Seeing Hanoi through Foreign Media

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As a professional journalist with CNN, Mr. Bruce Foremann has visited almost every large city in the world. Before coming to Vietnam, he had the same impression as most Western travelers: Asian cities are all the same. But when he arrived in Hanoi, all of his preconceived notions were cast out and rewritten by all of the culture and beauty that Hanoi has to offer.

Hanoi attracts a different view

As with all other foreign visitors, Hanoi’s traffic made a strong impression on Foremann. While others see Hanoi’s traffic as the greatest threat to their safety on the streets, the American journalist was slightly more knowledgeable. He saw the chaotic order of Hanoi’s traffic patterns, and saw how drivers could navigate closely packed roads. Foremann gave a humorous but practical tip for pedestrians trying to cross the road: “Just step down from the sidewalk. Vehicles will avoid you if you make an effort to avoid them.”

Foremann also discovered sidewalk beer in the city. Before coming to Hanoi, his friends told him of the beer shops for foreigners in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Foremann had been so excited to be the “first” to try the beer. “I can understand Columbus’ feeling when he discovered America,” he joked. Hanoi beer has helped Vietnam’s capital enter the top ten ideal cities for beer, voted by Journeymart.com. This travel website declares that Hanoi’s beer is cheap, varied, and convenient. It’s as simple as gathering a few plastic chairs on a sidewalk. Beer can be accompanied with a simple snack such as roasted peanuts, locally made spring rolls, or grilled rice pancakes. The atmosphere at these beer shops is noisy and full of excitement. “Mot, hai, ba…zo!” (One, two, three …go!) and “Tram phan tram!” (100 percent or bottoms up!) are often heard near them. Journeymart used the beer’s original name, “bia hoi,” which is how it is known locally in the city.

Street vendors are another characteristic feature of Hanoi, and are perfect for a quick snack during shopping. “You should experience the feeling of sitting on a motorbike and bobbing through traffic. Remember to wear a helmet!” Foreman advised.

Unique cultural features

CNN observed that Hanoi’s French style street cafes resemble a theater, with the road acting as the performance, offering an exciting view to onlookers. A perfect time to visit an Old Quarter café is at 5 pm, when there is plenty to see. Small shops above the first floor become an ideal space, especially if the café offers a balcony. In these places you will feel the ancient and the modern elements of the city.

The Old Quarter is always a stop for visitors to Hanoi. They enthusiastically take cycle rides to visit places like the house at 87 Ma May street, and Sword Lake. International visitors love the area’s handmade souvenirs and dishes like spring rolls, pho, and chicken legs. Visitors are also surprised to see street haircuts and gravestone inscribing service.

The Quang Ba Flower Night Market is well-known among Western visitors. The market is only busy from midnight to early in the morning. Flowers are fresh throughout the year. While in many developed countries flowers are harvested and distributed using machinery, in Hanoi farmers grow and harvest flowers and bring it to the market by themselves by bicycle.

Lacquer shops are a common sight in the city. Many tourists buy these for souvenirs or gifts because of their cultural significance. “Non la” (conical hats) are also popular purchases.

In addition to its title as “a land of heritage,” Hanoi is also recognized as a rising international city. This has left a good impression on the hearts of international visitors when they come to the capital.

 Thanh Tung