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I think Jason Bohle (who I met on the Halong Bay Trip) described Hanoi best, so I'll just quote from him...
Hanoi is mad. And I don't mean upset. I mean crazy. I thought New York, Mexico City, or Rio were all quite lively, but really this place takes the cake. Recipe: Take Manhattan. Remove all stoplights. Switch yellow cabs for 6X the number of mopeds. Add a myriad of moped beeps from all directions. Increase the size of chinatown, add more street vendors selling sidewalk-cooked meat, add live fish in bath tubs for sale for eating, add huge dried mushroom and herb shops, and add shops that sell other strange things like dried seahorses and starfish. Remove some order, stability, and direction. Add ominpresent renderings of Ho Chi Minh and the soviet scythe and hammer. Finally, add some pure unbridled capitalism. Now you have the makings of a Hanoi.
I really don't think my travel insurance covers being hit by a moped while crossing the streets of Hanoi. Scooters are everywhere and I think the drivers are blind because just like bats they operate with a sonar-like guidance system based around their horns. I have never seen an intersection where people cross from all directions to all directions at the same time. Imagine the etoile in Paris except add two more lanes shaped like an X that pass through it. Actually despite the madness, Hanoi is quite a beautiful city. The french colonization affected the architecture in a very beautiful way. The old part of the city is also built around a lake which is very alluring. Trees around the perimeter of the lake form a park that is a wonderful place to pass an evening.
The Vietnamese are quite interesting people. They are much more aggressive than other people that I have met in South East Asia. The touts who try to sell you stuff will often grab your arm and follow you to make a purchase. The people are also very tough and have an incredible determination. Truly, the country has been invaded by the chinese, khmers, koreans (i think), french and the US. But, somehow the country has remained independent. I have also found the Vietnamese to be quite hospitable and interested in western culture. As an American I was expecting some anti american sentiment but really have not found any. In fact despite the war, the people seemed to have moved on. The economic condition of the country is proof of that as well as the country has developed into a modern nation despite the havoc that it witnessed less than 25 years ago. I have been told that 10% of the country's population was lost from casulties of the French and American wars.