Hanoi agog as millennium birthday nears

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An infectious jubilance has washed over Hanoi's six million residents as they gear up for the city's week-long millennium birthday celebration, which begins on October 1.

During his stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, Nguyen Van Ba stopped to marvel at a row of fresh flower pots, adorned with the city's logo. "I was born and grew up in Hanoi, but I have never seen the city look as beautiful and splendid as it does now," said the retired teacher from Hang Bac Street.

Ba is just one of many who are eagerly anticipating the city's 1,000th anniversary celebration scheduled from Friday to next Sunday.

As thousands of walkers and joggers move around Hoan Kiem Lake, their heads continually turn to the count-down clock affixed to the Ba Kieu Temple.

A cool late-summer breeze fills the town's flamboyant crimson flags. Posters seem to spring up like mushrooms after it rains.

Roads such as Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hang Bai, and Dien Bien Phu have been lit up with banners celebrating the city's traditional icons and themes.

Meanwhile, gateway routes to the city such as Nguyen Chi Thanh, Le Van Luong, and Xuan Thuy are bedecked with lighted images and depictions of the dragon of the Ly Dynasty, the Khue Van Cac (Pavilion of Literature) and Mot Cot (One-Pillar) Pagoda.

During the weekends, locals rush downtown to wander through the strobe-lit flowers that surround Hoan Kiem Lake. On Dien Bien Phu Street, under a tree illuminated by lotus-shaped lanterns, a couple stands eagerly photographing the entire scene.

"The days are like Tet (Lunar New Year festival). We want to capture the unique beauty of the city right now," said Thai Duy Long, a third-year student from the Hanoi University of Commerce.

Foreign visitors are not immune to the excitement. Even outsiders are eagerly anticipating the 1,000th birthday of Hanoi. Sarah Perez came to Vietnam last week, as part of her world tour of ten countries.

The American plans to stay in Hanoi during the celebration and hopes to gain a greater understanding of Vietnam's people and culture, she said, sipping coffee in one of the city's many street cafés.

Not far from where Perez sat on Tuesday, city workers worked hard to spruce up Hanoi - cleaning the crowded streets while a public address system urged locals not to litter.

"Our city is so clean and beautiful now. I hope foreigners will have good impressions and more visitors will come in the future," said Nguyen Thu Hang, owner of a souvenir shop in Hanoi's old quarter. "We'll obviously have the chance to sell more goods."

Meanwhile, Hanoi trivia contests, film festivals and fashion shows have been held across the city, further whipping the town into excitement.

A recent performance titled "Flame from the Hung Kings ancestral land to Hanoi, the 1,000- year-old capital city" caught the attention of many people in Hanoi. Hundreds of singers, dancers and musicians gathered to tell the story of the nation's founding and defense (from the Hung Kings to Ho Chi Minh) in a medley of authentic Vietnamese musical styles.

Commenting from the stage at downtown Ba Kieu Temple, Tran Vu Thu, a 19-year-old university student, said: "I got to know more about the city from the program."

During the ten-day event, the city will come alive with a wealth of cultural and sporting activities. Outdoor concerts and art exhibitions will fill Hanoi's museums and public spaces.

Visitors from neighboring provinces have also joined the fray. Nguyen Thi Van, a farmer from Hung Yen Province said: "This is the event of lifetime, so my family will arrange to visit the capital on the occasion of the celebration."

According to the Hanoi Transportation Service Company, nearly 100 large buses will carry passengers around the city for free during the capital's 1,000th year anniversary.

Passengers who park at the eight lots near the city gates can hop on these buses for free, non-stop buses to the festival in the city center.

Tourists will also be able to use bank cards to pay for taxis from September 25 to October 10.

To promote the festival, Vietnam Airlines and Jestar Pacific Airlines are launching promotion programs to stimulate travel throughout the country.

According to the Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the city expects to welcome between 700,000 and 800,000 tourists to the event.

They remain confident that the capital's hotels and restaurants will be able to meet the increased demand during the low season.

The guest lists will include: UNESCO's General Secretary, the mayors of ASEAN capitals, leaders of international organizations in Vietnam, diplomatic and consular representatives, and officials from 63 cities and provinces.

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