Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Did The Hillbillies Cross The Road?

Slater's Fancy Camera Work
Hanoi is gritty.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  It pulsates with energy and drive and chaos and commerce.  It was an eye-opening experience for me, for sure.  Life is lived right there on the street, at least in the old quarter.  I'm sure other, newer areas take on a generic newness (see HCMC), but the old quarter of Hanoi is, well, old.

Once we got used to the hoards of motorbikes, scooters and bicycles, we just rolled with it.  But it took a bit of getting used to!  I came to love the activity, the constant stream of people and things.  The things - there was really no telling what things you would see strapped to a motorbike going down the street.  The laws of physics rarely apply in old Hanoi.

We stayed in a charming little hotel, on the corner of chicken and bamboo streets.  The names of the streets in the old quarter are derived from what used to be sold on them.  There are no superstores in old Hanoi.  Each building/home/shop/garage is just a few meters wide (taxation rates are based upon the width of the property on the street front) and specialized in selling just one thing.  Now I didn't see too many chickens being sold, but I know where you can get a freshly-made bamboo ladder.

View of the street from hotel lobby

Our first morning in Hanoi, I was up early and came down to the lobby to watch the city wake up.  Ha!  I was already too late.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me at the time.  The shot to the left was taken by Slater later in the day.

So, I was sitting there and this motorbike drove up, carrying this huge (about 4 feet by 4 feet) stack of what I know know to be sugar cane.  The driver gets off the motorbike, unloads a green scale (also ubiquitous to Vietnam - I assume since production was/is tightly controlled, it's the only scale in town)  Oh, and speaking of scales!  There is a scale in bathroom of this hotel!  Ever been in a hotel with a SCALE?  Anyway, guy gets off the bike, unloads the scale, measures out some amount of sugarcane, leaves it against the wall, directly across the street and then just takes off - I assume to make other deliveries.

Same thing happens with the cleaning supply "store" which is what you see across the street.  When I got down to the lobby that morning, there was nothing in that spot, but motorbikes began to appear and would just drop off random jugs of stuff. I asked the night clerk if that was something to drink (miming a drinking motion) and he laughed and told me it was cleaner!  Pretty soon enough supplies showed up and a woman soon followed to set up shop for the day.  What you can't see is that she also brought with her gasoline in about a five gallon container, so she was also a gas station!

So that's the morning activity from the hotel view.  The evening commerce includes an all-night pho stand.  The proprieter of that establishment doesn't show up until about 8pm at night and she takes the place of the cleaning stand (which disappears about 6:30pm) and serves pho until about 3am (from what I'm told).

This was our first morning in Hanoi.  We would leave Hanoi about 8:30am and  travel to Ha Long Bay for an experience of a lifetime.


  1. Sounds like they don't let an inch of space go unused - chaotic and exhilarating all at the same time, too!

  2. Unreal. This is a true learning experience for me. I am amazed at how well you embrace unfamiliarity, Roxie. This must be from your experienced travels in the past. I long to be adventurous like that. I'm way better than I used to be, but definitely could use more exposure. Can't wait to read more!


We'll try this for a while.