The Travel Issue 2018

The Old New Hanoi

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The rustic charms and modern cool of Vietnam

SO WHAT DO you do when you land at Vietnam? You can sense the air is heavy with both urbanisation and the memories of war. Well, you start drifting, imagining and feeling the place. You start creating your own understanding and you are changed by what you see.

Vietnam, having been cut off from modernity for almost two decades, is now in a rush trying to make up for lost time. But it still retains its old flavour, rustic charm, now infused by a groovy cool. The streets are packed with plush restaurants, yet most people enjoy sitting around on plastic stools, hunched over steaming bowls of pho and beer. Then there are places like Hoi An, a vibrant colourful town with its covered bridges and quiet shrines, which recall a time when Vietnam was bustling with Chinese and Japanese merchants. Motorbikes and cars are banned here, and you can only explore it the traditional way—afloat or by cycle.

What makes Vietnam special is its relationship with its history. Its museums have preserved its dark days, so that ‘we don’t forget’. We ‘experience’ war in the museums, we don’t just observe it.

To visit this country is to be invigorated by the old and the new. A spirited people, they have weathered the fiercest of storms and are going strong.