A veteran cyclo driver named Tuan took me from the front of Dong Xuan Market for a one hour ride for just VND100,000. At first he charged me the foreigner price of VND150,000 but later gave me a VND50,000 discount for being Vietnamese.
The feeling of passing through some small but bustling streets with names (in Vietnamese) such as mattress, silver, flower, sugar, salt and fish, it was like a slow motion movie taking me back to Hanoi of old.
Hanoi is in winter with people preparing for the festive season, so many places are decorated with beautiful lights and street vendors are offering decorated ornaments along the streets.
It was interesting to watch daily activities of immaculately dressed local people gathering in groups to eat on countless street-side shops, smoking pipe tobacco or eating grilled corn.
Expats drink beer at a street-side eatery on Ma May Street.
Tourists admire a calligrapher at Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem (Sword) Lake.
Ca tru (traditional ceremonial singing) artists at a small ancient theater on Hang Buom.
On some corners, tourists can see numerous expats holding large balloons in the shapes of animals or toys as they sit on small chairs along the pavements drinking bia hoi (local draft beer) or eating grilled dishes. Even in the busy backpacker’s street like Ma May the music and sounds were much quieter than back in HCMC.
Some dining addresses around the quarter that tourists should note are Xoi Yen (Yen’s sticky rice) on Nguyen Huu Huan, banh cuon Thanh Van (Thanh Van steamed rolled rice pancake) on Hang Ga, pho so 1 (No. 1 Vietnamese noodles) on Hang Muoi or grilled dishes at 47 Ma May.
If you are a newcomer to the capital or a regular guest, take the chance to cruise along the old quarter by cyclo to enrich your experience. It’s worth it. But remember to bargain and discuss the route with the cyclo driver prior to your departure.