Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Just left Hanoi, Vietnam, where I had a more than enjoyable experience. My take (after only 5 days): The city seems to be right on the balancing point between a developing (and still impoverished) South East Asian metropolis, and a more urbane European capital. There are sidewalk-less streets teeming with motorbikes and piles of trash, all manners of delicious street food prepared in less than sanitary conditions, and prices to make a Westerner smile wide (including the famous bia hoi draft beer--the worlds cheapest beer--for 25 cents U.S a glass). And yet there is also areas with wide, beautiful promenades, a virtual army of young ex-pats and backpackers, and near blanket wi-fi coverage. If you want a city were you can eat to your hearts content for a mere pittance, and still drink and talk with the beautiful and interesting people of the world, then Hanoi is your place.
Some drawbacks: European backpackers are sometimes idiots, and want to keep drinking even when it is clear the vietnamese establishments are all closed down. This is an awkward feeling, cultural colonialism and drunken loutism.
Also, the communist government has managed to stifle political opinion: ask a Vietnamese if they like their government, and you will not get a response one way or the other (although there does not seem to be the level of fear you would see from this question in Myanmar or Suharto-era Indonesia). It is the worst political side of communism, without the economic benefits that come with a welfare-based socialist government. One American expat, who has lived in Hanoi for 4 years, told me that the Vietnamese are ripe for an "Arab Spring" style breaking point--that the government in power is too corrupt, the political system is too closed and the young people are too educated.
As I will be returning to the U.S. tomorrow, I will try and sum up my trip in a longer post at a later date, as well as getting back to my regular news updates.