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Hanoi Traffic and Tourism

Hanoi has the potential to be a cultural tourism paradise. It has a rich 1000 year old history, a myriad of temples and pagodas, interesting architecture, and numerous museums, as well as beautiful parks, stunning trees and Hoan Kiem Lake, in my opinion, the most beautiful city center in the world. Indeed, at one point in time, Hanoi was called 'the Paris of the East.'

There are also thousands of restaurants and cafes, from small street stalls on every road to five star restaurants serving international gourmet cuisine, and everything in between.

Hanoians have become accustomed to foreign tourists now and the level of service has improved dramatically over the last 15 years, as has the quality of hotels.

The main thing preventing it from being a perfect destination is the traffic, which has grown increasingly worse over the years. It has even received negative press internationally and some tourists are actually scared to visit the city because of what they have heard about the traffic situation.

I first came to Vietnam in 2001 and I moved to live in Hanoi about six years later. One of my strongest memories of the city was being terrified to cross the street and, as a pedestrian, my biggest concern when I moved here was coping with the traffic. I have since mastered the art of crossing the street, but it is still sometimes a harrowing experience because many people do not obey the traffic laws, not to mention the notorious traffic jams during rush hours.

A large part of the congestion problem is due to inadequate infrastructure for handling the tremendous proliferation of motor vehicles, particularly automobiles, which is an inevitable result of the city's modernization and development. The municipal authorities realize this and are working on devising solutions, with some visible success, but that issue cannot be resolved overnight.

Tourists in the city are predominantly pedestrians and most main attractions in Hanoi are within walking distance of each other, which is a great tourism advantage. There are also many wide sidewalks that should make walking a pleasant and efficient way to get around; however, they are always blocked by parked motorbikes and cars, or used by motorbikes as an alternative road, which makes walking along them a very annoying obstacle course.

One of the city's most famous attractions, the 36 ancient streets of its Old Quarter, is actually a pedestrian nightmare because of the motorbikes and cars that make walking all but impossible.

Hanoi has the foundation for an effective bus system that could be upgraded to provide a viable and more efficient alternative to other motor vehicles.

The city could also follow the proven model of London (another ancient city with similar infrastructure issues) and restrict the number of vehicles allowed into the center, while providing efficient, easy to use public transportation.

Most importantly, though, public awareness must be raised about obeying traffic laws and considering others using the roads and sidewalks, and the authorities must ensure those laws are enforced.

Hanoi was in the past a wonderful city for pedestrians, as shown in old photographs. I hope, through education and action, it will be again in the near future. A few adjustments and well-placed investment will make it much more liveable for its citizens and much more attractive to tourists.

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