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Hanoi On Assignment

Hanoi On Assignment

Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Hanoi's Heart

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By David LambPhotographs by David Alan Harvey

A returning journalist finds the city of poets energized by opportunity, respectful of its ghosts, and seductively charming.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

I never intended to go back to Vietnam. Never cared about seeing Hanoi. I'd already fled Vietnam twice as a war correspondent, once in 1970, after two years, and again in 1975 during the last desperate days of Saigon. Friends had said, "It's such a beautiful country. I'd love to come back when there's peace." Not me. I never wanted to go back. Memories of Vietnam and what the Vietnamese call the American War had faded into a distant, unwanted memory.
Now, a generation later, it was winter in Hanoi, the city I'd called home for several years. Beyond my ninth-floor balcony overlooking White Silk Lake, this extraordinarily beautiful capital that had surprised me in so many ways lay under a blanket of damp fog and chill. I heard the familiar sounds of the street below: the high-pitched call of the bread seller, the newsboy reciting the day's headlines through an amplifier on his bicycle, the growl of jackhammers, the tap, tap, tap of the bronze caster's hammer on an emerging statue of Buddha. It was a reassuring medley, a reminder that even as great changes were sweeping through Southeast Asia's oldest capital, the intimacy and timelessness of Hanoi lingered, undaunted by the suffering of war or the burdens of peace.
The fabled city was a blank in my mind's eye when I arrived in 1997 to open the Los Angeles Times's first peacetime Indochina bureau. I expected to see the scars of war, but there were none, except perhaps those hidden in the heart. I found instead a vibrant, optimistic city that carries its beauty marks—a dozen lakes, broad tree-lined boulevards, amber villas from the French era—with a nationalistic pride. As an American I was prepared to encounter hostility, but I was greeted at every turn by wide, generous smiles and a welcoming warmth that defied logic. The Hanoi I discovered was a city in its renaissance.
Humbled by more than a millennium of war, poverty, and foreign domination, Hanoi has been rejuvenated and invigorated by the communist government's decision to open Vietnam's doors to foreign investors, tourists, and private enterprise. But rather than falling victim to the machinery of development that has pounded the character out of other Southeast Asian cities, Hanoi has stood its ground, perfumed in seductive charm, protecting all that is old and special. The city is at once approachable and aloof. In the sunshine, it feels joyful; in the mist, melancholy. It is a place where the ghosts of a lost Indochina hover in the breeze.

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Online Extra
Get travel tips on Hanoi, including the intricacies of crossing its traffic-packed streets.
Throughout its history, Vietnam has put aside its animosity toward its enemies. What can other nations embroiled in conflict learn from its example?

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Ho Chi Minh, revolutionary leader of northern communist forces during the Vietnam War, died in September 1969, six years before the war's end. Regarded as a national hero, Uncle Ho, as supporters have affectionately called him, fought for Vietnam's independence and unification. Ho Chi Minh considered himself a simple, unassuming person and wanted to be cremated when he died, with his ashes buried in three urns on hilltops in the northern, central, and southern regions of the country. 
But immediately after his death, Vietnamese colleagues and advisers invited Soviet specialists to Hanoi to help embalm the iconic leader, like Lenin in Moscow. "They needed him to remain a visual symbol," says Ho Chi Minh biographer William Duiker.
Construction of a formal mausoleum began in Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh had given his famous Declaration of Independence speech in 1945. Today he lies inside the granite building, his body enclosed by glass and preserved for public viewing. 
—Christy Ullrich
Did You Know?

Related Links
Lonely Planet
Discover the fascinating history of Hanoi.
Vietnamese Embassy
Get geographic and political information about Vietnam.
CIA Factbook
Learn about the history, economy, and population of Vietnam.
Biographer William Duikerf gives you details about the life of Ho Chi Minh.


Colet, John, and Joshua Eliot. Footprint Vietnam. Footprint Handbooks, 1999.

Eliot, Joshua, ed. Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia Handbook: 1996. Passport Books, 1995.

Florence, Mason. Hanoi. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd., 1999.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam, A History: The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War. Viking Press, 1983.

Kutler, Stanley, ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Macmillan Library Reference USA, 1996.

Lamb, David. Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns. PublicAffairs, 2002.

Ngoc, Huu. Sketches for a Portrait of Hanoi. Gioi Publishers, 1998.


NGS Resources
Stone, George W. "Silence in Motion." National Geographic Traveler (January/February 2004), 93.
Mui, Nelson. "Well, Hello Hanoi." National Geographic Traveler (April 2003), 40-5.
Hill, Lynn. "Scaling the Dragon's Spires of Vietnam's Ha Long Bay." National Geographic (December 1997), 110-19.
Martin, Paul. "Vietnam: Land of the Ascending Dragon." National Geographic Traveler (May/June 1996), 60-76, 78.
Raihlen, Steven. "The Joy of Pho." National Geographic Traveler (May/June 1996), 32.
White, Peter T. "Hanoi: The Capital Today." National Geographic (November 1989), 558-93.


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