O is easily for the Old Quarters of Hanoi – the truly Vietnamese part of the city, making almost no compromises for modern times. In its myriad lanes with traditional ‘tube’ design of buildings, shops spilling their wares on the streets, and undoubtedly the most interesting sights, sounds and smells, you can lose yourselves for hours, days or weeks, and still want to come back for more. There are different lanes dedicated to different products, like the lantern street, paper goods, boutiques and souvenir shops, and some choice tailoring shops on Hang Gai street that took millions of my dongs :-). When you need a break from this assault on your senses, head off to Hoan Kiem Lake, that oasis of calm amidst all the chaos.
It is impossible to capture the spirit of the old quarters, and this is just a feeble attempt.
O is also for the Opera, or Nhà Hát Lớn. Our friends, Amrita & Nitish, are regulars, and they introduced us to the joys of live concert. The ballet shows can be hit or miss, but the music program is always nice. Of course, going to the opera has all those implications of glitz and glamour, but the great part of the one at Hanoi is that you can do as you please, and no one stops you for not wearing an evening gown!