I read in a guide book that US bombs had destroyed most of Haiphong. I recall reading about bombing at the time, but not about the extent of damage. Reports dealt only with hurting war production and ignored effects on daily life and civilian population.
Needless to say, the city has been rebuilt and roads improved. Once completed, a new kind of invasion started to take a toll. Heavy trucks laden with containers moved raw materials in one direction and finished goods in the other to feed consumer hunger. US, Korean, and Japanese built, bought, or contracted factories to produce anything, which could be produced cheaper than in other exploited countries. Jobs were created, but infrastructure and the environment suffered. Air quality is worse in the Haiphong/Hanoi area, partly due to industry and partly due to topography.
The trip from Haiphong to Hanoi is a pain in the butt--literally. Even the best shock absorbers would struggle, but our van was not in that category. The ship docked in a container terminal, which provided the first impression of what was in store. I doubt that a cruise ship terminal is in any plans of the current government. Despite the bumpy ride along grimy streets, roads, and highways, we did get a glimpse of life in the north. This contrasted with what we saw in the south, but old Pittsburg was always less-appealing than Richmond, Virginia.
Drivers tended to use the horn and accelerator more than the brakes. The battle was a case of might makes right, unless speed and agility could trump the argument. Traffic deaths are many in Vietnam. There are 40 million motorbikes in country with a population of 88 million, and most seem to be concentrated in Saigon and Hanoi. If even half those were traded in for automobiles, life on the road would come to a halt...and horns would get even more use.
The guide tried to convince me that the road from Hanoi back to Haiphong was less bad, because truck loads were supposedly lighter. I found little difference. Next time I visit Hanoi, I will try to arrive by air. That should mean less time on rough roads.
I was not sure what to expect in Hanoi, despite having read much about changes in Vietnam. The communist regime seemed to be relaxing many controls and letting evil capitalism ooze into the country.
Saigon proved that change had arrived, because it appeared to be like most Asian cities (albeit with less cars and more motorbikes). The government restricts automobiles by making the cost prohibitive. In addition, the price of fuel is an added inhibitor.
The below photo--shot in Hanoi’s old quarter (District of the 36 Streets)--symbolizes the city and the country. Much of life goes on as before, but a few can afford to enjoy riches of a growing economy. Not only does the guy have money (and connections) to drive such a car, which costs more than double the price in other countries, but has the power and respect needed to park on a street where few drivers even dare to venture. Traffic in this neighborhood is mostly foot, cycle, or pedicab, so any car makes a statement.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.