Our minivan sluggishly made its way through the gridlocked streets of Hanoi’s Old Town. A sea of red and movement surrounded us; no matter where you looked people were waving flags. They waved them while standing on the street, waved them while hanging out the windows of buildings, waved them from the back of motorbikes and out of car windows. The people of Hanoi were celebrating. The Vietnamese football team had defeated Singapore 4-1 to qualify for the final of the South East Asia Games.
This spontaneous outburst of nationalism made blatantly obvious that Hanoi is Vietnamese through and through. The city was a definite a change of pace from sleepy old Laos. The streets are tight (as opposed to the wide boulevards of Saigon), busy and loud. Motos, cars, bicycles and street hawkers jostle for position on the road. Everywhere you look life spills from the tightly packed tumbledown buildings onto the street. People sit, eat, talk and laugh.
At first glance it appears chaotic but there is a kind of ancient intimacy about it. A feeling that it is the way it has always been and always will be. If Saigon is a teenage kid, growing fast and looking to get somewhere in hurry, then Hanoi is a mature adult, comfortable in its own skin, but still learning new tricks.
We enjoyed evading death whilst wandering the streets. Soaked in the hustle and bustle. Had fantastic Pho (noodle) while men smoked their opium pipes around us. We were subjected to the standard hotel scam. And just like every other foreigner visitor to the city we booked a trip to Halong Bay.