7 ways Hanoi is unlike any other Asian city P2

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Hang Dau

3. The ultimate old quarter

The Old Quarter isn’t just a figurative phrase in Hanoi. A maze of at least 36 streets between Hanoi’s famed Hoan Kiem Lake, the Red River and the few walls that remain of the Hanoi Citadel, the Old Quarter is more than 1,000 years old and still going strong.

The oldest surviving neighborhood in Vietnam, the Old Quarter became a market place where artisans organized themselves into 36 guilds (the guild of silk, silver, bamboo rafts, conical hats, and sweet potatoes to mention a few), each occupying a street.  The craftsmen have since been overwhelmed by tourism, motor bikes, bars and Zippo lighter touts. But small temples, pagodas and hidden communal guild houses still remain from the era of the guilds.

More iconic now are the tube houses, skinny and tall by force of a land tax on street frontage. Check out tube houses at 87 Ma May Street or at 38 Hang Dao. To spot French colonial townhouses whose lower floors are often disguised by commercial facades, you just have to look at the roof of the house which is usually preserved in its original state.

The Vietnamese heart of colonial Hanoi, the Old Quarter is where the anti-French movement originally headquartered itself.

4. Pop war

The Vietnam War is remembered as much for the atrocities that occurred as it is for the anti-war demonstrations abroad. A pilgrimage to Hanoi is part of the catharsis sought by veterans of the Vietnam war.

Others who grew up hearing cool protest songs by Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, remain fascinated by a war that is associated with the rebellious 1960s and 1970s. It is a war that influenced a decade of youth culture in the U.S. and continues to inform pop culture around the world.

For scars of U.S. bombings of Hanoi check out the Long Bien bridge which crosses the Red River and transported supplies from the port at Hai Phong. Or visit the Hoa Lo prison, dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American GIs.

Hang Dau

5. Shoulder-pole retail

As a tourism capital, Hanoi is surprisingly devoid of mega shopping malls. Instead, there’s the rather more interesting one-(wo)man shoulder pole shop. Whatever you want comes to you in rattan baskets looped through a rope and balanced in pairs on bamboo poles resting on the shoulders.

These are both shop front and transport for foot vendors who can frequently be spotted underneath conical hats, triggering the photographic instinct in tourists. Buy something — bowls of pho, mangosteens, bunches of flowers, hair clips, household utensils — and the photos will be accompanied by a broad Vietnamese grin.

6. Body of interest

Hanoi is the only city in Southeast Asia with an embalmed leader on display. The real body of Ho Chi Min lies preserved in his mausoleum, much against his own wish to be cremated. Such is the consequence of being the person in the middle of a personality cult.

Real emotion pours out of the thousands who come to view his body each day and view the man not as a dictator but as the hero of Vietnam’s independence from foreign control.

7. So French, but not

hilst people from Hanoi are considered aloof by southern Vietnamese, they have nothing on Parisians.  The Vietnamese have not forsaken their French colonial heritage and it is a great place to enjoy French aesthetics with Asian hospitality.

Many wonderful French buildings remain, mostly functional and not a few sporting a fashionable bohemian decay. However, the success of French-Vietnamese fusion is best experienced through Hanoi’s food.

French baguettes are stuffed with Vietnamese pâté and pickled vegetables to create the rich and tangy banh mi sandwiches. Coffee is an obsession passed on by the French. In Hanoi, your espresso drips through a small aluminum filter into sweet condensed milk.

Cafés are still arranged in the French style, as if the street is a theater and the café is the audience section. But diners are usually perched on humble plastic or rattan chairs that are mere inches from the ground. vietnam travel 

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