|Photos: Le Diem
There is normally only enough space for small lines of people to walk along Ta Hien Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter during the evening, especially on weekends when the surrounding area turns into a pedestrian mall.
The entire street is packed with groups of people sitting on tiny plastic chairs and drinking beer and laughing. It attracts not only local people but also foreigners, getting together after work or while traveling and making it the most animated nightlife area in the capital.
“Night streets” have become busier and busier in Vietnam’s major cities in recent times.
Long Hanoi’s pulsating heart, the Old Quarter is always busy but used to be relatively quiet after sunset. Only in the last few years did it become vehicle-free and spring to life at night.
Residents used to enjoy leisurely evening walks around the area, perhaps stopping at a café along the way before most places closed. Gradually, though, more shops, cafés, bars, and eateries opened, providing local people and visitors with more options and attracting more people later in the evening.
Pedestrian malls have also been created in other cities, such as Pham Ngu Lao, Chu Van An and Vo Thi Sau in Hue, the An Thuong tourist zone in Da Nang, the night market in Da Lat, and Bui Vien in Ho Chi Minh City.
The common feature of these areas is light everywhere until midnight or even into the early hours, radiating out from shops, restaurants, cafés, bars, and clubs. Vietnamese friends, families, and couples join a flood of tourists looking to have a good night out.
One, Ms. Pham Lan, a 25-year-old saleswoman, and her friends hang out in the Old Quarter every weekend or even more often if they have the time. Their routine may start with dinner, followed by some drinks. “I’m a foodie and I can find everything I like here,” she said.
“There is a wide variety, from specialties of Vietnam’s three regions to Western, Korean and Japanese, as well as street food, which is pretty cheap. Cafés and pubs are everywhere, right next to each other. All have a different style and music and most are lively, so we have a choice of where to go.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Thanh Nhan, a 35-year-old office worker, and her sister bring their kids to the Old Quarter on a regular basis. While the kids can run around, play together, or ride a small cyclo, the parents can eat or do some shopping.
Many types of products are available, primarily clothes, shoes, bags, handicrafts, and souvenirs. There’s also musical performances to enjoy, from traditional, folk, and classical music to more modern styles.
Later, for those happy to stay out, clubs are where they can dance for hours and forget about the stresses and strains of work and life.
A large number of foreigners also wander around these night streets. They have become part of a visit to the particular city and recommended by global travel sites. The Old Quarter has long been Hanoi’s backpacker area, earning it the moniker “Western Street” or “International Corner”.
A familiar face on Ho Chi Minh City’s Bui Vien Street, Mr. Dane Cunningham, a 27-year-old English teacher from Ireland, gets together regularly with friends for cheap “bia hoi” (local draft beer), which is less than fifty cents a glass.
Sitting among both local people and foreigners, they’re out for good time and quickly make new friends. It’s also a good spot for some people watching.
“It’s a lot of fun and there are always loads of people,” he said. “I like the lively ambiance of the street culture. It’s very different from my country, where it’s cold or rainy most days so most shops close at around 6pm and there’s not too much in the way of nightlife. It’s also pretty expensive to have a night out in the West, but here I can do it every day.”
Easy night business
There are 15,000 to 20,000 visitors to the Old Quarter every night on average, with 3,000 to 5,000 visiting the pedestrian malls in Hue, Da Nang, Da Lat, and Ho Chi Minh City, according to the local people’s committees.
The large number of visitors to these places creates more business, especially small vendors. Many residents put and few tables and chairs in front of their house and sell simple food and drinks to easily earn some more money.
This is one reason why many who call the Old Quarter home are not interested in moving, despite two or three generations living under one roof in fairly cramped conditions. Their front door is a gold mine.
Business owners include both Vietnamese and foreigners. One of the latter, Mr. Oliver Waryn from France, opened Fat Cat Bar on Ta Hien Street given the bustling atmosphere of the Old Quarter.
With a street style, it soon became a popular spot for many Vietnamese and its success encouraged him to open another bar, Rockstore, in nearby Ma May Street, with a Western ambiance targeting foreigners. He then invested in two more places, Factory 47 and Hanoi Craft Beer, in the area. His partner, Killian Schiwieters from Germany, also opened a pizza stall nearby.
“The warm weather, the rich culture and food, and the rise of the middle class in cities are great for entertainment venues,” Mr. Waryn said. “The increasing number of tourists to Vietnam in recent years has also presented more opportunities. I’ll probably open more pubs in other areas soon,” He added that he hopes local authorities will relax the curfew, which is now midnight or 2am, to help the night economy grow.
The night economy includes any business open after 5pm and includes food and drink, arts, music, entertainment, events, and tourist attractions, but it has developed absent any strategic planning.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently asked ministries and authorities in major cities to conduct research to spur the night economy, which has proven to be enormously beneficial for economic, cultural, and social development in countries such as China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
It contributes a great deal to the domestic economy as a whole and promotes tourism. More and more lively spots, therefore, seem certain to open in cities around Vietnam in the future.