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he next morning when I sidled up to a sidewalk caé, my driver’s words appeared to ring true.Te tiny coee shop was packed with whitecollar workers all perched on blue stools moreappropriate in height or preschoolers than grown men.Despite the act that nine o’clock had come and gone, they seemed in no hurry to get to the oce. In their polo shirtsand khakis, they sipped thick coee spiked with condensedmilk, briey trading in their loaers and dress shoes orip-ops so an itinerant shoe shine man could bu away the dust o the city. Tey glanced at their shiny shoes andeven shinier watches beore lighting another Marlboro andddling with their high tech phones. From the perspectiveo the sidewalk, work, it seemed, could wait.In sharp contrast to the languid dawdling o the middleclass in caes across the city, the trac o Hanoi is an animalunto itsel. At any hour, a wall o scooters barrels aroundthe Hoan Kiem Lake, jockeying or position amongst ahectic onslaught o rickshaws, cars and buses. Whereverthey are headed, they sure are in a hurry. Afer consideringthe pedestrian logistics o crossing the street over a cupo sweetened coee the consistency o motor oil, I bravedthe crush o oncoming trac mysel. Just making it tothe other side in one piece turned out to be my greatestaccomplishment o the day.Te rest o my time spent in Hanoi was a balancedtightwalk between the nerve-rattling renzy and laconicrelaxation o the streets and sidewalks, a dichotomy o activity that grasped – and retained – my interest rom therst morning.Hanoi is still very much a city that is holding on to theancient past, while letting go o the more recent events o history. With a history that stretches back three millennia,the city still hosts a ew crumbling remains o bygonecivilisations that weren’t destroyed during the war. TeConucius-inspired emple o Literature, built in 1076AD, stands proudly on the back o the VND 100,000 noteand also due west o Hoan Kiem Lake, the same body o water that is also the site o urtle ower, whose square,tiered walls date back to the 17th century. Radiating outrom the lake is the Old Quarter. One glance at the colonialarchitecture is all you need to note the French inuencerom Hanoi’s tenure as the capital o Indo-Chine early inthe 20th century. A squat, skinny, terraced version o atropical street that eels more New Orleans than Nice, thelanes around the Old Quarter are dotted with signs orquestionable massages and rung Nguyen coee.While much o the city was destroyed during bombingcampaigns rom the Vietnam War, Hanoi has reboundedover the last hal century, repairing both the emotionaland physical damage to the point where it’s hard to ndevidence that it even happened. While Hanoi still has a rmgrasp on its past and lags behind other Asian capitals, italso seems to be tottering on the brink. Just across rom theOld Quarter, skyscrapers are starting to rise and businesscentres are becoming crowded. Despite the act it is already a tourist destination in its own right, Hanoi still has aslightly undiscovered eel to it.
Motor c ycles and scoot er s ,encumbered b y t ower in g bouquet so yellow and white owers ,whiz z ed b y on the r esident ialhig hwa y as wemadeour wa yint o H anoi r om t heair por t under thecover o nig ht . Despit et he act wear r ived ar past midni g ht,t he cit y seemedt obe indes per at eneed o t hese ast -movin g oralar ran g ement s. I t ur ned to m ydr iver andasked i t he ollowin g da y was aholida y. “ H ol-e-da y?” he res pondedwit h alilt in his t one ashe searched his limit ed vocabular y t r yin g tor ecallt he de fnition. " F est ival? Celebr ation?" I su p plieds ynon ymst hat mig ht s par kr eco g nition.H elau g hed ,fnall y underst andin g .“ N o ,no.Ever yda y is hol-e-da y! ” W ell,t hat soundedpr omisin g .
Where to Stay: Softel LegendMetropole Hanoi
Hanoi’s listing o ve star hotels is surprisingly short or acity that makes it on to so many lists o travel destinationhotspots, and new restrictions against buildingskyscrapers in the Old Quarter have stied growth inthe city’s most touristy area. However, the Sotel LegendMetropole Hotel has held court in the district or overa century now. Built in 1901, the French colonial hotelconsistently ranks as one o the world’s best hotels,and with its high standards o service and exceptionalsetting, it’s no wonder. Te historic wing combinescolonial ambience with rst class amenities, while thenewer opera wing rises up around the exterior, creatinga whitewashed backdrop to the tranquil pool area. For acrash course in local cuisine, try the lunch buet at SpicesGarden, the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant. You’ll sampleeverything rom
to the sweet pudding knownas
, giving you the condence you’ll need later whenblindly braving the delicious street stalls. Beore youleave the Metropole, make sure to clamber up to the tiny roofop terrace and have a cocktail at sunset. You’ll be ina dierent era with just one sip.
Hanoi:A City on the Verge