Walking in Hanoi is rarely a stroll in the park. Footpaths are uneven and crowded with shops’ wares, food stalls surrounded by patrons sitting on small plastic stools, residents who treat the pavement as an extension of their cramped homes, tradesmen who treat it as extensions of their workshops, and of course rows of parked bikes. Pedestrians alternate between patches of clear footpath and the road, where they stick as close to the kerb as possible in order to avoid the traffic.
I have found one spot in Hanoi where the footpaths are clear. It’s on the perimeter of the Citadel, the military area north east of the city centre. The streets of the Citadel itself are closed to the public and the streets along its borders are open, but clear of parked bikes and street stalls. Around here I can manage a 15 or 20 minute walk without once needing to look down at my feet to check for obstacles. Bliss.
The lawn is beautifully maintained by a team of gardeners in conical straw hats and signs in English and Vietnamese warn passers-by not to walk on it. However it is criss-crossed by a grid of footpaths, along which strode dozens of serious walkers charging up and down, like swimmers doing laps.