HÀNG ĐÀO STREET LIFE | Darrin Henry
Before coming to Southeast Asia the thought of visiting a street market had as much appeal for me as a day cleaning windows; I would have found any excuse to do something else. But that’s changed as markets here are a vibrant, energetic encounter with a fascinating culture. (Still not keen on the windows mind you)
All Change After Dark
After Thailand and Cambodia, we are now about to sample a Vietnamese street market, here in Hanoi. It’s Saturday night, and at 6pm the Hàng Đào street is closed off to traffic and instantly vendors set about transforming what has been a traffic filled roadway into a bustling shopping walkway.
Hanoi’s Fashion Week-End
What strikes me most about the crowd that pours in to browse are the hundreds of young people who are here, browsing the stalls, adding a youthful, stylish feel to the night. In London a few weeks ago I peeked in at a street market in Shepherd’s Bush which looked tired and outdated with just a few stragglers bumbling around. I don’t think there was anyone under the age of 40 years. This in Hanoi is completely different.
Everyone is trendy; Asian cute fashion and smart phones everywhere. Pretty young ladies with shiny long hair glide through the crowd. It’s hard not to stare!
Everything And Anything On Sale
There are bargains everywhere and it’s custom to haggle over prices. We must resist the temptation to buy, despite the smiling invitations to part with our VND – already our flight weight allowance is maxed out.
While the market stalls have taken over the centre of the street, the shops on either side are all open and have taken advantage of the increased foot traffic by extending their displays onto the pavements. The stalls are all lit by portable fluorescent lights.
The most popular stalls seem to be those selling baseball caps, sunglasses and jewellery.
The Best Fast Food Anywhere
We stop at a food stall that is surrounded by eager customers, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Everything looks clean and fresh and the smells are advertising delicious promises. Raw food on skewers are laid out, juicy cuts of meat mixed with colourful vegetables; customers pick a selection for their tray which is then handed over to be cooked. The whole fresh concept is bringing in a roaring trade for the vendors, but it’s the cleanliness and expert customer service that is key. These guys are giving a live demonstration of small business excellence. It’s also proof that fast food doesn’t have to be unhealthy.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight
While Sharon is waiting for our food order to be cooked, I’m standing to one side people watching, and can’t help noticing how romance is all around. Young couples out for the night, sharing a take-a-way or a dessert, snuggling close for selfies, all the while oblivious to the crowd around them. Even when I lift the camera to steal a picture of a young man feeding his girlfriend (or wife even) his chocolate dessert, they are so caught up in their moment, I’m completely ignored.
I can imagine if I tried that with Sharon she would want to hold the fork herself, in case I spilled the food on her clothes! Oh to be young again!
A Safe Night Out For Everyone
Continuing our slow stroll we finally reach the end of the 700m long street, well over an hour later and then turn around to come back down to view the stalls on the other side.
I’m fascinated by the incredibly friendly and relaxed atmosphere that sits so easily alongside the air of excitement in the crowd. What makes this so unique is the absence of any tension that usually rears it’s head in a large crowd out at night, especially with young people. Alcohol isn’t being obviously promoted but it’s being consumed at the little informal street bars, which are no more than a collection of plastic stools and a coffee table. Despite this there is no rowdiness, no one is loud or intimidating. This feature of Southeast Asia’s culture, the respect for others, makes events like these enjoyable for people of all ages, locals and tourists alike.
The Hanoi street market should definitely be on any visitors list of things to do in this amazing city. It’s open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from 6pm.