Hanoi - Vietnam 16-21 February 2019

We arrived safely in Hanoi from Cat Ba island. The journey involved a bus to a small port, a fast ferry to the mainland and then a bus to Hanoi. Efficiently the young lad doing the job of organising the trip took the address loacations of where each passenger was heading. Then he arranged these in a list and called each person to let them off at their hotel. I could see one passenger was creating a bit, the timings were all to schedule but he said he needed to be at ...... in ...... minutes. Why would you make your own time schedule so tight that you were in a panic at the end. Anyway the young lad calmly reinvented his list and dropped the creating passenger off in a timely fashion. 

From the moment of arriving in Hanoi we got the feeling we would like it. Somehow you just know. How does that happen. You like somewhere or you don’t and what makes that so. Anyway the rusticness is beguiling. They sense of order and chaos together is enchanting.


The first thing apparent in Hanoi was busyness. So a bit now on transportation etc in Vietnam. First it seeems difficult to escape noise. Most transportation in towns and in the rural areas is by motorbike. The most I have seen so far is 5 people on a motor bike. They seem to be like a small saloon at home as far as their use is concerned. Often its a couple and 2 children on a bike. Sadly it is the children who end up with no helmet. Could be they so quickly grow out of them that the parents haven’t the cash to keep buying helmets. There is some sort of high tax on car buying or ownership which makes owning one something for the well off only. Police tour the streets in Hanoi and I had seen a bike confiscated for some misdemeanour and one owner seemed to be getting a ticket for bad parking. Motor bikes can carry a lot. Some have large crate-like-panniers at the back for loads. I have seen 2M tall garden type trees being transported and even in a rural area they were used to tow 8M long planks of wood through the narrow country lanes. The tooting of horns is everywhere. At home horns are often used as a sign of warning or even rage but here they seem to be advising just “I am here”. At each junction the horn is sounded as many junctions don’t have lights. Some roads appear to be one way but then you see a motor bike coming the other way and you realise its a 2 way road. But all seems to work on a self regulated way and we only saw a few near misses!

Crossing roads is fun (aka dangerous and scary). The rule seems to be keep going forward and never backwards or you will get hit from behind. Avoid and treat with respect anything larger than a motor bike. Pedestrian crossings are mainly to decorate the roads and have little or no significance in a presumption that you may expect cars etc to stop. Traffic lights are advisory and also decorative. 

Art shop

Art shop

Footpaths are bike parks and places for locals who live nearby in cramped surrounds to cook, chat and eat. Often outside quite plush offices and shops but they probably have been doing this long before the advent of the shops and offices. Often a small corridor is left for pedestrians to walk but more often than not you are on the road walking. 

Hanoi has an old quarter, a French quarter and the modern city of many millions of people. The old quarter has an historic gate entering it so I headed in that direction one wet grey day. I gathered myself together under a sort of shop awning but still got wet. I was a source of amusement to the local people in that area as it wasn’t really a tourist location. On the way back an umbrella for 50,000 dong was acquired (under £2) and so I avoided the rain. It wasn’t till I arrivied back at the hotel what had I mislaid - my canvas mounting board complete with painting. Hot footed I ran back trying to retrace in my mind what I had done and sure enough it was exactly where I had left it at the umbrella shop. Relief!


Shops in Vietnam are conveniently arranged into genres along the same length of road. Our hotel was near what I called spectacle street and to get to the old gate where I painted a scene I passed along netting wire street, hardware street, packaging material street, and buttons and things like that street. All this makes total sense. The shops are very small and things in the shops are often not organised or well laid out. There is often a narrow passage inside where things just seem to spill around generally. No idea how you would find anything. But obviously it works. 



One part of my things to do in Hanoi was to find art supplies. Might seeem easy but to find a suitable shop wasn’t. Eventually I found one which had nearly all I needed.

We took a trip to a part of Old Hanoi here where the train runs down a narrow street with houses a cafes along the side of the road.  This isn’t just a small train but a full sized one. There were various lines to tell you where not to cross and they were right. Eventually the train came at a fair speed and it was just there as i stood tummy-tucked-in on the side of the passage. I could easily have it brush past me if I ventured a foot more out. Then it was gone as soon as it passed. The cafes were then empty till the next intercity. Excitement over. 

Finding suitable painting subjects in Old Hanoi was difficult. Mostly were very busy places and not to mention the noise. Finding a piece of footpath one which to pitch my easel was heading for impossible and then being able to think about what i was trying to do was another matter. 

A busy street in Hanoi

A busy street in Hanoi

The historic old gate to Hanoi was a venue one rainy day. Even standing under a shop awning I ended up getting dripped over and quite wet.My ruck sack and brushes roll became sodden. However i persisted as I liked the composition.

The old town gate

The old town gate

After leaving that spot I purchased an umbrella for 50,000 dong. Just under £2. Then made my way some 15-20 minutes to the hotel. When I arrived, the hotel manager - Hannah asked what I had painted and then the blood must have drained from my face. I had mislaid my large canvas carrier and the painting I had just done. Hot footed I ran back whilst going over possible loosing places. Sure enough it was at the umbrella shop in the same place exactly. The shop keeper was aware it was there and looked after it. Such is the honesty in Vietnam.

My visit to Hanoi was nearing an end. The next place is Sapa in the mountains some 250 km away. The journey has been arranged by overnight sleeper train and then a minibus transfer to Sapa.