Hanoi Round 2
Updated: Nov 13, 2018
18 Apr 2009
Off the a bright and early start (well, reasonably early), I launch out into the streets for the full-sized version – Reid’s 36 Streets Walking Tour. It’s almost impossible to describe, but the streets are complete eye-candy and the walk is a visual and auditory assault on the senses.
The 36 streets refer to what I can best describe as the themed streets. Each street is almost exclusively dedicated to selling a certain type of wares. Along the way I encounter lacquer box, tin box, straw mat, kite and bamboo streets. Better yet, different stores on a street specialise even further. For example, 46 Hang Thiec Street (Tin Street) appeared to exclusively sell kitchen extractor hoods. Most of this stuff is hand made, right there in the shop front. As a result, Hang Thiec is even noisier than most as the guys all hammer away, making boxes, extractor hoods and what not.
Street Name Translations of Old Quarter Trades: Hang Bac -- silver Hang Be -- rattan rafts Hang Bo -- baskets Hang Bong -- cotton Hang Buom -- sails Hang Ca -- fish Hang Can -- scales Hang Cot -- bamboo mats Hang Da -- leather Hang Dao -- silk Hang Dau -- beans Hang Dieu -- bongs and pipes Hang Dong -- brass Hang Duong -- sugar Hang Ga -- chicken Hang Gai -- hemp and rope Hang Giay -- paper Hang Hom -- coffins Hang Khoai -- sweet potatoes Hang Luoc -- combs Hang Ma -- paper replicas/toys Hang Mam -- fish Hang Manh -- bamboo shades Hang Muoi -- salt Hang Non -- conical hats Hang Quat -- fans Hang Than -- charcoal Hang Thiec -- tin Hang Thung -- barrels Hang Tre -- bamboo Hang Trong -- drums Hang Vai -- cloth
As the list above shows, there’s quite a variety to be had. I guess the advantage is, if you need something specific, you know exactly where to go find it, but if you have a long shopping lists of odd and ends to purchase, you have a bit of a hike ahead of you. In these modern times, Hanoi has progressed it’s street offerings and now goes beyond the basics to offer you streets dedicated to the sale of sticking tape & rope, kitchen cleaning products, baby clothes, sunglasses street and (I kid you not), ceiling fan motors. So, if you’re caught short in Hanoi without your sunnies, head for the southern block of Hang Can street and you won’t be disappointed.
To date, I’ve been making notes for this journal on my phone (slow) or on random bits of paper (easy to loose). I decide to buy a little notebook that I could stick in my pocket and whip out at a moments notice; all I needed now was to find was Small Notebook Street, and I’ll be all set. And, indeed I did. Well, I exaggerate on the specialization a bit, but the block of Dong Xuan just south of the central market is stationary supplies, and I found just what I was looking for.
After a while, it almost becomes a mind-game. Turn the street corner, and try and figure out as quickly as possible what the street’s speciality is. Some of the larger ones are more generalised, but many do have a theme. It also makes you wonder who’s doing all the shopping. Particularly in the old quarter, just about every building is either a restaurant, shop, tour office or hotel. Everyone seems to be going somewhere else, but there aren’t a great deal of folks actually shopping. Who’s buying all this stuff?
It’s pretty easy to get lost in this town, or I should say, hard to find your way home. You always know exactly where you are at all times – every shop has not just the street number, but full address written above the door. So, for example, you know you’re currently at 64 Hang Bac Street. However, if you’ve taken a few random and unadvised turns, the trick is finding Hang Bac on your map. The tourist maps are generally pitiful and only label some of the streets. The equivalent of an A-Z atlas doesn’t exist at all as far as I can tell. As a result, you find yourself taking a few more random turns until you eventually find a street that you can place on the map. The trick (obvious in hindsight) is to find the biggest, busiest street you can. But overall, the signage in Hanoi (and all of Vietnam) is excellent and something that the USA and Australia should seek to emulate.
Lunch is at 69 Bar and Café (69 May May Street), which turns out to be a hit. A lovely old Hanoi ‘tube’ house with a great balcony upstairs to sit, eat and watch the crazy Hanoi life wash by.
The end of my walking tour drops me at the corner of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets, which is loving known as Bia Hoi corner (Hoi Beer corner). All four corners sport a basic little beer selling emporium with very tiny little plastic chairs lined up out front. Calling these places bars would be a disservice to just about every other drinking establishment on the plant (you can’t even go inside), but the beer is OK and it sells for VND3,000 a glass (that’s about AU$0.25 or US$0.18), so the price is right. It’s a favourite hangout for some of the longer term tourists and expats and it’s a super place to simply sit and watching the world go buy.
Tip for the entrepreneurs: If you’re considering going into manufacturing in Vietnam, the first criteria for any product smaller than say a medium sized boat, must be that you can carry it on, or behind a motorbike. Fail that test, and no one’s going to buy it.
And trust me, Hanoi puts on quite the street show. If nothing else, watching what goes by on the back of a motorbike is quite astounding – tall, teetering stacks of beer crates; whole families (dad driving, mum behind, daughter behind mum and baby standing up in front); guy riding pillion holding several very large sheets of glass on his lap between him and the driver (God help them if they fall off); guy carrying 40 foot lengths of rebar (steel rod) by simply dragging it behind the bike; and, to top it all, two bikes, each towing a small trailer stacked with a huge coil of plastic pipe, but the same pipe snaking across the ground between the two bikes.
Another early start tomorrow as I have a date with Halong Bay.