1. April 2018. Hanoi’s vibrant, colorful, bewildering old quarter is a real assault on the senses, even for a grizzled Asian traveller like myself. Dating back to the 13th century, this disorienting trade street will keep you on your toes as street hawkers hit you from all sides, tempting you into their restaurants, doing their utmost to flog you a straw hat, promising to relieve knotted muscles in side-alley massage parlors. Ta Hien Street is a flag-waver of the Old Quarter vibe, a 266-meter stretch packed with so much teeming humanity you’ll hardly know where to look. Especially at night when there’s barely a free inch of space to be had.
2. April 2018. “No thank you”, “No thank you”, “No thank you!”. Newbies to Asian travel should brace themselves for a barrage of bothersome touts, vendors and pests. Women with baskets of bread and sugared doughnuts, middle-aged men with trays of cigarettes and lighters, shifty dudes with promises of a happy ending massage experience and grubby kids flogging conical straw hats, the offers come thick and fast.
3. April 2018. One of the great joys of The Old Quarter is to simply grab a chair and settle in at one of the cafes as people rush by in all directions and seemingly homicidal motorbikers weave haphazardly between the bodies honking their horns. My favorite people-watching spot on Ta Hien is Café 39, with its long, narrow row of plastic stools shielded from the street traffic by a block of parked motorbikes. It’s a predominantly Vietnamese crowd that comes here to drink beer and coffee.
4. April 2018. The culinary focus here is Vietnamese, although you’ll also find a few western places doing burgers, pizzas, onion rings, quesadillas and all that. But what’s really cool is that local residents also use the street as their dining room, with families spilling out onto the road to set up their tables and chairs for dinner. This little girl was oblivious to me as she tackled her bowl of noodles.
5. April 2018. Need a haircut? Ta Hien Street has got you covered. A simple no-nonsense snippety snip takes just ten minutes and is priced at 100.000VND (£3.10/€3.50/$4.40). The barber is a chatty sort too, despite his limited English. He seemed particularly impressed, for reasons unknown, to learn that I was based in China.
For more on Vietnam’s amazing capital, have a look at more My 5s from around Hanoi.
Like these? Then why not have a leaf through my articles from across Vietnam.