If there's anywhere that lives life on the street, it's Hanoi, Vietnam. People around the city seem to just inch everything closer and closer to the side of the street. Through business, food, and social life, Vietnam presents a much more acute definition of what it means to live on the street. Throughout the Western world, sitting road side is shunned, maybe even illegal in some places.
In Vietnam, it's a way of life.
I've determined, that in a city that's characterized by an everlasting flow of motorbike traffic, catching the attention of someone by displaying things as close as possible to the street (or even on it), is the necessary micro-advantage to generating that sale. Edging out closer and closer to where the people are, could be a pivotal move in the competition.
In the Old Quarter portion of Hanoi, businesses sprawl their goods into the front or outdoor sidewalk of their store, using the inside as more of a storage than a sales ground. The overflow of products does not particularly cater to the passing pedestrian, though it tends to be quite an effective sales strategy.
When someone is walking down the street and encounters a rack of shoes blockading the middle of the sidewalk, there are a possibility of 3 reactions: to get angry and frustrated, to enjoy that this is life in Vietnam, or to think “I might actually need that!” The genius of Hanoi's street marketers bank on the latter option.
Along with businesses and products, food is the quintessential example of taking to the streets in Hanoi. Produce markets and vendors line the edge of the street side, accurately accounting for mere centimeters of distance between their vegetables and the roaring tires of motorbikes.
Take away food hawkers compete to see who can get the closest to the side of the road (even in the road), presuming more motorcycles whizzing past will halt to purchase their products. Bread sellers plop their baked goods in the street for maximum exposure, forcing traffic to weave around them.
Participating in the always amazing street food dining scene is no different. It seems that at some of the more popular street restaurants, customers will sacrifice themselves to get that tasty dish, even at the mercy of the road. In this case I can completely understand, some foods are just worth the risk! The more the merrier and customers are never turned down, just relegated to another plastic stool, maybe in a more vulnerable position.
Drinking coffee plays a large role as a social and leisure activity in Vietnam. There is an abundance of street coffee shops throughout Hanoi. Sitting indoors is like locking yourself up in a jail cell. Why not enjoy the busting scenery and listen to the screaming traffic by taking to the side of the street to enjoy your beverage?
Sitting on the street, relaxing on the street, eating on the street, napping on the street, shopping on the street, fixing your bike in the middle of the street, or a selection of anything else you can imagine on the street, is what makes Hanoi such a joyous and continually entertaining city. Sit for long enough and you might find yourself shopping while relaxing and drinking, all at the same time!
Flimsy plastic stools are stocked at nearly all restaurants or coffee shops in Hanoi, making it convenient to pop a squat and socialize or just marvel at the turbo speed of everything that goes past.
Grab a coffee or a beer, situate yourself on a plastic stool, and take to the streets of Hanoi as you watch everyone else conduct their lives on the side of the street!
Mark was raised in central Africa before migrating back to the U.S. for University. After graduating, he decided to continue traveling the world. On Migrationology, he shares the cultural side of travel from a slow-paced local perspective that often revolves around his love for eating all forms of food. Join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @migrationology.
Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
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- Rail Europe for train passes.
Tuesday 22nd of July 2014
Mark, Vietnam is a paradise of street foods. Most of visitors have been to Vietnam find it easy to Vietnamese food. One of the most popular drink called "Tra Da" or iced tea. One cup costs about US$0.2, you can talk to your friends, hang out and see busy life in Hanoi. I agree with you that "Life is on the street in Vietnam"
Friday 25th of March 2011
How to judge a good place for street food? Legend has it that the lower the plastic stool, the better the food!
Friday 25th of March 2011
This is the first I've heard of the legend, but after spending time in Asia I'm inclined to agree!
Monday 21st of March 2011
Enjoyed your article :) If you haven't yet, try to visit the Quiapo district in Manila - they've taken to the streets too!
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Sunday 20th of March 2011
It sounds like fun to stay on the streets of Hanoi and simply forget about your cares. I enjoyed reading your post. It gave me a new perspective of how to live and enjoy it to the full. A change of environment could be beneficial to one's well being.
Thursday 17th of March 2011
Ha! Great post. Thanks. I just booked my flight to Vietnam for April. Right now I am still in Thailand but friends keep telling me that it is, despite all similarities (motorcycles all over the place, etc), still totally different. Really looking forward to it. Now even more.
Friday 18th of March 2011
Yah, even though it's close to Thailand, Vietnam is has quite a different feel to it. Be careful of all those motorbikes!