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Small town Hanoi

Hanoi is the capitol city of Vietnam but Saigon is much larger. Hanoi has always seemed to me to be more neighborhood related. Where I used to live in Ba Dinh my street bordered on our local market where fruit, baked goods, street food was easily found. The market always seemed vibrant and alive as mostly Vietnamese shopped and ate. I’d go almost every day to at least walk through to a bakery I enjoyed. I’d get fresh roti and then go to a local coffee shop close by. Here most coffee shops don’t serve food and customers are welcome to bring food in to eat. If not the fresh roti, I would get a banh mi down the street.

I frequented more local coffee shops but two that were my favorites were not. Daily Dose coffee was close and I’d end up there a lot for latte and sitting upstairs on their excellent WiFi. Another was a chain shop but I enjoyed nonetheless. Trung Nguyễn was a corner shop that always delivered!

Now I’ve moved to the so-called expat district. Tay Ho has more expats than just about anywhere else. Before I rarely would see an expat besides my housemate D. Now they are a common sight. Now I go to Toms coffee which is a nice local place to get an eclectic mix of Vietnamese and western foods. Like pancakes! I love pancakes with maple syrup.

What I’m getting round to in somewhat circular fashion is Hanoi is huge but it’s comprised to me of neighborhoods. Sometimes there are specific crafts or items for sale. On one street here in the old quarter there are stores and stores with toys. Another street has clothing and there are tailors and sewing machines all over the block.

The main thing though I think is coffee. Hanoi has a love affair with coffee. There are the local shops where Vietnamese gather and talk and then there are the upscale places. There are even places in the middle. Coffee is simply huge here. And the coffee houses provide not just caffeine fixes but social, gaming, cultural ties in those same neighborhoods.

In my time here I’ve wandered into many and always get a Xin Chao as greeting and many smiles. It does not matter if English is not spoken. Coffee is universal. And there are options like coconut and egg coffee. I like both but do not do them often. Coconut coffee is rather delicious and rich and egg coffee must be tried to be appreciated. It was invented here in Hanoi decades ago so there are many places that specialize.

So the breadcrumb trail for me is people to neighborhoods to crafts and markets to food and coffee. You can follow any of them to neighborhoods and beyond. The legendary hospitality of Vietnam is intact and I’ve never been declined service here in Hanoi.

Saigon impresses me less. It’s just a city of cities. Hanoi is passionate and sexy and sensuous. Walking it on a day yields many benefits. One is the breadcrumb trail life here has to offer. To walk small town Hanoi is to see the countless alleys and side streets where local businesses thrive. Hair and nail salons, small cafes, clothing stores. Down any street you can find gems and wonders often overlooked. Alleys or Hems lead to other places like the veins in a body. Walking them yields many hellos from the young and smiles and nods from others.

Yep, small town Hanoi beats most other places in Vietnam and gives you the taste of mystery, wonder, and connectedness that is Hanoi.

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