Hanoi traffic, a brilliant efficiency of chaos

In the previous post, Hanoi was gazed out as a land of old-world Asian charm with 36 ancient streets shading old French colonial-style villas, this post will draw a different picture of Hanoi through the lens of entertainment on traffic, another unique side of Hanoi.

“While visitors to London might discuss the weather and tourists in Paris debate restaurant choices, here in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, it is hard to escape the elemental conversation about Hanoi’s traffic”.

Hanoi traffic is like a swarm of bee

Hanoi traffic is like a swarm of bee

As the country’s center of economy, politics, culture and society, the capitalist fervor after more than a decade has transformed Hanoi’s once quiet, tree-lined boulevards and side streets into roaring rivers of rubber and steel. The roads are mega-loaded with scooters, cars, bicycles, cyclos, buses, and even some three-wheelers, and they honk every two seconds. It’s not exaggerate to compare Hanoi’s traffic is like “a swarm of bees”, the bikes approach and weave around you as you cross the street.

Thrilling experience of crossing the street in Hanoi

Thrilling experience of crossing the street in Hanoi

Crossing the street in Hanoi is really an art. When you visit Hanoi and check in a hotel at The Old Quarter, you will be handed a tip sheet by the receptionist titled “How to cross roads” as follows:
“Look left, then right, then left again;
Look for the slightest break;
Start inching your way out;
As you are walking, motorbike drivers will anticipate your forward motion;
It’s important not to stop, the drivers will avoid you;
If you stop, you may cause an accident;
Keep going, you are nearly there.”

Let’s watch a video with vivid images of crossing the road experiences:

The Vietnamese live in their motorcycles, they use them for transport, carrying everything on them: shopping, food deliveries, pieces of furniture. Some of the loads are scary. But transporting goods is the least of it. They are meeting places for friends and family vehicles. It is not unusual to see Dad driving with a toddler between his knees holding on to the handle bars, and Mum sitting behind with another infant holding on to her back.

The magic performance of Vietnamese's motorcyclists

The magic performance of Vietnamese’s motorcyclists

In Hanoi, the traffic never stops. It flows like water, with small tributaries issuing into larger streams, forming noisy but gently moving rivers around the quietness of Hanoi’s central lake of real water. The noise of horns is continuous. There are few traffic signs and no visible speed limits. People do not bother with signals, even hand signals. The traffic becomes worse during rush hour when everyone is in a hurry attemppting to get to office or go home after work. However, the traffic forms a self-organizing system. It works brilliantly.

Traffic 2

“There is definitely something strangely addictive about the traffic experience in Hanoi for foreigners. Whether it’s good or bad, the traffic itself represents the most vivid images and experiences of living in Hanoi, capturing a truly familiar feature of this city.”

Hanoi’s 36 Districts, the historical trading and commercial quarter

Hi, welcome back to our journey discovering Hanoi, hope you have not too much indulged in “Cha Ca La Vong”, let’s continue, ready, set, go!!!

Today I am going to take you to one of the most unique classical feature of Hanoi, the Old Quarter or the 36 Old Streets, which has been the inspiration of numerous writers, poets and painters.
Hanoi in the good old days of Vietnamese painter Bui Xuan Phai

“A trip to the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam is a must for any first-time visitor to Vietnam’s capital. Set just a few minutes’s walk from Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter is an intricate warren of streets laid out in a millenium-old plan, selling almost everything under the sun”.

The traditional trades of 36 ancient streets

So, how did the Old Quarter come into being? More than 1,000 years ago, it was during the beginning of the Ly Dynasty (1010 – 1225) when Emperor Ly Thai To selected Thang Long as the country’s capital in 1010, the Ancient Quarter was originated as a centre of supply for the Vietnamese rulers in the Imperial City as well as an inter-regional market place. The street pattern goes back to the 15th century, when trade streets similar to the medieval guild streets in Central Europe emerged for the first time. These trade streets each specialized in a particular craft, or rather in the sale of a certain group of goods. The interesting feature is that every street starts their name with “Hang” which means merchandise or shop, followed by the name of their product and is still a prefix of most of the street names in the Ancient Quarter nowadays.

