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Hanoi: A City Turned Inside Out

Updated on June 18, 2017

Hanoi Life Lived at the Curb

In Asian cities like Hanoi, life is lived at the curb. Houses are too small for families to stay indoors, so life becomes a roadside attraction. It's like a city turned inside out, with the kitchen, dining room and living room all in the streets and only bathrooms and bedrooms hidden away. Action is everywhere.

Hanoi Street Life

Hanoi Street Life
Hanoi Street Life | Source

Hanoi and Its Roadside Attractions

In North America, roadside attractions can be farmers markets, an old Burma shave sign, a semi hidden police car, one single shoe lost by a passing car. In Asia, roadside attractions are crazy, a whole different world.

Things you don't expect happen in the streets. Washing vegetables and dishes and lighting the family stove. Sitting with friends, chatting and having cups of coffee. Cooking Pho, the famous Vietnamese noodle dish or brewing a big pot of soup and just watching the world go by. All of these is in addition to the constant buying and selling, the eternal and instant point of sale showcases and the squabble of negotiations on all sides.

Dining Al Fresco in Hanoi

Street dining in Hanoi
Street dining in Hanoi | Source

Al Fresco Dining

This is Al Fresco dining as a national commitment. Collections of short plastic stools surround a soup pot. Women have a complete store set up on their bicycles. A fruit market passes by in a little cart with an even smaller woman pushing it.

It is not uncommon to see a van being packed with people for a run to the next town, maximum load 11 people or however many can be shoe horned in. Who knows, it's worth stopping just to count. Motorbikes transporting a whole family, Mom, Dad, 3 kids and we've even see Mom carrying a baby in a pail in one hand.

Al Fresco Dining in Hanoi Sidewalk

Breakfast in the streets of Hanoi
Breakfast in the streets of Hanoi | Source

Roadside dining is everywhere in Hanoi

One can't help but be attracted to this roadside dining. The smell of cooking wafts the air and makes one feel hungry. Beside, it is hard to navigate the streets during meal times. It is best to join in.

Tiny little stools are placed in a circle around the cooking stove and as you take your place in one of these, a bowl of whatever is cooking, is served. Some of the ingredients are unknown to me and I really don't care to know. I just want to try something new when I see it. Maybe, I was born with a stronger stomach as I have not yet paid for my unbounded curiosity.

Women Sets Up Store Everywhere

Ladies Selling Tea
Ladies Selling Tea | Source

Older Women Dominate the Roadside Scene

What else would be better? Being in the street is fun. They can visit each other and the pressure to sell seems not to be too strong among the older vendors. It is like they are just there for the fun. It is different for those who have to feed and clothe a young family.

They sit serenely in their tiny stools, eat at leisure unmindful of passing customers. Just being in the street seems to be enough. When they're not eating, they're there watching and offering back a smile to those who are polite enough to greet these old ladies.

Hanoi Traffic

Hanoi Traffic
Hanoi Traffic | Source

Watch the Crazy Hanoi Traffic

For me, the traffic in Hanoi is fun to watch especially from my 21st floor window or on intersections. It is especially chaotic.

I also like to position myself in one of the crazy intersections and make a tally of how many people can fit in any transport, be it a bike, a moto or a van. Also, how people traverse through crossing with no lights. The rules may not be readily visible and understandable to foreigners but the locals seem to know exactly what they're. Once in a while, the crazies lose patience and wreak havoc. This, I don't enjoy watching.

Bird Cages Lining the Streets in Hanoi
Bird Cages Lining the Streets in Hanoi | Source

Listen to the birds sing at the roadside cafes and stores

Walking to the market this morning, we passed a shoe store with 6 bird cages outside and the smaller the bird, the bigger the song. The joyous chorus rises to a crescendo if you whistle back and give them some attention.

There are many of these bird cages hung on trees by the road or on store fronts. You can't miss them as the birds just sing their hearts out in competition with one another.

