Ear splitting squeals pierce through the gentle swarm of motorbike engines, as sparks cascade like fireworks in the humid afternoon air. Straddling the edge of the scooter occupied sidewalk, desperately attempting to navigate the rush hour street traffic, we twist and turn though what might be called the 'metalworks' district of Hanoi’s old quarter.
Vietnam's capital city is a mishmash of specialized neighborhoods, minuscule streets sewed through the wide avenues and palatial buildings left behind by the French. As we've learned by now, America left nothing but destruction in Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam. In contrast, much of this city feels European. Hoan Kiem Lake (lake of the returned sword in Vietnamese) is the heart of Hanoi, with avenues splitting off like arteries to the south, narrow side streets like veins to the north. Each block has its own identity; some filled completely with flowers, others packed to the brim with silk and cloth. Others with paintings, trinkets, bamboo (mostly crafted into bongs, strangely enough), and metal crafted into household goods.
After some time spent in Vietnam, Hanoi’s differences from the south, although a bit subtle, are easy to notice. The honking of motorbikes is slightly louder and more aggressive. The chaotic traffic feels less organized. The food, less spicy. It might be where we’re staying (the old quarter is notoriously touristy), but Hanoi feels like a city that caters to foreigners. Menus are written in English, there are women hawking donuts and other trinkets everywhere, and hotel staff are relentless in their offers for trips to Ha Long Bay. Regardless, it’s a beautiful city, full of treelined streets, architectural details, and tributes to “Uncle Ho.” A marriage of ancient Vietnam and colonial France, being reinvented by the young, modern, and enterprising Vietnamese.
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