Hanoi Travel Guides
Hanoi is an odd city. In the summer months it’s the hottest city in south-east Asia, and incredibly humid. In winters the temperature drops sharply, but the humidity remains. This makes winter so horrible that even Russians and the Scottish complain about the cold. The locals don’t seem to notice the heat as much; they just sleep for a little longer in the afternoons whilst the less-experienced foreigners run around like mad dogs in the midday sun, turning wet and red as their faces enjoy another heat rash breakout.
You could, if you liked contrast-as-a-metaphor, surmise from this that the seasons reflect the city: Hanoi is a place of contrasts. And you’d be right, in that all-encompassing and fairly obvious way. Hanoi is a place of a few interesting contrasts. It’s the seat of Vietnam’s Communist government, yet each citizen, even a really little one, seems to have an inbuilt streak of small time entrepreneurial-ism. You have to haggle if you want something, and that’s often just the beginning.
There are the motorbikes, the endless, noisy stream of motorbikes and the helmet-less family of four quashed onto the vinyl seat of half of them. The traffic seems so unsafe and frightening it’s ludicrous, but crossing the road is easier than back home. Everything just flows around you like water over rocks, provided you walk slowly and treat the buses with a bit more respect.
The contrast of new and old in a city is, well, nothing new, but in Hanoi it’s especially interesting. Hanoi’s been a seat of government on and off since 1100AD and to borrow a phrase from innumerable travel guides and simultaneously understate the case, it has a rich and varied history. There are buildings in this city that are over 1000 years old. And juxtaposed is the endless array of new buildings, usually a fun combination of concrete and honeycomb bricks. Everywhere in this city something is being built, or opened, or renovated. It’s not for nothing that a web- site devoted to the city is named thenewhanoian.com. Everything that isn’t very old seems to be very, very new and increasing very rapidly.
There’s that old chestnut, the rich and the poor. Vietnam, though progressing in a series of leaps, bounds and the occasional bunny-hop, is still a poor country by western standards. And though there are some citizens with some serious money hidden away, to see the most obvious example of contrast between rich and poor, you need look no further than the expert community.
Live is good for experts in Vietnam. Too good. Everyone becomes accustomed to a lifestyle they could never afford or accommodate back home, and can wind up behaving accordingly: like an overindulged teenager with the keys to the liquor cabinet. Things are so cheap here that one tends to forget that though the night’s cocktails and dinner came to a mere fraction of what they would have back home, it’s possibly the monthly salary of the poor bugger who’s washing the dishes. Trite observation it may be, but it’s true. Day to day life here throws up its own interesting things. Whilst there are endless columns themed, ‘Living in Hanoi is all Hoorays!’ many experts wind up having plenty of ‘Hanoi Days’. These are days when it seems like the traffic is going to kill you, you’re overcharged, there’s a fly in your noodles and you wind up tripping over in the gutter and landing in garbage juice.
There are a thousand more minor irritations in this city, and many have to scream for a while then lie down with a damp towel over their head just to cope. But it’s the flaws that fascinate. Like in any relationship, plain sailing makes for a boring trip, and it’s the fact that there is so muck to scream about makes the rest of it so special. Know what? It’s a good city.