Organized Chaos of Hanoi
Hanoi was my not only the big city that I spent some time in during the my three weeks in Asia, but the first real Asian city I saw. And it was really overwhelming in the beginning. It was stifling hot with a thick haze hanging over the entire city and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people packed in so tightly. The roads were jammed with a sea of motorbikes that at first glace seemed like a haphazard swarm, but was more of a diligent unchoreographed daily routine for the locals. Shops and restaurants spilled out onto the sidewalks making them impassible and crossing any street was like playing a game of real-life Frogger – wait for a slight gap in traffic and step out, assuming the oncoming swarm of motorbikes will swerve around. And there was of course the never-ending sound of car and motorbike horns.
Initially, I wasn’t the biggest fan. Maybe I was tired or maybe I had just been in so many amazingly tranquil places recently that this new scene was simply an overlaod. Who knows. But it’s amazing how quickly things can change and moods can swing. We performed our usual bit of managed democracy debating about where to have dinner and after what seemed like aimless wandering, we ended up on a rooftop deck overlooking the whole Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. The food was phenomenal, the beers were cheap, and the view of the city from 12 floors up was actually really peaceful. Leaving dinner, the motorbikes were no longer an annoyance, but an awesome exhibition of organized chaos. Walking down the road to avoid a family dining on the sidewalk between the building and parked motorbikes was no longer a nuisance, but a glimpse into a diverse culture’d everyday life. And even though I was still sweating, even the heat had a different comfortable stickiness to it. When hopping into a cab to head to the Sofitel Plaza to meet a friend, I had gone from overwhelmed to actually really being really at peace, even though the city didn’t (and doesn’t) quiet down.
Over the course of two days I spent in Hanoi, I ended up walking a lot of the Old Quarter – 3 km back and forth from the Sofitel a couple of times, 4 km to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (which was closed when I got there…ugh.), and a bunch of aimless wandering all really added up. It seemed like walking (and eating/drinking) was all I really all I did there. I felt like I saw everything from the main backpacker roads to sidestreets with locals glancing at me wondering what I’m doing there. I think one of the crazier things I have ever seen was when we accidentally walked past a primary school just as it was letting out – Streets in every direction were packed should-to-shoulder (literally) with uniformed children running around bustling with excitement as parents tried to gently force their way in and out in cars or on motorbikes. All the while, other people who happened to be passing by just added to the calm, yet crazy disorder. And it was awesome.
Until Hanoi, I truly have never seen a city with so much chaos in such a relatively amicable setting.