Street Shopping in Hanoi

Street Shopping in Hanoi
Street Shopping in Hanoi | Source

Watch the Street Vendors in Hanoi

A woman vendor with every kind of brooms, dust and feather duster stopped by a woman on the moto for a negotiation. Grandmas with strings of newly walking infants collected from all the daughters and sent for a group march filled with squiddles and laughter.

Old Quarter in Hanoi

The Chicken is there too

Chicken in Hanoi Street
Chicken in Hanoi Street | Source

Chicken Claiming Sovereignty of its Street Patch

The chicken in full Prada fashion, racing by at your feet angrily claiming sovereignty over patches of sidewalk. Scrawny, half moulted with a look of desperation that can only come from knowing she is tonight's dinner.

Motorbikes are Everywhere in Hanoi

Motorbikes in Hanoi
Motorbikes in Hanoi | Source

The Crazy Motorbikes in Hanoi

They come through your left or your right, in front of you or at your back. They are there, not just on the road but the sidewalks as well.

They constantly surprise me especially when I'm crossing the corners. I look around even if the light has turned green and just at the moment when I think it is safe to step on the road. off comes the motorbike from where I have no clue and even if it did not hit me as they often know how to avoid unsuspecting foreigners, they still terrify me.

Roadside chaos in storefronts in Hanoi

Street Commerce in Hanoi
Street Commerce in Hanoi | Source

Have you been to Hanoi?

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For those who have visited Hanoi - Take this poll

Sunday Morning in the Street of Hanoi
Sunday Morning in the Street of Hanoi | Source

How did you find the roadside in Hanoi?

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Roadside Weddings in Hanoi

Wedding Party in Hanoi
Wedding Party in Hanoi | Source

Weddings on Hanoi Roadsides

Once in a while you pass by a wedding and you can have fun with the guests, too. I think if you go in, they'll feed you as well. This Mom and kids were happy for us to take their pictures.

Parades and other Ceremonies

Hanoi Parade
Hanoi Parade | Source

Hanoi Roadside Celebrations

There are always surprises sometimes full of colour like the parade we saw once. The participants were in various Vietnamese traditional costumes so it was quite a sight.

Still it is what makes Hanoi attractive

The Colour and Smell and Noise of the streets. After months of being here, I have learned to appreciate these attractions. They all bring smiles to my face as I meet a lady vendor trying to sell me something or a group having pho with families and friends or older women enjoying the streets. Just try sitting in one of these cafes and get your camera ready. Hanoi's roadside is full of interesting attractions that will not only bring joy to your day but also make you go back home full of memories you will always cherish.

Vietnamese Lanterns

Share your own crazy roadside attraction experience - Or just leave a message

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    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Eman. Hanoi is indeed interesting.

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      2 years ago from Egypt

      Interesting article about Hanoi. I liked the photos very much.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Very well written

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I am happy we are going there again this May and June. Will be sharing more about it. Thanks for your visit.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Hanoi certainly looks like an exciting city. It sounds like a fun place to visit.

    • agusfanani profile image


      5 years ago from Indonesia

      I kept on smiling reading your amusing hub. Human interest is always attractive and gives us many aspects to learn.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you the rawspirit. Hanoi is indeed full of life.

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 

      5 years ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ

      So glad I found you. You are amazing. You have been to all the places I only can dream of. This article on Hanoi, made me feel like I was right there in the midst of all the excitement. Thank you. I will be following you. Blessings

    • monia saad profile image

      monia ben saad 

      5 years ago from In my Dream

      I think it should be on the government there to give you the prize. I hope I am now visiting this place. Cycling exciting and the presence of more than five members it worth seeing and the smell of the soup wafting from between the lines and images .. You are really wonderful

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It really is pstraubie48. Each day in Hanoi is a new adventure.

