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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


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