Thursday, April 30, 2009

(Part Four, Saigon-Siem Reap-Hanoi-Halong vacation)

Hanoi is the cultural capital of Vietnam, and one must not fail to tour around the Old Quarter area, basically a collection of narrow and bustling streets with tube houses selling all sorts of goods right on the pavement.

Hanoi's Old Quarter was originally arranged with each street selling one category of goods, so you have Silk Street, Silver Street, Paper Street and the like. But at present, this is no longer strictly followed.

We took a tour of the Old Quarter, while riding a contraption called the 'Xich Lo' (cyclo). As can be seen from the pics, it is a semi-open carriage, with the passenger seated in front, and the driver at the back.

At first, we were a bit hesitant to take the tour. J.N.'s mom thought it would be dangerous, since the cyclo did look flimsy. Nevertheless, our daredevil spirits prevailed, and J.N., R.T. and i were soon off, with our respective cyclo drivers pedalling leisurely.

The operative word here being "leisurely", as the cyclo drivers pedal at a glacial pace. It is much quicker to walk on your own! The ride becomes enjoyable once you get over the (very real) possibility that you will get hit by a motorcycle or car.

As it is, we were honked at lots of times by impatient motorcycle drivers, who were probably cursing underneath their breath at our cyclos for partially blocking their path.

Navigating the narrow streets of the Old Quarter proved to be a delightful experience. We passed by hotels, travel agencies, art galleries, restaurants, bars, music clubs, stores selling clothes, toys, groceries, fruits, etc., even one or two stores selling propaganda art posters; sidewalk cafes; rows and rows of motorcycles parked at the curbs.

One can really see and feel the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, at full blast. I realized, this tour by cyclo was actually a perfect springboard if one wanted to walk around and explore on one's own, at a later occasion.

After going around for some 30 minutes, we were dropped off by the cyclo drivers with all limbs intact, happy yet somewhat relieved.

So, my advice to people who are wary about the cyclo, go! Laugh in the face of danger and get on that cyclo!

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