My husband and I had just came back from a 7-day vacation to Hanoi and Hoi Ann. I have been to Hanoi more than 12 years ago, and only have vague memory of the business trip then.
As with any city of a developing country, there are a lot of motorbikes and mopeds on the road. Though in Hanoi, the traffic situation is not as bad as in Saigon and the air is expectedly not as polluted. The roads are narrower here and there are many small lanes, so traffic tends to travel at around 40kph or less. Maybe that explains why we don’t encounter any traffic accidents, despite the close shaves and almost non-existent traffic laws. It does look really chaotic to the uninitiated. In fact I tend to get anxious when I have to cross the roads, what with motor bikes and cars crisscrossing. But like what a lot of foreigners have learned, follow the locals, which is basically just cross the road and do not stop because the traffic will avoid you. It’s amazing how the drivers, riders and pedestrians maneuver their ways on the road, cutting across multiple lanes, and you can also forget about traffic signals. I must also say it’s quite a cool sight to see women riding the mopeds in their high heels and sitting straight up. They make riding the mopeds so elegant.
Talking about the women in Hanoi, they, particularly the younger ones, have pretty good skin. The women here also tend to be busty. Maybe it’s the french blood, despite looking Chinese. Seriously I’ve not seen so many slim women who are busty. There are also a lot of young people around, whether working in the airport, shops, restaurants, hotels or driving taxis, etc. Many of them are also rather attractive. In fact when we were waiting to pass through immigration, I was struck by the attractiveness of the young immigration officials and there was one guy who has the model/actor look. Unfortunately nobody is perfect in this world, most Vietnamese are short. Seriously I feel like model tall here and I’m only 5ft4 (although I did cheat by wearing my 5-inch platforms :P). In fact, I got a couple of comments from the locals that I’m pretty tall.
Everywhere we go, there’re kids running around like wild chickens. My husband commented, “you throw a stone and you’ll hit a kid.” You see many kids even in airport, on the street. This country definitely doesn’t have a birth rate problem. The kids are pretty cute though, and many of them have double eyelids. Quite a number of them are rather chubby, what you would describe in Chinese “白白胖胖”. I was told by a spa manager here that the average marriage age for women is 23 years and that explains the high fertility rate.
People are generally rather straight forward and honest here. We don’t feel unsafe when we walk down the street, even at night. One interesting observation is that the Vietnamese like sitting on plastic or metal chairs along the road. It’s also very common to see people siting on plastic stools around or outside street eateries, by the roadside. Naturally you’re on the same level as the exhaust fumes. Only locals need do that, unless of course you’ve found a fabulous street eat.
Pace of life here, at least in Hanoi, is definitely slower than Singapore. In fact, it’s also slower than Saigon. I find that time seemed to move slower here. It may be a city and the capital but strangely you act/behave at ease. Maybe that’s why the locals tend to banter among themselves, in front of guests, even when they are working in a high end restaurant or hotel. Another reason why the work pace is slower is likely due to the hot weather during this time of the year. Not sure what was the temperature but it felt like 35 or 36 deg C. It was really really hot and not everybody has aircon installed. Even those who do, did not turn up the aircon to full blast. No wonder the people have a tendency to take afternoon nap. It’s really not easy to work productively in this heat.
I think the city officials and businesses are trying to be environmentally friendly, or at least saving energy. The aircon in many areas are turned on so low that it was like almost no aircon. It’s the same in airport, in shops, in this small shopping center. The only places where we had the comfort of aircon were at Sofitel Metropole hotel and our studio apartment at Fraser Suites. There’s a high risk of getting sunburnt by walking around. But I hardly find anybody carrying umbrella in Hanoi. In fact I took out my umbrella when we went on our self guided food tour and I stood out like a sore thumb.
One thing I have a beef about is indoor smoking, even in air-con restaurants. We popped into this cafe to escape from the afternoon heat and the nicotine smell hits me in the face. I thought somebody was smoking but nobody was apparently doing so. I didn’t wanna have a drink there ‘cos I couldn’t stand the smell but my husband said the exhaust fumes from the street was worse. So I agreed to stay for a drink, but later when this 2 Caucasian tourists came in and the woman started to lit up a ciggie, I got the hell out.
Another thing that struck us was that we hardly find any fast food restaurant in Hanoi. Within downtown we only saw one KFC restaurant. Maybe that’s why we hardly see fat people around since local food is rather healthy. We hardly see any strays around either, at least we saw a couple of stray dogs in Hanoi but we didn’t see any cat. We were told that there are some eateries selling dog meat. But what about the non existence of cats?
We don’t see any big malls, though there is this small shopping center in front of Fraser Suites, which is nothing to shout about. The good thing is that there is a supermarket on the second floor, FiviMart. This is part of a chain supermarket and many of the expats staying at Fraser shop there, but the setup looks rather messy though, more than one of those low end supermarkets in Singapore. We found out later from inflight magazines that there are malls in Hanoi, so we’ll check them out during our next trip. This first trip is all about food and spa, which has been quite an interesting and fruitful experience that I’ll divulge more in my next blog.
All in all, Hanoi is a charming place with a lot of characters. We’re definitely coming back during winter, when weather is much cooler, and Tripadvisor suggested November to January when the weather is cool and dry.