Staying afloat in Hanoi City
SEE ALSO :The aftermath of blue economy conferenceThe smallest of the lakes, Truc Bach, is the one into which the fighter plane of United States Senator John McCain of Arizona crashed when it was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1967. Truc Bach Lake nudges West Lake’s western shore. A monument built by the lakeside to commemorate the shooting down of the US plane contains a text in Vietnamese that reads in part: “Lt John McCain in his A4 B1 jet fighter was shot down in this lake on October 26, 1967”. Four milion motorcycles The monument depicts McCain with his hands raised in surrender. Away from Hanoi’s holy lakes and the mighty Red River that with its tributaries is its lifeline, the city’s motorcycles, that number in their millions are a tourist attraction in their own right.
SEE ALSO :Firm steps up assault on travel marketI had never seen so many motorcycles in my life. Statistics have it that the city has over four million motorcycles, almost half its population. The two wheelers have stolen the thunder from urban public transport that seems non-existent. Personal cars are few and matatus as we know them are absent, thanks to high taxes imposed by the government to thin out cars. And the trick has worked. Traffic snarl ups are rare. Confusion reigns at peak hours alright and crossing roads can be a nightmare when millions of cyclists hit the roads, but traffic gridlocks are nowhere near Nairobi’s maddening levels. Road users obey traffic lights and zebra crossings are not treated as mere decorations. A tour of Hanoi is incomplete without a visit to the war museum where tools used to defeat Americans, and the French and Japanese before them are displayed. Even McCain’s downed fighter bomber is there. Destroyed tanks and aircraft bearing the US flag litter the museum where Russian MiG jets and small weapons that helped them win the 18 year old war are proudly displayed. Also on display are statues of national war heroes such as Ho Chi Minh who led the independence movement for the then North Viet Nam and defeated the French Union to become the first President of North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial capital formerly called Saigon, is named in his honour. At night, Hanoi’s equivalent of Nairobi’s River Road boils with activity, albeit minus the menace of muggers, ill-mannered street people, urchins or gun-totting police officers. Locals and foreigners sit by the road side on squat stools while sipping low alcohol beer which sell at a dollar for four glasses. Peddlers, selling everything from cooked and roasted pork, beef, mutton and fish, peppered skewers, to juices, fruits, water and numerous other food items unknown in our part of the world, have a field day. Girls of the night in short dresses slink by or ride on the motorcycles, perched provocatively on their small seats, seeking customers. Back streets are the place to be after nightfall for a true taste of fun, Hanoi style. Excitement for the first batch of passengers and crew of a scheduled African airline to fly into Vietnam surged with the emergence from the clouds of Dreamliner Flight KQ870 over the hazy skies of Hanoi, to land at Noi Bai International Airport, nine hours from takeoff at Nairobi’s JKIA. Through the mist that seemed to touch the ground, first to pop out were several brown waterways meandering around paddy fields and human settlements. Six-lane expressway Then a huge river panned into view, red water in its snaky path. For one arriving from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital named after a stream now turned into a sewer, the mighty river that hugs Hanoi is spell binding. Once on the ground, excitement turned into disillusionment when visa acquisition seemed to take a lifetime, but resumed and the 45-kilometre drive into town started on a well-paved six-lane express way free of traffic jams. On both sides of the road, rice paddies fan out over wide stretches right to the state-of-the-art Nhat Tan Bridge across the Red River that commands entry into the city. The bridge is 33 metres wide and has provisions for pedestrians. Long before entering the city, it is easy to notice that motorcycles outnumber automobiles by a big percentage. Roundabouts that have played havoc on Nairobi traffic are unknown in Hanoi as flyovers and underpasses dominate the roads profile. The Vietnamese adore decorations, a trait reflected on virtually all the roads.