I fell in love with Hanoi almost right away. My flight from Tokyo arrived at 10:25 pm (or 7:25 am LA time) so I couldn’t see all that much, and I haven’t even walked around Old Town, in part due to relentless solicitations (full-body massage, blowjobs…”what do you want, man?”) from young guys on scooters and one 30ish woman in particular who wouldn’t give up) so I’ve really only seen the outskirts and the glistenings of the Red River and the immediate neighborhood near the Hanoi Movenpick.

But I live for cities like this. Cities with natural beauty, economic vitality and tourist appeal but with a fair amount of funk and native aroma on the fringes, side streets and outlying areas, and which haven’t been noticably affected, much less smothered, by corporate plastic enterprises and bad-taste architecture and franchises or any of that 21st Century flotsam that has infected almost every large or mid-size city in the U.S.

Older cities always look and feel and smell different than you might anticipate. I haven’t begun to digest any of the aromas but I love that the corporate plastic element is almost non-existent. I realize, of course, that in celebrating this I am convincing 90% if not 95% of the typical tourists who might read this to never visit Hanoi, but them’s the breaks. Most of the people out there want synthetic comforts when they go on vacations.

Hanoi reminds me of the less slick, less wealthy sections of towns between Nice and Cannes combined with a little Mexico here and there. Elegance and history and poverty and civic pride and corporate investment and squares and government buildings and the red lights covering the walls of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It’s not some nouveau-riche uptown super-burgh looking to hook in tourists who want the same bland aesthetic they can get in Atlantic City, Cancun or Las Vegas, but a storied, richly atmospheric, agreeably down-at-the-heels atmosphere — not in the center of town, mind, which is fairly flush and bucks-up and well-tended but in the outskirts and along the four-lane, amber-lit boulevards coming into town. And I mean that in the most flattering way imaginable.

The air is heavy and humid in Hanoi, delightfully so. I was told to prepare for fall-type weather… wrong! I’ve seen no fast-food franchises and only one supermall, and it didn’t look like anything in the States. The occasional brick and cobblestoned sidewalks and streets and walls along the boulevards are old and imperfect and rounded down. Hanoi has been here for a thousand years. The agreeably runddown look of it is mixed in with occasional remnants of French colonial homes and the occasional soul-less hotel or office building. And in the daytime, of course, there are tens of thousands of scooters and bicycles.

It’s 1:45 am now (or 8:45 am in LA). I have to get up at 6:30 am to be at the airport (roughly a 40 minute drive to the northwest) for a 9:20 am flight to Danang. I guess I’m going to try and crash.

Ninh, a very sweet and thorough guy hired by Videotour, met me at the gate and facilitated my Vietnamese visa and passport situation.