Foreigners experience Hanoi’s life and culture

(VOVworld) – The Temple of Literature, Long Bien bridge, the Old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and the Presidential Palace are among the top places for foreign tourists to learn more know Hanoi. But for foreigners living here, they have more things to share. VOV reporter Ngoc Huyen takes a stroll around Hanoi’s streets with 2 English expatriates.

It had turned warmer with abundant sunshine after several gloomy, cold days of early winter. It was such a great Sunday morning on which to meet with expatriates from England: Stella Ciorra who has been in Hanoi for 21 years and Gillian Scourfield who has been teaching English in the city for 4 years.

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Hang Da traditional wet market was upgraded into a shopping center (Photo:

We met in front of Hang Da “market”. They were surprised at the way I called it a “market” because it looked like a modern shopping mall. When I explained that the building used to be a traditional wet market, Gillian said she loved the Chau Long traditional wet market near her house more than the modern one: "I think it’s fresh and also it gives local people employment and money. I like supporting the local people. I also feel the quality is good. I have never had vegetables and food from the super market. It’s an interesting experience. Somebody introduced me to store holders and she’s reliable and honest. It’s an interesting experience and better than going to the super market."

Stella often shops at a super market and buys tofu and vegetables at her local convenience store because the traditional wet market is too far from her residence. But she insisted that the traditional market provides new comers with a great experience: "It’s interesting. Yes. If I have friends visiting, I would take them around. Because it’s interesting for them."

Leaving Hang Da market, we planned a walking trip around its back alleys. Though we all have been in the area for quite a long time, none of us realized that there were so many pagodas and temples around.

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Kim Co pagoda is located on Duong Thanh street. (Photo:

Kim Co pagoda was said by its keeper to be 400 years older than Quan Thanh Temple, built in 1010 near West Lake, one of best known pagodas in Hanoi. Kim Co pagoda stands near a temple honoring Y Lan, the second wife and King Ly Thai Tong (1054-1072), and a communal house worshiping the master of embroidery. Stella said: "It’s quite simple. I like the colors of blue and yellow and white. Most of the pagodas and temples here are gold and red and dark brown. I think it’s not touristy so it’s more peaceful and natural. It’s nice."

These buildings were loved by Cathy Henheffer from Canada, a friend we met by chance during the trip:"I like the pagodas and temples. The way they respect the deceased, they pray for them and give thanks for them. They ask for success and good luck in a different life. That’s interesting."

We chatted while wandering in the some streets around the area, seeing people reading newspapers, surfing their mobile phones, and drinking coffee in the hundreds of cafés along Duong Thanh street. Some leisurely ate “pho ga” (rice noodle soup with chicken) and “bun rieu” (crab noodle soup) at street vendors. We have some as well, because it was impossible to let go of the relaxed atmosphere on a sunny Sunday morning. Luckily, Gillian loved it, and street food, in general: "For myself, I have seen such a variety of choices from street vendors to international restaurants with a great variety of food. I like chicken and pork. I enjoy the street with BBQ chicken: Ly Van Phuc. We do have street vendors in London where people sell food. But it’s not exciting or exotic." 

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Ly Van Phuc street is always crowded with diners enjoying BBQ chicken. (Photo: Zing)

The vendors of “pho” and “bun rieu” were located right in front of a big old villa, which was of great interest to Stella: "I like the old villa ‘cause I like the old buildings and going past some small alleys to see how life was like. I like the history and want to see how everything links together. This old villa looks so artistic."

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The old French-style villa on Duong Thanh street (Photo:

Stella was so interested in Hanoi’s history and architecture that she even planned to start a walking tour, starting at the Hanoi opera house, then Trang Tien street, down Hang Bai, Ham Long, up Ba Trieu and to Hang Khay, where there are many hidden lanes. It would be a very simple square but there’s so much history in some of those buildings where different lives were lived from the old days to the French times and then up to now. Stella designed the tour herself and has prepared for it very carefully: "I walk it to make sure, check the timing. I’ve already planned it. Now, I’m writing about each thing, each corner. I’ll put things together and then walk with my notes to see if it’s too long or too short and if there are any extra things to add. This one is new. I enjoyed some walks and know what I’m interested in. So I developed a new walk based on what I like and talking to people. Some people give me interesting things. And I must say wow, that must be included in the walk."

Our trip ended at a protestant church at the back of Hang Da market. My friends, Stella and Gillian, were singing along to several followers playing the piano to prepare for their afternoon ceremony. They both seemed to be pleased with the walk and we agreed to soon take other similar tours around different parts of Hanoi to hear more interesting stories about the capital city.

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