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Saturday, December 18, 2010

My walk along Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

Today we set out on a walk along the railway tracks behind our apartment which leads to the Long Bien Bridge. It is amazing to see houses built right up to the tracks. When the train goes by there is only a sidewalk span of space, which is the shared stoop for the row of houses, between them and the roaring train. Yet people carry on with cooking, washing and other day to day things without really taking notice of the train on their doorstep. Walking along the train tracks I could see right into the houses and observe the lifestyle of the Vietnamese people that lived there.
The Long Bien Bridge crosses the Red River and you can see houseboats on the water. The train runs down the middle of the bridge with roadways on either side for motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians. It was a nice walk of about 1 1/2 miles across. There were a couple of sections where the bridge got wider and locals had baskets selling fresh fruits, veggies and various types of seafood (some of the fish were still gasping).
You can see the newer bridges used for larger vehicles, cars and of course the ever present motorbikes, to cross from the "city" of Hanoi to the quieter outskirts of Hanoi City in the background.
  Here's a bit of the bridge's history...
It was built in 1903 by the architects of Daydé & Pillé, a French company. Before Vietnam's independence in 1954, it was called Doumer Bridge, named after Paul Doumer - The Governor-General of French Indochina and then French president. It was, at that time, one of the longest bridges in Asia with the length of 2,500 m.[1] For the French colonial government, the construction was of strategic importance in securing control of northern Vietnam. From 1899 to 1902, more than 3,000 Vietnamese took part in the construction.

It was heavily bombarded during Vietnam War due to its critical position (the only bridge at that time across the Red River and connect Hanoi to the main port Haiphong). The first attack took place in 1967, and the center span of the bridge was felled by an attack by 20 USAF F-105 Fighters[2]. The defense of Long Bien Bridge continues to play a large role in Hanoi’s self-image and is often extolled in poetry and song. It was rendered unusable for a year when, in May 1972, it fell victim to one of the first co-ordinated attacks using laser-guided "smart bombs".

The bridge now stands like a patched-up war veteran. Some parts of the original structure remain intact, while large sections have clearly been built later to repair the holes. In this way the bridge is a strong visual expression of history. Only half of the bridge retains its original shape. A project with support and loan from the French government is currently in progress to restore the bridge to its original appearance.
Today trains, mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians use the dilapidated bridge, while all other traffic is diverted to the nearby Chuong Duong Bridge and some newly built bridges: Thanh Tri Bridge, Thang Long Bridge, Vinh Tuy Bridge, and Nhat Tan Bridge.

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