Sensory Hanoi

   By Mary Carol Fitzgerald



Wandering the Streets of Vietnam’s Capital City

Street scenes in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.


Struggling to keep my eyes open I drifted in and out of sleep in the back seat of our taxi on the way from Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, the country’s capital city with a population of 6 million plus. Located in the north, Hanoi is a great arrival (or departure) point for Vietnam travel.

After nearly 24 hours of travel to the other side of the world, we had finally touched ground, and for some reason I decided not to sleep much despite our luxurious business class layflat beds on Turkish Airlines. Needless to say, I was now utterly exhausted.

Thankfully, we had our visas in hand and passports stamped ahead of time through AAA’s reputable recommendation, Travisa. We cruised through customs with ease, exchanged money on the way out of the airport and hopped in a cab. As the taxi zipped through the busy streets of Hanoi—I felt that our Vietnam adventure had officially begun.


More of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.


The streets were tight and narrow filled with passing motor scooters and cars. Every now and then I would wake to the lights of oncoming traffic that lit up the dark tree-lined streets. The same scenes seemed to go on for miles. I felt as if I were in a dream driving through unfamiliar territory — in a city nestled in the midst of a forest, cozy and quaint.


The charming O’Gallery Premier Hotel & Spa located in the Old Quarter.


When we arrived at our accommodation located in the Old Quarter, O’Gallery Premier Hotel and Spa, a 4-star hotel with raving reviews on Trip Advisor and various other travel sites, we were graciously greeted by the staff with a welcome drink, cold towel and ginger snacks. I felt better within seconds — my drowsiness lifted and we headed to our room. 

Beef and Vegetable Noodle Bowls served at Bep Xuka19 Luong Ngoc Quyen, Hanoi 100000, Vietna.


The next morning we grabbed a quick bite in the hotel’s restaurant consisting of an elaborate spread of muffins and breads, yogurt, fresh fruit, an omelet station…along with lunch and dinner food. Hmm . . . sticky rice, meats, fish sauces, and even Pho (noodle soup), a popular dish any time of day. Nearly everywhere we stayed in Vietnam were luxurious 4 star hotels for under $100 a night with full breakfast buffets included. We often took advantage of this and ventured out for more cultural dining experiences during lunch and dinner.


Sampling more exotic Vietnamese fare.

And still more at Bep Xuka.


While sipping on delicious Vietnamese coffee, I read over the “Traveling Advice in Hanoi” guide that was given to us by the hotel. Along with cautions on being careful of scam travel agents, getting away from pushy vendors and what I would consider the common sense to watch your belongings… one that was of immediate importance was “How to cross the road”.  It went on to read:

  • Be relaxed and self-confident
  • Look two ways and keep your eyes on the drivers
  • Keep the speed and walk slowly
  • Never step back

Greatly appreciating the advice on staying alive, we stepped outside into the humid air, picked a point on our street map and proceeded in that direction. I stood in amazement at an intersection and observed swarms of scooters that passed in every which direction. A family of 4 drove around a bend—all on the same motorbike with a child in front in what looked like a high chair, and another in the middle of two adults.


Traffic in the French Quarter of Hanoi.


When it came time to cross the street, we were put to the test. I grabbed my companion’s arm and on the count of three, actively looking both directions, with confidence (not gonna lie…and a bit of apprehension), I inhaled deeply as we carefully stepped into the traffic, kept a steady pace and safely made it to the other side.

Street vendors lined the narrow walkways. Fresh herbs and simmering beef engulfed my senses. People sat eating on tiny stools and tables along the sidewalks. One woman squatting low on a stoop washed dishes in a sudsy bucket while another dried them with a towel.


Weathered colonial architecture in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.


In Hanoi’s French Quarter, a Vietnamese woman in traditional conical hat pushes her bicycle carrying fruit to sell at the market.


Mature man and balconies in the Old Quarter. 


The everyday commerce and commotion of the bustling metropolis was happening before our very beings. Women traveled carrying baskets of flowers or a variety of fruits piled high on bicycles. Weathered men who have seen the times of their day sat in reflective observation from their balconies.


The scenic Hoan Kiem Lake.


Embracing the sensory overload I was experiencing, we navigated our way through more hectic streets which eventually led to a roundabout where we found the serene setting of Hoan Kiem Lake.


Burning incense at the historic temple of Jade Mountain located on Hoan Kiem Lake.


Upon approaching the National Musum of History, I was in awe of the impressive French Colonial architecture, a charming characteristic of this ancient city.

Apart from the History Museum, Hanoi has a plethora of things to do, see, and eat! I found Trip Advisor to be a great guide throughout our journey and was on target when booking accommodations.


Stature of Amithaba Buddha (replica) at the National Museum of Vietnamese History.



Trong Dong Hoang Ha – Yellow Dragon Drum, a geometric patterned bronze drum at the Vietnamese Museum of History. It is a symbol of power and religion of territory leaders. 


Ancient Buddha carving made of wood, National Museum of Vietnamese History.


National Museum of Vietname History located in the Hoan Kiem district of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Roundabout in Hoan Kiem District near the National Museum of History.