7 million people live in Hanoi and 5 million scooters ferry them about. It’s a city of marvels in many ways but the scooters block that out.
Scooter owners, of course, resist possible restrictions even while they wear facemasks to get around . Hanoi has moved factories out of the city but scooters besmirch the air. Walk around indoor market stalls and scooters push around you – like I say, no-one walks. They squeeze their scooters through the streets of the old quarter, sometimes a baby on the handlebars and a child standing between the parent’s legs.
Traffic is banned banned from Hoan Kiem Lake from 7pm Friday through the weekend, allowing a haven in the middle of the old quarter. That temporary banning suggests some will is there to have a breathable city.
We travelled south, for a sampan journey along the quiet Ninh Coc River. The river winds through the bulbous hillsides of Karst, limestone upheavals from seabeds of millions of years ago. Running south from Hanoi, the Truong Yen Mountains form a vivid jagged line over to the west. The limestone range runs for 300km. Almost all of it, it seemed, is being actively quarried up to its summits. It’s painful to witness. Cement factories are even squeezed next to great hill forms on the edge of heritage areas.
This Province of Bhien Dien is wealthy on the back of tourism and cement. It will lose both if it hacks down its mountains. Cement’s days will end and the beauty will go with the mountains and hills.