The first impression of the Old Quarter in Hanoi is chaos.
The streets are crowded with traffic – mostly motorbikes, but also cars, often ridiculously large for the narrow streets,and the odd bicycle, usually ridden by an elderly person, a person who’s clearly very poor, or a youngster.There are few traffic lights and apparently even fewer road rules.
The footpaths are not for walking on. They are crowded with parked motorbikes and with people using them as an extension of their living room, workshop or shopfront. They are also occupied by street restaurant selling drinks and food cooked over coal-fired braziers, surrounded by diners hunched over small plastic tables on even smaller plastic stools for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Walking’s hard work, even if it’s a time of year when it’s not too hot. For a westerner used to sauntering down the street an empty stretch of pavement is a (rare) sight for sore eyes.
After a while it becomes apparent that, more than many cities, Hanoi is a collection of villages, and the chaos starts to make sense.