    • Benny01 profile image

      Ijeoma Peter 

      6 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria


    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from North Central Florida

      This sounds like one grand adventure, day after day. One day I hope to visit and experience this life, up close and personal. Thank you for this detailed description sharing the excitement of life there.

      Angels are once again on the way to you ps

      voted up++++ and shared

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      These roadside eateries in Hanoi never stop to fascinate me in the 3 years we were there. There's so much joy shared in them that we often partake of it.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Very entertaining to learn about different parts of the world from your experience. The little woman on the bicycle is quite ambitious. I enjoyed reading about the soup groups.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I am the same. A week ago, I enjoyed the orderly traffic in Toronto and Florida. Each time our plane touches down Toronto and I see the orderly traffic, my gaze is in calm attention. Today, in the streets of Bangkok, my senses are in full alert.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      6 years ago from United States

      I've not been to Hanoi but I've visited many parts of China and there are many similarities to your descriptions there. I just loved walking the streets and seeing everything! While I like living in the peace and quiet of a suburb in the U.S. where I have only about 50 cars go by in a whole day, I do like the excitement of a city like Hanoi and I hope I get to go there some day.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, Hanoi is not yet overdeveloped. No big malls yet and just 15 minutes away are already rural areas you can explore. I would suggest Ninh Binh.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Hi Mary; I have never been to Hanoi, but I have been about 8 times to Bangkok in Thailand. Much of the street life is quite reminiscent of Bangkok - street markets, mopeds, eating out by the side of the road and so on. If anything, looking at these pictures and videos, maybe even more street life in Hanoi! In Thai villages I sometimes see tuk tuks so overladen with goods that you cannot see the bike from the sides or back, and I have seen mopeds with a whole family of 4 or 5 on board (2 adults and 3 tiny children)! I think therefore, I would like Hanoi, but maybe only for 2 or 3 days at a time!

      Thanks for the article Mary - Vietnam is a country I would quite like to visit one day. Although I would be more interested in the countryside, your article certainly increases my confidence that I could find Hanoi an intriguing and stimulating city to visit. Alun

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I know exactly what you mean about safety. I notice that they are more concerned in protecting their children from the sun (as they don't want them to get dark) than from accidents. Different cultures have different priorities.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Really interesting- I think the families on one bike would send our police into apoplexy- in the UK everyone has to have a seat and a seat belt. I guess because people don't have to stay in their homes for the warmth it gives they can live outside- I bet they all cram in when the monsoon comes!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for sharing your images and reflections of what Hanoi is like on the streets. It is always interesting to learn about how people live in other parts of the world. Up votes and sharing.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You're right. In the past, these stools were all made of wood and they last.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      6 years ago from California Gold Country

      Your words provide a very nice visit to Hanoi. What a lively place. The people who sell plastic stools must be wealthy.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Not really more people compared to other countries in Asia but most of them show up outside. The streets are their living rooms.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      First impressions after reading this article....far too many people in Hanoi....I love all the scooters and bicycles instead of cars....very colorful....and that is one ugly chicken. :)

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      It is and also because cars there because of high taxes on imports are really expensive, way more what we pay for in North America.

    • peachpurple profile image


      6 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      wow, lots of people are using motor bikes, is it due to massive traffic jams?

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are right about many places being mirrors of each other. Certainly, not Hanoi.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      What a wonderful hub! Hanoi looks very interesting, many places now seems like mirror images of each other, Hanoi looks refreshingly different. Thank you for sharing, I really loved the tour. My best to you.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks travmaj. I appreciate your visits and hope you'll visit Hanoi. I have written more but it is in my site which you'll find in my profile. We just finished our assignment there and really enjoyed it.

    • travmaj profile image


      6 years ago from australia

      Fascinating and so well documented. I haven't been to Hanoi yet but it is certainly on the list and I look forward to seeing all you write about. Thank you.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks you so much Dolores. The cooking in the street is really something there.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I so enjoyed this view into the roadside attractions of Hanoi. What a lively place! I can imagine the delicious smells of cooking and almost hear the laughter and chatter of all the people. Your pictures are beautiful!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      i am sure you'll enjoy it. I am sorry to see it over for us now after 3 years.

