Hanoi: Revisited after 24 Years

In front of the Ho Chi Minh Monument

My first time to come to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, was at the end of July 1984. I was with 24 other Cambodian students on the way to East-Berlin, former German Democratic Republic (GDR), in other to study there. We spent one night in Thaing Long hotel at the West Lake. My group of 15 students went first by bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, before taking the flight from there to Hanoi. In 1987, it was my second and last visit to Hanoi, when I was on the way from East-Germany to visit home and to return. Cambodia and Vietnam used to be socialist countries. Hanoi was the only gateway for us to the (socialist) world, in addition to the direct flight possibility from Phnom Penh to Moscow, which was scheduling twice a month. No other options were possible at that crucial time, due to the economic embargo by the West posing towards the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), then the official name of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

West Lake-view from the hotel

It took such a long time, that I got the opportunity to come back to Hanoi again. This time, I came to Hanoi to join the Mekong Futures Scenarios Workshop on behalf of CEDAC; organized by CSIRO and is supported by AusAID. We stayed in Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, again at the West Lake. It is a very nice five-star hotel. The room rate per night booked for us is 145 USD. I stayed here from 13-16 November 2011. I was very excited to see Hanoi again, after so many years and a lot of historical changes in this city. My flight was from Phnom Penh over Vientiane, with 45 minutes stopover in Vientiane. Total time spent on the way is slightly over 3 hours. I left Phnom Penh at 17:30pm and arrived at Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport at 20:35pm. I took a 35 minutes ride by taxi to the hotel. It went very smoothly and it costs 16 USD, a fixed price for one way. The temperature was 22 degree Celsius, a very pleasant evening. Between Vietnam and Cambodia, we have also visa free agreement which makes my trip a lot easier. I obtained recently an electronic passport. So, I do not need to fill in the departure or arrival cards, both in Phnom Penh and in Hanoi. One stamp at the immigration in Noi Bai airport was enough.

Walking in the morning at West Lake. In the background, Sheraton Hanoi Hotel

We had a one and half day workshop on 14-15 November. In the morning of 15 November, I took one hour time (6:15-7:15am) to walk along the river bank of the west lake. In the morning hour, thick fog is quite common. It is good for walking and jogging. Many Vietnamese are walking, jogging and cycling along the lake bank. Our meeting started at 8:00am. We had a very good dinner together at VINE Restaurant, just next to the hotel. When the workshop came to an end, we got the opportunity to make a short visit to the city center. I, other Cambodian colleague, one Thai professor from Khorn Kaen University; we were accompanied by a colleague from Can Tho University of South Vietnam. We went by taxi, with stopover in the History Museum, Ho Chi Minh Monument and city center area. On the morning of 16 November, I woke up at 4:30 am and did physical exercises along the Lake bank from 5:00-6:00 am. We had breakfast at 6:30 am before taking the hotel Limousine back to the airport at 7:15am. It was offered by the hotel staff with the same price as official taxi. But, we gave the driver 20 USD, just to make him also happy.

My first impressions of the city:

  • It looks quite similar to other Asian cities in the region; chaotic traffic, old and new buildings stand side by side, wire cables hanging wildly next to the houses and apartments etc
  • Hanoi has still lot of big trees, large roads, big parks and big lakes very well-preserved
  • Old colonial buildings are still visible in many parts of the city, though high-rises are springing up like mushrooms
  • 24 years ago, the city roads were packed by thousands of bicycles and few motorbikes. It is replaced now by plenty of motorbike, cars, old busses and trucks. The government tries to cope up with the traffic chaos by putting high taxes for personal cars (up to 200%) to discourage people to buy cars and instead better using public transport facilities or private motorbikes
  • It seems that the people are better off
  • The main streets are cleaner. But, the smaller streets are a bit messy with chaotic housing conditions for many lower-income families
  • The Noi Bai airport is about 30 km north of the city and it remains small as it was some years ago, just it is a bit modern in comparison to the conditions 24 years ago. However, construction work to expand the airport facilities is under way. Vietnam Airlines has currently 62 modern aircrafts; with B 777, A 330, A 320, A 321, Fokker and ATR 72. There is no trace of TU and IL aircrafts from the Soviet Union’s time, which were common in the eighties.
  • Many businesses, small shops, many tourists are making Hanoi a lively city. Officially, Vietnam declares itself to have a “socialist market economy”. My Vietnamese colleague told me that the current PM and the President come from the South. But, the Secretary General is North Vietnamese. The daughter and son of the PM own construction firms and have many businesses. His daughter is married to an American citizen with Vietnamese origin.

On the road in Hanoi

At the end, I am happy to be back in this city again, though short time. I am impressed to see remarkable economic development of this city and Vietnam as whole. But, it is lower than my expectation. I think, better city planning with master plan development could make Hanoi a charming city. I boarded the return flight at 9:40 am and arrived in Phnom Penh at 13:00 pm local time.


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