Sunday was our last morning in Vietnam. I can’t say that Sundays are quiet in Hanoi – I’m not sure it’s ever quiet in Hanoi – but it’s quieter than other times. We went out for a short 8am walk to take a last look at the hustle and bustle of the streets:
It’s hard to describe the architecture in Hanoi. Some of it is almost pretty:
Then you have things that must have been pretty at one time, such as this temple-like doorway, next to some awful stuff.
The challenge with looking at Hanoi is that there are wires and tarps and corrugated metal and bad signage and such all over the place, so even when there are attractive architectural features right in front of you, they can be hard to see.
I think that Hanoi is a surprisingly short city, especially given its size (7.5 million people). Most of the buildings are no taller than three or four stories. The skyscrapers, when you see them, really stick out. In the Old Quarter, the buildings are all arranged and built higgledy-piggledy.
It’s messy and, at street level, it’s generally dirty and gritty. I can’t help but wonder if this is the sort of thing that Lee Kwan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, saw when he decided to move everyone out of their kampongs (villages) and into HDB blocks. Given old pictures, I suspect it was – Singapore used to have people spilling out into the sidewalks (the “five foot ways”), and the houses were entirely without order, and no one was guaranteed a livable space. In building the HDBs and razing the kampongs, Lee Kwan Yew gave the people in Singapore clean, decent housing, a huge step up from what you see in Hanoi. On the other hand, it broke up communities and gave the country a reputation for looking architecturally sterile and boring. And while Singapore is far, far easier to live in, I have to grant that Hanoi is a far more interesting (if challenging) place.
To end my reflections on Hanoi, I’ll conclude with a list of things we did not eat during our time in Hanoi:
- Fried frog and salt
- Fried elongatus
- Snail meatloaf
- Green bean sweet gruel
Though I will note that we did have delicious raspberries, the tiny kind you only get when you pick them yourself in the US. They were some of the best things I’ve eaten in months.