I have just begun a Grand Tour. This one starts in Vietnam, before moving on to Greece, Italy and Turkey.
Five days ago I arrived in Hanoi’s French Quarter and met up with a couple of friends. After being in Australia for the last three years I was immediately struck by humidity, history, dark greens, and street life.
I was last here a decade ago and as the country has had very high economic growth every year since then (apart from the last couple of Covid years), I was expecting to see a different Vietnam. Despite this Hanoi seems very similar to my last trip. The large rainforest trees line the streets. People sit, talk, eat, nap and live on the street in a way that makes Western cities look like ghost towns.
Over in the Old Quarter we sat on little plastic stools and ate and drank like the locals – open air and part of the current of the street. If you are going to see international tourists in Vietnam, Hanoi’s Old Quarter would be a place to look. Despite this I didn’t seem many. In Vietnam at the moment the international tourist is not the dominant person on the street, unlike in many parts of Paris say.
In Hanoi people use so much less space than in Australia. They create beautiful balconies covered in pot plants above shop fronts, and manage to coexist cheek by jowl with an elegance that is surprising to see despite the size and density of the population.
Next I flew down to Hue in central Vietnam…