Tanks roll in, hotels fill up as thousands descend on Hanoi

Tanks and soldiers stationed near the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in the Vietnamese capital drew the attention of both locals and tourists, who stopped to pose for pictures. Although the meeting venue has not been officially announced, secur
Fruit vendors making their way around the barricades in Hanoi yesterday as roads were blocked in preparation for the two leaders' arrival. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Tanks and soldiers stationed near the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in the Vietnamese capital drew the attention of both locals and tourists, who stopped to pose for pictures. Although the meeting venue has not been officially announced, secur
Tanks and soldiers stationed near the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in the Vietnamese capital drew the attention of both locals and tourists, who stopped to pose for pictures. Although the meeting venue has not been officially announced, security has been beefed up around the Metropole.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Hanoi traffic is manic enough on normal days, but it has become much worse this week as the city pulls out all the stops for the second summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Downtown Hanoi was gridlocked for much of yesterday as roads were blocked to make way for the arrival of the two men, forcing legions of scooters - the favoured mode of transport for 7.5 million Hanoians - to take to the pavements to avoid 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 the sidewalks, and 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 shrugs when asked if the summit has 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 have all been good preparations for the summit."

Hotels are running at full capacity and taxis are doing brisk business as thousands of journalists and diplomats from all over the world have descended on the city.

Bookie Dinh Xuan Cuong, 50, and his friend, businessman Hoang Xuan Thuy, 53, drove 100km on Monday from their home town of Haiphong to Hanoi, hoping to catch a glimpse of the two leaders.

Mr Thuy, sporting a commemorative Trump-Kim summit 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 Korean one.

"I hope President Trump and Mr Kim speak in peace and reduce nuclear weapons and keep peace in North and South Korea, and the people live in peace," Mr Cuong said in halting English.

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 JW Marriott hotel about 10km away, where Mr Trump was to stay after touching down on Air Force One last night.

Across the street from the 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 on Feb 20 that the hotel would be a summit venue. The restaurant was later told by the authorities to close from last Saturday until tomorrow over security concerns.

That was no surprise. Mr Nguyen said the restaurant, along with others there, also had to shut when then 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 the Vietnamese feel proud that their country is hosting 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."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Tanks roll in, hotels fill up as thousands descend on Hanoi'. Print Edition | Subscribe