I arrived to Hanoi airport shortly after noon, landing into a persistent smog that left no doubt that air quality ain't gonna be the highlight of this trip segment. The first impression of the airport and the passport control very much reminded me of the former Soviet Union. Guards wearing a-la USSR uniforms, outdated facilities. Here is a shot from that line, I found the combination of a Soviet-era uniform on the guard, in the background to the left, to be an interesting contrast to the traditional garb of the Vietnam Airlines flight attendants, to the right:
I had pre-arranged an airport pickup for myself, to avoid what purportedly are many scams of the kind where you are taken to a different hotel than the one booked, with the cabbie claiming that this is a 'new and improved' version. Perhaps to silence out the persistent beeping of the seatbelt reminder (which he refused to wear) or the constant honking of the horns which appears to be an ongoing communication language between cars and motorcycles, the driver promptly put on a 'mix tape' (ok, mix CD) with the Scorpions, Bryan Adams and the like that instantly took me back some 20 years -- I used to have a tape just like that, when I was 12 or so.
What was going on outside the car was a whole different matter. It didn't take long to find out that those crazy videos one can find on Youtube, of how people supposedly drive in certain places in Asia which I used to skeptically write off as spliced or doctored with time-lapse effects, are certainly an accurate depiction of Hanoi's traffic scene. What seems like a serene 2-lane road can suddenly evolve into more intertwining lanes than the number of distributaries the Mekong River has. Cars, motorcycles, bikes, all interact in this chaotic dance that is Hanoi traffic. There is no laws, and for the most part, no traffic lights or even stop signs -- you just take your chances, and attempt to navigate around others who were similarly inclined. I haven't made my own traffic video yet, but here is one that summarizes my experience walking several blocks today for my 2-hour massage and mani-pedi:
The city is certainly teeming with life. Yet, among all the motorcycles and scooters, in an ever-evolving traffic pattern, you still see plenty of these classic images:
I'm writing this from the balcony of my hotel in the Old Quarter, having cut the festivities short in order to catch up on sleep. Tomorrow, I begin exploring in earnest. In the meantime, enjoy this night-time image of downtown, paying particular attention to the feat of engineering that is the electric pole, behind the tree: