Along The Red River

Hanoi’s chaos on the roads does not take away from the charm of the city. Its many historical sites give you a taste of Taoist and Buddhist culture   

3/2/2016 5:24:49 PM
written By : Basabi Banerjee Print

‘Hapless in Hanoi’, I thought as I stood transfixed on the kerbside of a busy street in the city in December last year. Dusk had fallen and the dazzling headlights of hordes of scooters, motorbikes and cars plying in both directions made crossing the road seem considerably more tricky than it had been during the day. Suddenly, a young Vietnamese woman grabbed hold of my hand. ‘Come’, she exhorted and before I could react, navigated us both through the mayhem to safety on the other side. She was gone almost as suddenly as she had appeared, depriving me of the opportunity to thank her. Turning the clock back 10 years I realised I had had a similar experience on my first trip to Hanoi. The traffic that coursed down its streets then was mainly bicycles whose riders were clothed in traditional garb. The rapid urbanisation of Vietnam in the last decade made Hanoi seem like a city I was visiting for the first time.

The JW Marriott where we stayed on our recent trip was only nine kilometres from the historic Old Quarter but the journey took at least three quarters of an hour. During one of our commutes, I watched incredulously as motorcyclists rode on pavements to get ahead in a traffic gridlock. Sidewalks in Hanoi are put to a variety of uses, often serving as parking lots for motorbikes or spaces for outdoor (‘dust’) cafes for clients keen on an al fresco experience. Small wonder then, that the ‘Hidden Hanoi Walking Tour’ we signed up for, involved as much walking on the roads as on pavements, not such a nuisance in retrospect when you realised how relaxed it made one about the chaotic traffic. People-watching became an incredibly enjoyable pastime! Some of the bikers all but disappeared amongst the gravity-defying loads they were carrying in baskets boxes and wire containers. Street vendors in conical hats carrying baskets of fresh produce on shoulder poles and balloon ladies roaming the streets with dozens of their multi-coloured wares tied to a stake, were photo-worthy sights. The remarkable absence of road rage was notable too.

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