Hanoi, Sedate but Scooter Madness

Trip Start Aug 31, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A quirky colleague once described Hanoi as the most beautiful city in SE Asia. If you consider the Old Quarter around Hoan Kiem Lake, this is absolutely true. Most of the old French Colonial architecture is intact, and within the old quarter there are no buildings higher than about 5 stories, so it is very quaint.

Hanoi is very sedate. Usually I somehow gravitate towards things that are non-sedate, or even mischievous, especially when traveling. There is not much of that in Hanoi. Bars, clubs, restaurants are closed by midnight. When I say closed, I mean the city is black, only a few kids on scooters, and odd taxi driver, or police out.

There is not much for Hanoians to do. Young Hanoians describe themselves as bored, which is understandable. One thing that people in Hanoi do is ride scooters. More than any city I've ever seen, they have scooters. I think there are 4 million Hanoi residents, and there are 2 million scooters registered there. It is insane.

Young (15 years-30 years) guys like to take scooters out racing on weekend nights. They may or may not have a passenger on the back and will drive their 110 or 125 cc scooter as fast as possible weaving in and out of traffic and through narrow and twisting streets. Basically drag racing. Residents and police don't like this. Residents will place small piles of trash in an intersection near their apartment so people on a scooter have to slow down. On weekends around 11 pm or so, police will hose down roads at intersections and areas where kids race to make the streets slick so they are unable to ride fast.

Police also chase the drag racers on their own scooters. Police carry a baton about 4 feet long that they will use to whack the passenger or driver, or even jam into the spokes of the tire, no BS. The first time I saw a drag racer get caught, the passenger immediately ran and got away, the 2 police were quickly joined by 2 more who promptly gave the kid a pretty good beating with fists, feet, and a baton. I quickly walked away because I didn't want to be too near police in a bad mood.
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