    • Kappygirl profile image


      6 years ago

      Loved your article. It makes me want to visit Hanoi. Great pictures too! They really give a feel for what it is like there. One crazy adventure that I would love to experience!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Hi Nell. At fairs, there's a bit of it but not like this one, the whole city just a tumble of activities. I am sure this will also change soon.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Hi aesta, how lovely! I bet that is such a great sight to see, its such a shame we don't do this in England! Just to see friends sitting outside, stop to chat and see all the wonderful things to buy and the colours too, wonderful!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Audrey. Yes, we work in Hanoi but go home to Canada in the summer. We just finished our contract here and will terribly miss it. After 3 years, I have learned the road protocol but there is still checking corners before I venture to cross. It is part of the fun and the excitement. Thanks for the visit.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi Aesta - I love to hear about cities in other countries, as they are so different and entertaining. I know you live in Canada which is so different from Vietnam. You must travel back and forth. The pics are so colorful and filled with happy people. It must seem strange to see so many people outside and for someone to almost run over you with a bike. Thanks for sharing this story. Pinning. Blessings, Audrey

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      You are right. You are confronted by it all the time. You have to watch carefully if you don't want get hurt, not intentionally. Thanks for the visit.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana

      It looks like the real action is right there - at the road. In the West we are often to focused on the roads (actually the places where the roads are leading ) and many roadside attractions disappeared for good. I bet just watching and feeling the pulse of Hanoi can be equally rewarding experience as the visit of major tourist attraction.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      They really do and it is so chaotic that by itself it is very festive.

    • poetryman6969 profile image


      6 years ago

      The streets look colorful and festive.

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I do hope you can travel to Hanoi one day. You will definitely enjoy it.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Thanks for the virtual tour in Hanoi. I hope I can go there someday. Thanks for writing and sharing with us. Good job and voted up!

    • aesta1 profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Vocalcoach, Dressage Husband and Chef Du Jour, your comments are really gems and to the point of how crazy the streets of Hanoi are. However, as you navigate it often, you'll see there is order to the chaos. It is fun, there is always something interesting. The older women give this chaos some wisdom, relaxed and undisturbed by the chaos.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      6 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      It reminds me of their neighbour Thailand as it is also hectic with all of the similar things. In Bangkok the traffic is so bad that using the rivers makes more sense! Loved the Hub.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      I enjoyed this guide through the streets of Hanoi, looks almost as chaotic as some south American cities I've visited. And the older women love to take over the pavements there too! It must be a natural habit for the mature female, to work hard whilst the men are away relaxing at the bar!?

      Shared and voted up. Thank you.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Wow - these roadside attractions are interesting and fun. I like the old women just sitting street-side, smiling and enjoying themselves. I'd like to go to Hanoi one day. I'd feel right at home. :)

      Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting and sharing. Thank you. Enjoy your day/night. Audrey

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Your descriptions were fascinating. Your are really a good observer (and creator of word pictures).

    • Pawpawwrites profile image


      6 years ago from Kansas

      What a fascinating place.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      Hanoi truly seems like a fun place to visit. For me it would be a large dose of culture shock. Thank you for the interesting read, and photo tour, Mary.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow, I just cringe when I watch the traffic in places like Hanoi, little kids clinging for dear life makes me crazy inside!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      BTW, that Prada chicken made me laugh. It certainly looks thin enough to wear Prada (hopefully too thin to become someone's dinner).

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm always amazed at how industrious street vendors are - in setting up their roadside shop and especially in the delivery of their sales pitches. I love speaking to locals whenever I do travel (I haven't been to Hanoi, yet). These photos really tell a story (and people look so happy in them). Thanks for sharing, Rose


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