Big cities haven’t been the highlight of our trip. With a growing middle class and globalization, a lot of Asian cities feel boringly similar to home in many ways. Local people shop in air-conditioned malls and drive shiny new cars. Pollution and traffic jams are rampant. The best experiences of our trip have typically been on remote beaches or mountain trails away from massive population centers.
But Hanoi has something special. With a population of 7 million and serious air pollution, it has its share of the problems that affect all the world’s major cities. But the Old Quarter and the surrounding neighborhoods in the core of the city retain an unmistakable charm. It’s noisy, hectic, and pedestrians need to perform elaborate dances to avoid motorbike collisions. Sidewalks aren’t for walking: they’re where street food vendors set out tiny plastic stools for customers, fruit sellers thread between traffic with shoulder poles or bicycle baskets, and merchants hawk their goods in streets that are still designated by trade. Our friend and seasoned traveler Arik once compared the Old Quarter of Hanoi to Kathmandu as cities that have an absolutely unique and special atmosphere, and we agree.… Read more