"Hang Bac" - Street selling silver

“Hang Bac” – Street selling silver

Each “Hang” is not merely a street, but more like a miniature trading village all in its owns such as Hang Muoi (Salt) street selling salt, Hang Manh (Curtain) the whole street selling bamboo curtains, Hang Bac (silver) selling silver and jewellery, etc. The shophouses in the Old Quarter are long and narrow which are nowadays called “tube houses”.

Current image of the Old Quarter – the new “CBD”

The change in 36 Districts' look

Hanoi is undergoing drastic changes and the Old Quarter with “Hang” streets has been subject to the fast-track development of a Central Business District (CBD). Hotels, restaurants, coffee shops have mushroomed on these streets, the long, narrow tube houses are interrupted by colorful, centuries old Chinese shophouses, French villas and Buddhist pagodas and temples. Still, many of the traditional streets continue to flourish and live up to its name despite the challenges of ongoing urbanization. “Hang Dao”, which means flower or beautiful woman, remains to be the city’s most popular clothing shop for women. Whenever mid-autumn festival comes, “Hang Ma” (selling shiny paper products such as gift wrappings, wedding decorations) still lights up the way as it did centuries ago. As a tradition, parents take their children to buy toys and lanterns on this street.

You can find millions of decoration stuffs here

You can find millions of decoration stuffs here

Shopping in the Old Quarter

Most tourists are eager for exploring the old streets well-known for its specialized industry. “Hang Gai” street has been famous for a long time as one of the most bustling and boisterous streets in the city offering silk clothing ready-made and tailored, lacquer ware and embroidery products. The silk sleeping bag liners and elegant Vietnamese ao dai are sold on this street.
Hang Gai - Silk street
“Hang Quat”, the street that formerly sold silk and feather fans now stuns the visitor by its brilliantly colored funeral and festive flags and religious objects and clothing.
"Hang Quat" street

And here are some other Old Quarter Streets may specialize in your desired objects: “Hang Can” street for stationery; “Hang Dau” for shoes; “Hang Buom” for candies and wine; “Hang Hom” for lacquerware and bamboo, etc. No trip to the Old Quarter would be complete without a trip to Dong Xuan market where you can find a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.

The Old Street - Yesterday and Now

The Old Street – Yesterday and Now

“The streets of the Ancient Quarter may no longer resemble the famous paintings of Bui Xuan Phai, it has been the unique vibrancy, the combination of wholesale, retail trade, handicraft and the pavement as a living and working space in the Ancient Quarter that seems to fascinate people from all over the world as well as those from Vietnam itself”.

Cha ca la vong – not just a dish, a unique culture of Hanoians

Dear passengers, we have been nearly half way through the journey to Hanoi, Vietnam. After visiting the ponds of fragant lotus flowers and gazing the beauty of Vietnamese women in Ao Dai, let’s take a break to replenish our energy by enjoying a special dish of Hanoian, Cha ca la vong or the Hanoi Tumeric Fish with Dill.

The Hanoians from the past to nowadays have enjoyed cooking and eating delicious, fresh foods. This art form has become a unique cultural attraction for tourists visiting Hanoi from the first time. It is hard to define the things that make Hanoi cuisine so special as it can be seen not only in the processing, but also in the hearts of people who cook the dishes. All of the Hanoi dishes have different aromatic flavors and form a major part of Vietnamese society and lifestyle. The most favorite specialities are: Pho (beef soup noodle), Bun cha (vermicelli with grilled pork), Nem (spring rolls), Bun thang (Noodle soup with chicken, fried egg, mushroom). Each of these has its own specific characteristics leaving a profound impression on those who eat them.
Hanoi's mouth watering cuisine

Today, I would like to introduce to you a unique 100-year-old Hanoi dish that is often referred to in guide books as a must-not-miss experience, Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish pies). The combination of ingredients are: turmeric, dill, shrimp paste and fish sauce, delivers an intriguing muskiness bolstered with chilles, silky noodles and a thicket of other fresh herbs to season the chunks of moist fish. The taste of Cha Ca La Vong will make you go into ecstasy.

