An outside perspective on life in Hanoi

Having moved to Hanoi a few months ago, Mai Kathryn Brand shares her first impressions on life in the capital.

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Beep-Beep. Honk-Honk. It’s 7am and the sun is shining as I make my way through one of the many outdoor markets in Hanoi. Motorbikes whizz past me in every direction stopping at the myriad of vegetable, fruit, and meat stands to purchase their daily groceries.

A light breeze brushes my face carrying with it the delicious smell of a pot of fresh pho being prepared on the street.

Such is life in the raw and unpredictable city of Hanoi, a city I now call home.

Unique Hanoi

I moved to Hanoi three months ago from the United States and each day is still a new adventure filled with special moments and lessons.

The streets of this bustling city with its intoxicating sights, smells and sounds create a perfect recipe for a change in lifestyle for newcomers to Hanoi.

The outdoor markets are the pulse of Hanoi, providing a riveting shopping experience as well as a look into the traditional Vietnamese lifestyle. The women who run the meat, vegetable, and fruit stands are experts at persuading customers to buy their goods.

The outdoor market here is a place where everything can be negotiated with some persistence and a smile. This is something I’ve had to adapt to, because in the US, everything has a fixed price.

The mar-women are the hearts of their families. Shopping for groceries is an important activity because it later transforms into a meal that brings the family together.

A motorbike ride or a walk around the city creates an opportunity to adjust to the chaotic, yet natural flow of the narrowed-street traffic.

I’ve learned to not take the excessive honking of motorbikes and cars personally. In the US, it is considered rude to beep your horn unless one truly needs to, but here in Hanoi, it seems that beeping is necessary and acts as a safety precaution while driving.

I still clench my fists each time I cross the street because of the never ending waves of motorbikes coming from all directions.

Hanoi delights me in its ability to offer both the old and the new. On the one hand, Hanoi still holds on to traditional Vietnamese ways of life-its Vietnamese cuisine, family values, and historic Buddhist temples. These things are what make Hanoi so unique.

Culinary delights

For me, Vietnamese cuisine is king of all cuisines! I love the intricate and bursting flavours of Vietnamese food. The captivating and food-filled streets of Hanoi are food heaven and I am lucky to have entered it.

Even in the extremely hot summer weather that Hanoi endures, I still enjoy sitting on a small plastic chair at a sidewalk restaurant to savor a delectable Vietnamese meal.

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Some of the most delicious local dishes I’ve tried are savory banh xeo, typically stuffed with shrimps, diced green onion, and bean sprouts, bun cha, a Hanoi specialty, best enjoyed at small-alley restaurants or street food stalls where you will be given the most flavourful barbecued pork patties and pork belly slices submerged in a tasty broth, rice noodles, and assorted herbs, banh chung, a special rice cake traditionally prepared and served during Tet, it’s made of glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork, and delicately wrapped in banana leaves to be cooked for many hours, and of course, a freshly made bowl of pho, a national dish of Vietnam with a broth that is alone worth tasting, served with rice noodles, chicken, beef, or vegetables, spring onion, and herbs. Oh, the gluttony! It is undeniable that Vietnamese cuisine is heavenly, and it’s one of the best parts of the Vietnamese everyday life.

Although Hanoi is certainly a city filled with traditional Vietnamese culture, it is also ushering in a new and modern lifestyle, with trendy coffee shops, internet cafes, and international restaurants being seen all over the city.

As a newcomer to Hanoi, I’m surprised at how convenient it has been to connect with local friends and other expats through online platforms such as Hanoi Massive and Gone Girls International.

These platforms have certainly enhanced my lifestyle here and have created a sense of community in a new city. This is a prime example of how Hanoi is becoming a more connected city with a global outreach.

Hanoi affords endless options for newcomers to shape their lifestyle how they see fit. For me, the greatest change in my lifestyle since moving to Hanoi from the US has been a sense of adventure that the bustling streets of the city offer.

Each day is different, chaotic, and it is exhilarating to experience the new and the old of Hanoi.

Time Out

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