Just about everything I read about Hanoi before moving here described it as a ‘bustling’ city. How lively, I thought, how exciting!
However, upon arrival I felt mildly deceived. It would seem that the word ‘bustling’ was used as the universal euphemism for complete chaos!
This chaos is the result of Hanoi’s traffic, which can be quite overwhelming. There is an endless stream of motorcycles, frequently honking at each other, and regularly disregarding traffic rules. During my morning commute to work, I feel quite certain the growing number of cars on the road exist purely to impede the flow of traffic and (selfishly) slow everybody else down.
Crossing the street in Hanoi is also quite the experience. It always reminds me of playing the video game Frogger at my cousins’ house as a kid, only now I’m the frog! It may have taken a while, but I can now cross the street with a fair amount of confidence that my death isn’t imminent.
It has been a few months since I first arrived and I must say that in addition to my new proficiency in crossing the street, I’ve developed a real appreciation for Hanoi and its (bustling) charm. This was facilitated by my move to a different area of the city where I am in easy walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake.
On weekends traffic around Hoan Kiem Lake is closed off and the area is transformed into a pedestrian space. But this pedestrian area is so much more than just a haven from the chaos of everyday traffic; it is an important community space.
Instead of a sea of motorcycles, the streets are filled with people of all ages enjoying their city and the lovely scenery around the lake. Every weekend, you can find families and couples out for a leisurely stroll, musicians performing to crowds, children (and adults) cruising around on two-wheeled hoover boards or roller skates. There are sidewalk games, races with sets up 5-person flip-flops, massive tug-of-war battles and groups of teens and young adults jumping rope. The range of activities is impressive.
It’s easy to see why this area quickly became my favorite spot in Hanoi, as it truly is a marvelous sight. To witness this transformation around Hoan Kiem Lake every weekend has made me really appreciate not only life in Hanoi but also the value of public spaces.