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A municipal chorus of horns, recorded sales pitches and fighting generally prohibits sleep or sane thought beyond the hour of about 8 a.
Like most proponents of Hai Phong travel, however, Buzzfeed treated the port as little more than a base from which to explore Ha Long Bay. Last month, the Municipal Communist Party Committee pledged to make key sites within the city national and international tourist destinations. For those just tuning in, Hai Phong exists in the zeitgeist as something between the Cleveland and the Naples — an industrial port, as famous for intravenous drug use as it is for organized crime.
French colonists dreamed it would serve as the economic engine to the whole of Indochina, shortly before they began shelling it. Following independence, America mined its harbor and bombed the rubble left behind by the French. The fact that there's a Hai Phong at all serves, perhaps, as a testament to the scrappiness and integrity of the town — two words that don't exactly sell cruise ship tickets.
Buses, trains and daily flights all land in the city — and yet no one seems to vacation there. Even the people actively traveling there couldn't believe they were going. Just ask Phi Huu Tao who attacked an elderly security guard bicycling along with a pair of galvanized pipes for between little and no reason. Alternatively, the lesson seemed to be that there was something terribly wrong with the town itself.
On a recent crisp November afternoon, I found a city that had been spared the modernization and beautification campaigns that have reduced Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to dusty gridlock. At the center of the city, people assembled brooms and jackets from low houses painted variegated gold.