HANOI – Hanoi traffic is manic enough on normal days, but it has got much worse this week as the city pulls out all stops for the second summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
Downtown was gridlocked for much of Tuesday (Feb 26), as roads were blocked to make way for the arrivals of the two men, sending legions of scooters – the favoured mode of travelling for 7.5 million Hanoians – fleeing onto pavements to cut the jam.
For this one week at least, life in Vietnam’s capital city will be far from normal. Cafes have been told to clear their tables and chairs from pavements; some have been told to shut.
Tanks have rolled in, much to the amusement of both tourists and locals, who cannot resist posing next to the armoured vehicles.
Yet, hotel receptionist Tam Mai, 30, simply shrugged when asked if the summit had disrupted her daily routine. “I ride a scooter to work, and traffic is always heavy anyway. I just leave a little earlier for work.”
The city has gone through a discernible change over the past two weeks, she said. “The streets are cleaner, they planted flowers, and banned big trucks from coming into the city. They’ve all been good preparations for the summit.”
Hotels are running full and taxis are doing brisk business as thousands of journalists and diplomats from all over the world descend on the city.
Bookie Dinh Xuan Cuong, 50, and his friend, businessman Hoang Xuan Thuy, 53, drove 100km on Monday from their hometown of Haiphong to Hanoi, hoping to catch a glimpse of the two leaders.
Mr Hoang, sporting a commemorative Trump-Kim T-shirt and holding a US flag while milling around a row of tanks near the Melia Hanoi hotel, claimed he was not specifically pro-Trump, but the shop he bought his flag from did not have a North Korea one.
Armed policemen moved in to stand guard outside the Melia Hanoi hotel on Monday afternoon, in preparation for Mr Kim’s arrival. Another team took position around the J.W. Marriott Hotel, about 10km away, where Mr Trump will stay after touching down in Air Force One on Tuesday night (Feb 26).
Across the street from Marriott, a banner depicting Mr Trump and Mr Kim smilingly holding hands hangs prominently at three-month-old Dewo hotpot restaurant. Manager Nguyen Van Quang, 29, said it was to “send a message of peace”.
The banner was painted by a staff member of the restaurant, a day after it received notice last Wednesday that the hotel would be a summit venue. The restaurant was later told by the authorities to close from last Saturday to Thursday for “security concerns”.
That was no surprise. Mr Nguyen said the restaurant, along with others there, also had to shut when former US president Barack Obama stayed at the hotel in 2016.
“We understand the security concerns. But we still welcome the summit and hope for the best results. We hope it will bring hope of lasting peace for the entire world,” he said.
Tour guide Tran Xuan The, 44, said Vietnamese feel proud that their country is playing host to the Trump-Kim summit. “It shows that we are warm and hospitable, and our country is safe and can be trusted to organise this event,” he said.
“We hope this event will help raise the stature of Vietnam in the world, boost our economy and promote our tourist attractions.”