The smell is potent; somewhere between fecund and fetid, life rotting and being reborn. It was the first thing I experienced in an ancient city overflowing with life. Every spare bit of earth and sky is utilised to the max by the city’s human and animal inhabitants. The next thing to assault your senses is the constant bipping of moped, bus and car horns telling you to get out of the way. There are no road rules here.
To cross the road in the impossibly tiny streets, you look right then left then right again then you look behind you, to your right side for the ubiquitous mopeds, to your left side then straight in front. Finally you wait for a local and cross with them.
But then you get a whiff of the wonderfully strong smell of coffee and you just have to get to the other side.
And as you leave your hotel early the next morning, the pungent smell of fresh Vietnamese spices and herbs invite you you try a breakfast on the street which is both a cultural and culinary experience.
Amongst the full on pace of life in the city there are deliciously peaceful spots to be found. Walking around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake in the early morning where people practice tai chi and chi gung. or in a Buddist temple.
After a few days the life of the city wraps around you; some coffee shop staff begin yo recognise you practicing their Aussie slang saying “Have a good day mate” while I reply “Cam on ban”.
And as for crossing the street, I have become a many-eyed goddess who can see in all directions!
Ive had a wonderfully enriching time in this amazing city of the North.