Once you have tried, you will get addicted to it:-)

Once you have tried, you will get addicted to it:-)

Cha Ca has been considered not only a delicious dish but also a trade mark of Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurant that transformed the dish into a national phenomenon began its operations in the 19th century. Let me tell you the interesting story about the history of this dish. Cha Ca La Vong has the origin of Doan family. In years of French domination period, in No.14 Hang Son there was Doan family who usually made delicious grilled fish to invite their guests. After a long time, this dish had become famous and it was made to mainly serve for De Tham insurgent army, these guests then helped Doan family open a restaurant where they could gather and helped Doan family to earn money to bring up insurgent army as well as their family’s members. The appearance and fame of this dish was the reason Hang Son Street changed into Cha Ca Street (one of the 36 streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi). Especially, in the restaurant at that time, there was a statue named La Vong – Khuong Tu Nha, the God of fisherman, from that time, the name Cha Ca La Vong was born.
Nice arrangement of Cha Ca

I would say to eat this dish is really an art. A portable gas stove and a small frying pan are brought to the table and the art of preparation is done by the waiter. Cha Ca is turmeric seasoned fish that is first grilled then fried in oil table side. Heaping plates of dill, green onions and cilantro are accompanied to be placed into the sizzling pan. After 3-5 minutes of cooking, the dish is ready to be served. The season grilled fish is adorned by a tangy combination of onion, ginger, green onion and dill. It is further fortified by the peanut and shrimpt paste, which explode into a heady flavor. Again and again, you can mix all the ingredients together, eat, and repeat until your tummy is happy!
The good choice for gourmets in Hanoi

Cha Ca La Vong should be eaten when it is still hot. The Hanoians often eat this dish while sipping some alcohol in the cold weather. For me as a Hanoian, eating Cha Ca La Vong is close to a ritual, it is the kick of seeking for the iconic dish to eat with my family, friends and colleagues at weekends. It is not by chance that this restaurant now is part of the “1,000 Places to see before you die” list and is featured on the New York Times.
It is not merely a meal, but an interesting experience!

I strongly recommend you guys to try this dish when you are in Hanoi. Even though it is more pricey than other traditional Vietnamese foods (USD10 per dish), it is still worth a try. And this is the address:
Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant
14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam

The 142-year-old restaurant

The 142-year-old restaurant

For those who want to try yourself cooking this dish, here is the video, check it out!

Ao dai – The Allure & Grace of Vietnam’s National Dress

If in the previous post, you were followed me to the divine beauty of Vietnam’s national flower, this post will draw upon a picture of Vietnam’s traditional dress, Ao dai.

Ao Dai, traditional dress in Vietnam, is one of the most elegant and graceful dresses for women. It is the symbol of Vietnam beauty with the images of slender, long-hair and grace women in Ao Dai, therefore it always leaves a a deep impression on foreign visitors with its charm, and captivating.

Vietnamese's Miss Ao Dai

Vietnamese’s Miss Ao Dai

Academic commentary on the “Ao dai” emphasizes the way the dress ties feminine beauty to Vietnamese nationalism, especially in the form of “Miss Ao Dai” pageants, popular both among overseas Vietnamese and in Vietnam itself. “Ao dai” is one of the few Vietnamese words that appear in English-language dictionaries.

Characteristics of “Ao Dai”

For a long time, the ao dai has been the subject of poems, novels and songs. Whatever the design, the ao dai remains a beautiful Vietnamese dress revealing the strong yet feminine side of Vietnamese women. Ao dai, covering the body from the neck to the knee or to below the knee for both men and women, consists of split-sided tunic with long panels in the front and back, that is worn over pantaloons. The material of Ao dai is soft silk and the cut of two pieces is at waist, which make the women feel comfortable to move. Ao Dai reflects the body of the one who wears it, so each Ao Dai is just suitable for only one person. We cannot make one Ao Dai for many people. It can be, but it will not be beautiful. When making an Ao Dai, the tailor will take the measurement carefully as once the measurement is wrong, it will destroy the beauty of Ao Dai.

