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Published: February 17th 2011
Hanoi is a city of contrast.
Bright red and yellow houses, government buildings and flags everywhere.
Grey, soot covered streets, walls, plants, and anything else left outside and not cleaned regularly.
Bleak, suffocating poverty.
Flashy, nuvo riche millionaires.
Endless air and water pollution. The skies are constantly a hazy grey colour from the exhaust of 10 million scooters.
A small army of women clean the gutters and sidewalks each day.
Incredible noise: animals, cars, motorbikes and people.
Calm, quiet oasis of solitude just a few steps from the street in temples, pagodas and coffee shops.
Modern steel and glass skyscrapers.
Crumbling sidewalks while overhead, nests of cables and wires crisscross the streets (watch your head on the broken ones).
Friendly, smiling, shy and welcoming people.
Aggressive, desperate touts trying their best to sell you something, anything.
A young population aggressively trying to shake their quiet, tradition filled background.
An overused and aging infrastructure.
A booming, exploding population.
A maze of built-up neighborhoods bordering heavily guarded open spaces and parks.
Hanoi can be beautiful at times, people are very friendly, and I've felt safe throughout my stay here. I definitely recommend coming
here to witness the brilliant, frustrating, beautiful contrast that this city has to offer. For those who are not comfortable with the noise of the endless car horns, there are plenty of museums, pagodas, shrines, and quiet coffee houses (with amazing Vietnamese drip coffee).
Pagoda and museum fees are around 10-50....cents. Coffees for about $1 or $2. For those who like the excitement, you can dive into the markets and public places to haggle for anything under the sun. Just be prepared for a sea of people, motorbikes, dogs, cats, babies, soup stalls, tea shops, tiny plastic chairs, crumbling sidewalks, poop that I stepped in yesterday (of unknown origin), large groups of khaki safari style western retired tourists, and old single white men coming here for Vietnamese women, men, or men 1/2 transitioned to women.
Right now I'm typing on my iPhone, which I easily switched to a Vietnamese number with a simple, $2 sim card (which may or may not continue working indefinitely, another example of the beautiful chaos of this place).
I'm at the national opera house, a bright yellow and white copy of the Paris opera. I'm sitting at an outdoor cafe, enjoying yet
another thick, strong drip coffee on the idyllic grounds of the Opera, surrounded by fountains and well manicured shrubs. Next door is the real Hanoi Hilton, just as ornate as the opera. A study in contrast, the area is surrounded by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Burberry, to name a few. Across the street, a tired looking 70-80 year old woman tends her large smoke stained soup pot. She's wearing an old, stained winter jacket and has a traditional scarf tied around her head and under her chin. She's sitting on the ground, trying to sell soup, but for the moment is staring into space with a blank expression. Behind her is a new John Varvatos outlet.
Hanoi: Beautiful Contrast
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