Watch out for pickpockets. Lenin did, but he still got robbed. If you find this assertion somewhat unconvincing due to the fact that Lenin never visited Hanoi, then just check out his statue, which went up in Hanoi around the time most of the rest of the communist world brought his effigies crashing to the ground. Called the ‘stop thief’ statue, he looks slightly startled and as though he is fishing in his pocket for his wallet, whilst pointing at a fleeing pickpocket and shouting ‘stop, thief’.
Observers call Bangkok ‘amazing’ and Vientiane ‘enchanting’. Hanoi, however, typically gets praise of a faintness typically accorded a plain daughter: ‘bustling’ is the best most brochures and guidebooks can come up with. This is a shame, as the city deserves better. Like a prospective mother-in-law with whom you do not share a language, Hanoi can be painfully hard to get to know. But she is worth the effort: largely free of the half-built, half-ruined look which typifies so much of the rest of the country, Hanoi is a fun, intoxicating and vibrant place where you can feel the pulse of life throbbing as insistently as anywhere on the planet.
While myths and ancient history add colour and curiosity to the oldest capital city in SE Asia, more recent history accounts for the city’s present face, aged and worn in many places, but lively, full of character and ever-changing in expression. Exploring the Vietnamese capital can, for those with traffic tolerance, be a delight; the visitor is constantly surprised by the different quarters of the city, quite distinct in appearance and historical associations.
Thanks to its free enterprise boom Hanoi is, undeniably, a manic place, with its 24-7 background din of shrieking horns and squealing tyres. Along with all the cacophony it does, however, also have worthwhile and charming attractions and so deserves at least a short visit, except for those visitors who have a nervous disposition, who should probably avoid the place.
Vietnam visitors who arrive from Saigon needing a vacation from their vacation will find that Hanoi is a big improvement. Whilst most of the city is about as laid-back as jungling with Semtex, it does have plenty of cultural bolt-holes from the bedlam on the streets.
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