Four things to like about Ha Noi

Make no mistake, but Hanoi is a great city. One that I’d like to go back to, preferably before the car brings the city to a standstill.

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For one thing it’s incredibly vibrant, full of young people* on the streets at every hour of day and night. Crossing the road requires a specialist approach. Each road – and from all directions – thousands of mopeds, many motorbikes, a few bikes and some cars make their ways to their destination but not necessarily in any established format (ie, driving on right or left). They navigate using eye contact with all other road users. It seems to work; we didn’t see any accidents or even any vehicles with scratches or bumps on them.

As a pedestrian user of these same roads, you also have to navigate your way across the road via eye contact. You spot a gap in the road from both directions and communicate your desire to cross the road with your eyes with vehicles who might also be thinking of using that space. The mopeds will merely plot a different route on the road around your presumed route. The key rule is that you should not make any sudden movements. And it’s not just crossing the road where you need to be vigilant. The same rules apply when you are walking down the road as you can rarely use the pavements; they are either full of parked mopeds or street sellers blocking your way.

The second tremendous feature of Hanoi is the architecture – a mix of French colonial charm with Asian tradition and colour thrown in. There are almost no buildings over 3 or 4 stories which means that the city sprawls attractively for miles in all directions.

The third thing I like about Hanoi is the prevalence of lakes that break up and cool down the city. These French knew how to set up a cafe and these are great spots to wile away an afternoon watching everyone get on with their lives.

The fourth thing to like is that Hanoi is eminently affordable. There has obviously been plenty of inflation in all of the IndoChina area, but – with 20,000 Vietnamese Dong to each US dollar – you are guaranteed to have a full wallet even if you have only taken out the maximum ATM withdrawal of 2 million Dong (US$100). Food and accommodation are plentiful, varied and cheap.

Come before it’s too late.

* Population of 92 million with median age of 27

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