The unique and captivating character of Hanoi is one that could not be fabricated or recreated. Instead, it arises from a distinct combination of turbulence, resilience, tradition and the innovation of the 21st century. It would be wrong to see modern day Hanoi as simply the result of its past. This city is constantly evolving to suit the dynamic people that live there.
It was in In 1831 that Hanoi, meaning between rivers, took its current name from the Nguyen Emperor Minh Mang. Not long after this, Hanoi was occupied by the French and by the Imperial Japanese in 1940. Independence from the invading forces was declared in 1945 in the famous speech given by Ho Chi Minh.
It was after this period, in 1946, that the French returned and reoccupied Hanoi. Even now, the city has certain European romance which can be seen in the grand French architecture, relics of the colonies that once ruled here. The impressive villas in the traditional French style still sit proudly on the tree-lined streets, the passage of time beginning to show in the faded paintwork. Having overthrown the imposed French rule in the 1950s, the faint perfume of France still prevails in not only the architecture but also the literature, arts and the cuisine.
Hanoi once again became independent in 1954 but the peace was short-lived as the war with America started shortly after in 1955 and lasted until 1975. The loss and damage done to Hanoi were inconsolable but the resilient, ambitious and creative people of Vietnam worked tirelessly to rebuild their city. Although the scars of the wars that were once fought here are still visible, Hanoi has undergone rapid development over past decades with the incredible transformation happening within most of the population’s lifetimes.
The city is now a diverse and dynamic unification of tradition and progressive 21st-century thinking. Throngs of motorbikes swarm around the tranquil lakes and past the temples. The impressive French colonial buildings mix with the tall narrow Vietnamese houses in the tangle of buildings in the Old Quarter. The dizzying skyscrapers tower over the tiny plastic chairs scattered at the roadside in the fast developing outskirts of town.
In one sense the dichotomy appears to divide the generations but as you look around, it is clear to see that it is the union of these characteristics that sets Hanoi apart from any other city.