minh City, the traffic rules were much clearer and you know you could safely cross as long as there was a traffic light.  They should be selling T-shirts in Hanoi with "We Survived Hanoi traffic!"

This is just a small street crossing but this gives an idea of how many drivers could be going into the intersection at the same time.  Notice the pedestrians were also trying to cross at the same time, with no traffic lights!
Street hawker selling Vietnamese baguette 

Two hawkers selling disparate things sitting side by side.  One was obviously selling to tourists, the other - street food for locals.
Here are hawkers that could easily move around with their goods.

Lottery tickets sold on the street

Chess - as it's played everywhere else, on the street, by older local men.  These are Chinese chess pieces where the character of the piece is written in Chinese.

Locals having dinner on street corner food stands.  It seems that the Vietnamese ate out a lot, even for breakfast!
This was breakfast
Historically, a lot of the streets in the old quarter were dedicated to selling specialty goods and many of the streets were named after the goods sold with many just selling one type of product.  Now there are still remnants of these streets in evidence although the number of stores selling the goods were much diminished.

Bamboo used to be sold in all the stores on this street - now only on half the street

Another street with stores selling herbal medicine
A street selling rice and grains - unbelievable varieties!
This street sold household goods
A specialty shop selling art supplies
An amazing dried fruit store - each bowl decorated by a fruit creature

A dried goods store but it also sells fresh bamboo!  See the dried squid on the wall.
A size for every head!

Look carefully at this photo - note the train running right in front of these houses - imagine living right beside the tracks!

Like the humans - right at home on a bike!

Many stores have a bird cage hanging above the store.  These are usually song birds - the Vietnamese are bird lovers and bird cages are ubiquitous both at home and in stores.  There are gathering places where people bring their birds and let them sing along with each other.

The convoy of tourist tuk tuks heading for the night market 

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