The Allure & Grace of Ao Dai

The Allure & Grace of Ao Dai

“Ao Dai” is still unique and special not only to the eyes of Vietnamese, but also to the eyes of foreign visitors. Different from Kimono or hanbok, Ao Dai is wore in many occasions. Everyone can wear the ao dai for special occasions, festivals and traditional events such as Tet holidays, weddings, as well as remaining the uniform in schools. That will make Vietnamese women more beautiful and more graceful.
Girl student wearning Ao dai & conical hat

Girl student wearning Ao dai & conical hat

A song complementing the Vietnamese women in Ao Dai, Vietnamese’s version: “Em trong mat toi”, composed by Nguyen Duc Cuong

Yesterday and Now of “Ao dai”
No one really know when did the tradional costume “ao dai”come into being and how it got its form. Ancient dress of the Vietnamese, the carvings on the Ngoc Lu drum from a few thousand years ago show that the women were wearing dresses with two slits.
Ao dai in the old days
Early versions of the Ao Dai was originally applied to the outfit worn when Lord Vu Vuong of the Nguyen Dynasty decreed both men and women should wear an ensemble of trousers and a gown that buttoned down the front in the 18th century. This outfit evolved into the áo ngũ thân, a five-paneled aristocratic gown worn in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Traditional Vietnamese women in Ao dai
The updated look was promoted by the artists and magazines of Tự Lực văn đoàn (Self-Reliant Literary Group) as a national costume for the modern era.
Ao dai in the 1930s

Now, the men less wore it, generally only on ceremonial occasions such as weddings or funerals. During the 1950s, two tailors in Saigon started producing Ao Dai with raglan sleeves. This creates a diagonal seam running from the collar to the underarm and this style is still preferred today.

Vietnamese Man wearing Ao dai in his wedding

Vietnamese Man wearing Ao dai in his wedding

Young girl wearing ao dai in a lotus flower pond

Young girl wearing ao dai in a lotus flower pond

The color is indicative of the wearer’s age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully-lined outfits symbolizing their purity. Older but unmarried girls move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear “Ao Dai”in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. However, “Ao Dai”is rarely seen in places where manual work is practiced. The nineties saw a real resurgence of ao dai. It has become standard and common attire for girl students as well as female staff at offices and hotels. Traditionally, “Ao Dai”has become the most preferred dress on formal occasions.

Vietnam Airlines's stewardesses are beautiful in Ao dai uniform

Vietnam Airlines’s stewardesses are beautiful in Ao dai uniform

I had chosen for myself a red Ao Dai with yellow pants in my engagement party, had I never ever felt confident and charming in any other dresses than in Ao Dai.

Today, “Ao Dai”has been a bit modified. Its length is cut shorter usually just below the knee. Variations in the neck, between boat and mandarin style, are common. And even adventurous alterations such as a low scooped neckline, puffed sleeves or off the shoulder designs are appearing as ladies experiment with fashion. Color patterns are no longer rigidly controlled and accesses to new fabrics have generated some dazzling results. However, most visitors to Vietnam have highly appreciated local tailors’ skills when making ao dai. There are many shops making Ao Dai in Ho Chi Minh city, Hue, Hoi An and Ha Noi. Those shops can make Ao Dai very quickly, even just in one day.

Try yourself with our Ao Dai to discover your inner beauty

Try yourself with our Ao Dai to discover your inner beauty

There was a nice Vietnamese song about Ao Dai: “Wherever you go, Paris, London or the faraway land, if you see Ao Dai flying on the street, you will see the soul of Vietnamese there”. During this month, our Ao Dai will be on shown in Italy as part of the event “Vietnamese days in Tuscany region”.

