A symbol of Hanoi's resilience
Impressive Long Bien Bridge, which spans Hanoi's Red River to connect Hoan Kiem and Long Bien districts, was built by the French colonists at the turn of the 20th century.
Considered one of the most stunning bridges in the world when it opened in 1903, the cantilever bridge originally had 19 spans and was designed by Gustav Eiffel, the engineer best known for his eponymous landmark in Paris. The approximately 2.5-kilometre (some say 1.7-kilometre) bridge, built by thousands of Vietnamese workers, was first known as Doumer Bridge, after the French governor-general Paul Doumer, who was responsible for setting up the French administration and implementing huge public works projects. Ironically perhaps, the Vietnamese say the bridge allowed for the easy transport of rice to Dien Bien Phu, helping them win independence against the French there in their battle of 1954. The last contingent of French soldiers retreated across the bridge on 9 October 1954, after withdrawing from the Citadel; a day later victory over the French was declared. The bridge was then renamed Long Bien.
The majestic old bridge, its ironwork now slowly and evocatively rusting and making for some great photos, suffered at the hands of war over the years, thanks to its strategic location—it was once the only bridge that connected Hanoi to the port of Haiphong. It was bombed by the Americans in 1966-7 and 1972, eviscerating seven of the original spans; the latter attack caused it to shut for a year. In 1983, the nearby Chuong Duong Bridge opened, and this became the main thoroughfare for traffic to the north, though since then four other bridges have also opened as the city has boomed. As of 2015, only $150,000 was reportedly being spent annually on around 80 workers to scrape rust, repaint, clean and replace sleepers and fasteners.
Long Bien Bridge is still used, but only for trains, pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles—you'll notice that the traffic uses the left rather than the right side. The bridge is quite a sight in the mornings and afternoons as people from outlying areas queue up to cross it, carrying their produce to and from the markets.
You can easily walk across—look for the footpath near the entrance to Long Bien train station—and the views down onto passing boat traffic and of Hanoi's riverfront stretch with its multitudes of market gardens are very pleasing. We got a little nervous as the concrete is pretty chipped heading over, so you can see straight down to the waters below, but it held us secure as its done for millions over the decades.
A comfortable spot to appreciate the bridge and take photos is rooftop Cafe Serein (16 Tap The Ga Long Bien, Tran Nhat Duat, Hoan Kiem: T: (093) 644 6221)). Have an indoor floor too; take a lift from the empty ground floor up. They offer teas, coffees, juices and other drinks (mostly around 35,000 to 55,000 dong).
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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