The first time I returned to Vietnam I entered the country through Hanoi. I was so nervous that my leg kept bouncing as we made our approach to Noi Bai Airport. It was dark out so I could see nothing from the window of the plane but my own reflection. In those days, they had no concourses at the airport so you had to get off the plane and load onto buses to get to the terminal. Inside, there were tall counters where you handed your passport and other paperwork to a stern looking soldier who you could barely see.
They have a brand new airport in Hanoi now, complete with air-conditioning, escalators, and modern gates. Immigration is not as intimidating any more. You actually are greeting with a smile.
|Though most of us never had the misfortune of seeing Hanoi during the war, it is a city that must be seen by anyone visiting Vietnam today. There is a flurry of activity everywhere you turn. The streets are filled with vendors selling everything from bicycle parts to live chickens. In 1995, there were virtually no cars on the streets. There were very few motor bikes. But there were hundreds of thousands of bicycles. With no traffic lights and no stop signs, it was fascinating to watch the hoards of people on bikes loaded down with three or four people or huge bags of rice or baskets of vegetables, flowing through the streets like water in a stream. You must be brave to cross the street as a pedestrian. Waiting for an opening is futile. The trick is to move in a slow, steady direction. The bikes will flow around you. But if you hesitate, or do something erratic, you could end up a statistic.|
|The Old Quarter in Hanoi is a great place to wander and a photographer's paradise. Thousands of shops crowd the narrow streets and sidewalks. In the center of all the chaos, there is the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake. This landmark of Hanoi is famous for its legend of the turtle and the sword. If you spend any time around the lake, I am sure someone will tell you the story. Early in the morning, local citizens come to the lake to do their morning exercises and socialize before starting their day.|
|Hanoi has many things to see and do. The famous "Hanoi Hilton" where American POWs were kept during the war is now a museum The tomb of Ho Chi Minh and his residence. There are also many cultural and historical places to visit if time allows.|