To Vietnamese people, The Ao dai so romantic, elegant and charming will always create feminine style associated with the beauty of Vietnam. It is difficult to think of a more elegant demure outfit that suits Vietnamese than the Ao Dai. This dress represents transcends all ages, it reaches the lives of people from all walks of life. In short, The Ao Dai is always conjured in the hearts of all Vietnamese and is still the dress of choice on social occasion of Vietnamese as national pride.

Here are some addresses of tailors where you can make your Ao dai in one day if you travel to Vietnam, I do believe once you make it, you will love it.

Ngan An fashion design, Address: 27 Ngo Thi Nham St., Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Huong Giang tailor, Address: 58 Tue Tinh St., Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi
Tuan Ngoc Ao dai, Address: 87/31 Nguyen Dinh Chinh, Ward 15, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh city
Thu Thuy A Dong Silk, Yaly, Hoi An.

Lotus – Vietnam’s national flower, a symbol of divine beauty

The Vietnamese has a famous folk poems meaning that “In the pond, nothing’s more beautiful than lotus, the flower of the dawn”. The elegance of the lotus is often cited in the Vietnamese folk songs and poems. To the Vietnamese, lotus is known as an exquisite flower, symbolizes the purity, serenity, commitment and optimism of the future as it is the flower which grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty. At night, the flower closes and sinks under water. It rises and opens again at dawn. How it blossoms and recedes at certain times of the day makes the flower remain untouched by impurity. Thus, the lotus symbolizes the purity of heart and mind. And just like the lotus, Vietnam has a strong affinity with the water. From history to present, Vietnamese farmers working on the paddy fields while fishermen make livelihood from the rivers and streams. Vietnamese civilization sprung out of the Red River delta, where wet-rice cultivation along with fishing and rice planting was the mainstay of living.

Flower of the dawn

Flower of the dawn

One interesting research reported that the lotus has the remarkable ability to regulate the temperature of its flowers to within a narrow range just as humans and other warmblooded animals do.
Such is the Vietnamese love for the lotus that it was voted as the country’s national flower.— for which one of the criteria was that it “must be found in many localities”, and it would be hard to travel through Vietnam during lotus season without coming across a pond or lake filled with them.

The divine of beauty

The divine of beauty

Early in the morning, elderly ladies push off in their boats to cut the flowers ready for selling later that day. Later in the day, young lovers and groups of girls dressed up along to the ponds for both professional and amateur photo shoots. Enterprising land — or pond — owners have put up bridges jutting out into the ponds and charge for the privilege of taking photos on the bridge or out on small boats among the flowers.The white and pink flowers are most commonly seen in the ponds and streets of Hanoi, with pink being considered the supreme of all lotuses.
A beautiful sight along Yen Phu St.

A beautiful sight along Yen Phu St.

As well as being beautiful to look at, and having a wonderful fragrance, lotus flowers have other uses: the young stems are used in salads, the stamens can be dried and made into a herbal tea and the lotus seeds are eaten raw, dried or boiled. The sweet soup is particularly tasty.

It is the lotus flower season in Hanoi now, how can I not miss the time when my buddy and I walked along the West Lake area awashing with the beautiful blooms, enjoying the lotus fragance and never forgot to buy home a bunch of white or pink flower wrapped in a lotus leaf to put on my piano. Life is beautiful as it should be!

Memories of the afternoons walking along the lake, feeling the serene fragance of lotus

Memories of the afternoons walking along the lake, feeling the serene fragance of lotus


Lotus flowers means a lot to me as they inspire me to continue striving through difficulties and to show my best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. Just like the lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond. When my mind is muddied with sorrow and my thoughts of hope swampted with doubt, I remember the lotus flower and how naturarlly triumphant it was.
The courage and perseverance of lotus flower

In such cold winter days, nothing makes me more relaxed than drinking a cup of hot lotus tea, listening to the Vietnamese song named “Doa hoa vo thuong” about lotus flowers and contemplating the serenity of lotus pictures. Do you want to try?