Hanoi Capital City

Immediately Hanoi is different: more brown faces and more intense, girls less masked and traffic thick but less anarchic. Private cars are more abundant and are starting to dominate; public bus transport is a futile innovation to stem the growing numbers of vehicles. The architecture is born of French colonial inheritance with glittering Vietnamese embellishments. I expect to see more modern highrise and signs of the clearance that bombing inevitably brings but it is hard to discern from the little of the city we ventured into. The old French quarter buzzes with frenetic activity: trade of every kind spilling onto the pavements. Streets specialise in one kind of goods apparently but we saw little of that on the first day. Instead the visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the house on stilts and the presidential palace, followed by the other Hanoi Hilton took priority. It seems churlish not to go along with this on a first visit but as with most tourist experiences these are usually the ones you never repeat. First and only visits: the Tower of London, the walk over Sydney Harbour Bridge, the ferry to Liberty, New York, the Eiffel Tower, the Duomo, Florence, the golden domes of the Kremlin basilicas, Moscow… But iconic Hanoi is not to be found in spectacular buildings.

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