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Street Level Vietnam

Every great destination has a unique energy about it. A not-quite-tangible quality that lies in every building, each interaction. But there is nowhere more unmistakable than Vietnam—there’s something about the country that makes it impossible to confuse with any place else.

There are of course some obvious traits that make Vietnam so distinctive. The intensity of its motorbikes is world renowned, for one. Congested traffic moves through the narrow streets like a huge school of fish; traffic lights an invention that seem to have have passed the nation by. Add to this the fact that the Vietnamese can fit anything (and any number of family members) on a motorbike, and it’s difficult to understand how so many people arrive at their destinations in one piece.

This strange and specfic energy I’m talking about, however, can be attributed to the Vietnamese way of utilizing public spaces. There are many cities around the world that evoke a certain “hustle and bustle.” Metropolitan centers share this feeling of busyness and hurry. But in the western tradition, this movement is orderly; measured and regulated. There is a feeling of detachment, too. How many times have you walked down a street or ridden the subway with headphones in your ears—completely surrounded by people and yet entirely isolated in your own world. For the most part, in North America, much of life is lived behind closed doors, or in a private bubble that floats within public space.

In Vietnam, all of this is turned upside down; here, life happens on the streets. Right on the sidewalk is where food and goods are sold, and where most meals are eaten (on those ubiquitous tiny stools). Motorbikes are a source of both utility and fun, weaving closely among one another in their perfectly ordered chaos. Open streets and parks are where young people hang out, where business is done, where friends invite each other to meet instead of in their private homes. They are always moving; there is a sense that everyone is going everywhere all at the same time.

The hot climate is a factor in this, and also the close quarters that the average family shares. For a local in Vietnam, outside is where all the action is. And that makes the experience all the more interesting and authentic for the vistor. Grab a roadside stool in Hanoi and see for yourself.

With winter around the corner (oh how we shudder to say that…), the season for Southeast Asia is coming around again.

Congested traffic moves through the narrow streets like a hugh school of fish; traffic lights an invention that seem to have passed the nation by.

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