The glory of Hanoi
THE "trick" is to hold hands in a line, take slow steps and look straight ahead.
Your instinct might be to speed up for a mad dash or to look left and right.
Don't. The view - hundreds of motorbikes, cyclos and the odd water buffalo - is scary and the outcome potentially dangerous.
Five to 10 steps later and congratulations are in order - you've crossed a street in Vietnam's capital.
You can now worry about more important things like exploring the glorious old quarter of Hanoi.
The striking buildings set on winding streets provide a stunning backdrop for the heart of this busy capital.
The people ambling through the narrow maze of arts and crafts stores offer an insight into quintessential Vietnamese city life.
Mirrors are hooked on trees on the sidewalk as barbers tend to clients.
People perch on tiny plastic chairs, which would seem more at home at a children's table, while ladies dish out the popular pho or bun cha dishes.
Conical coolie hats adorn every second person from traders to shoppers to road workers.
Beneath the hats of many women traipsing the streets, there is a don ganh - bamboo or wooden pole with two baskets slung from each end - with fruit, soups, cakes or buns.
One of the most noticeable features of the architecture in the Old Quarter is the narrow French-colonial facades which are followed by a succession of buildings and courtyards.
Because homes are taxed by their street width, many are only 5m wide.
But it is the streets filled with goods that will occupy most of your time.
You'll find bowl street, fish street, shoe street, rice street, bamboo street, mat street, jar street, metal street, paper street, coffin street, clam worms street - the list goes on, close to 50.
The nearby Hoan Kiem Lake, lake of the returned sword, is an orienting landmark and is shrouded in mystique.
The picturesque Ngoc Son Temple, on an island on the lake, houses a gigantic embalmed tortoise which symbolises a legend involving an emperor in the 15th century.
Also worthy is a cab or cyclo ride around West Lake where you will see fishermen wearing their conical hats in the water up to their necks.
A true jewel in Hanoi's crown is the Temple of Literature, originally dedicated to Confucius in 1070 and later becoming Hanoi's first university.
If you're lucky enough to arrive for graduation day photos, you could find scores of slender young women in colourful Vietnamese traditional dress.
But Hanoi is not just about traditional culture, it has developed a vibrant cafe and bar culture.
A great place to start is La Fée Verte at the new Hotel de l'opera, a block from the 100-year-old opera house.
With old days charm and a fabulous cocktail menu, the bar is a step back to the luxury of a golden operatic era.
The hotel, added to Accor's MGallery collection in January this year, evokes all the glamour and anticipation of a night at the opera.
The colonial accents in the architecture is complemented by the theatrical interior design, classic opera motifs and contemporary comfort.
First entry into each guest room has a wow factor with stunning wooden floors and dark moody walls making the textiles all the more vibrant.
Each room has an elegant bathroom with a twist of fun.
But the true gem is the mattress, so high you have to climb onto it with visions of The Princess and the Pea.
Apparently, celebrity Kristine Scott Thomas ordered a duplicate bed for her Paris house after her hotel stay.
EAT: Thuc Don, Quan an ngon, 18 Phan Boi Chau, (04) 3942 8162. Try the sweet soups.
DRINK: Taboo Lounge: Taboo. Try the Cosmopolitan.
RELAX: Santal Spa, 112 Xuan Dieu, Tu Lien, Tay Ho. Try the traditional Vietnamese massage - an ancient technique combining massage and pressure point work to balance the flow of chi. 60 minutes 990,000 dong ($A48).
SHOP: Cho Dong Xuan market (6am to 10pm). For a pretty silk dress, try Hadong Silk, 102 Hang Gai. They will even adjust clothing and have the item delivered to your hotel. Try Thuong Gia, 1 Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, for gorgeous Vietnamese lacquerware - just make sure it does not have an egg shell in the design or it will be confiscated at quarantine back in Australia.
STAY: Hotel de l'opera, 29 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District.
FLY: AirAsia flies daily to Kuala Lumpur five times weekly from the Gold Coast, from $239. From KL, AirAsia flies daily to Hanoi from $125. Additional services are scheduled during peak holiday periods. To book, visit Air Asia.