Hanoi revisited

by Neil

I was going to call this post Hanoi hangover, but that might have given the wrong impression, although Hanoi has been hanging over me for the past couple of weeks or so. After leaving Vietnam, I having been feeling like I haven’t done it justice in my posts, so it’s time to do a revisit.

Vietnam is a beautiful place and I would encourage anyone thinking of traveling to Asia to seriously consider it as a destination. Outside of Hanoi, the vistas are quite stunning at times, lush, green and vibrant. Along the road to Ha Long Bay, there are towns and small communities where ancient pagodas and colonial architecture vie for space with evidence of a fast growing, modern economy. To say that Vietnam is a place of contrasts is an understatement. There are problems here, as with many places that rely heavily on tourism, but there is so much more going on. To appreciate Vietnam, you really have to think in terms of context.

My view of Vietnam is largely influenced by my understanding of it’s more recent history, namely the conflict with the United States. It coloured my expectations of what Vietnam would be like and our interactions with the Vietnamese people. Interestingly, the country commemorates the struggle with the United States (there are lots of reminders that they outlasted the world’s largest superpower), but Vietnam has a long history of resisting invasions and ousting oppressors. No, really, a long history—think millennia. Resistance, resilience and innovation are written into the very fabric of the culture, which creates a society that is quite quirky by western standards. This was really brought home to me in Hanoi, where private enterprise thrives alongside the apparatus of a modern communist state. Not in terms of huge corporations, although they thrive here as well, but at the very local, individual level. Hanoi has a vibrant street culture that is awesome in the breadth of scope an ingenuity. Furthermore, it is a culture that clearly transcends the needs of the growing tourism industry, giving you the sense that it has been this way forever.

Our  time in Hanoi was pretty thrilling, the hustle and bustle are enervating, but can be exhausting. Although there are lots of tours promoted outside of the capital, there are dozens of things to see and experience that we simply didn’t have time to fit in. I would love to return someday soon and pick up where we left off, if only to sit by the lake and drink another egg coffee.

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