In many ways the Hanoi Night Market, a sprawling stretch of lively commerce in the heart of the Vietnamese capital’s Old Quarter, is similar to bustling markets elsewhere in the developing world. It’s loud and busy, there are piles of cheap trinkets and accessories in either direction of the three-kilometer stretch the weekend market calls home, and bargaining is the rule. And women do most of the work while men count the money.
I scribbled variations of that observation into my notebook several times earlier that week from various corners of northern Vietnam; the fifth time in as many days came just after snapping the photo above. The man stepped into the scene less than a minute before, said just three or four words and the wad of bills appeared. He counted the cash twice before returning it to the woman and exiting the scene, stage left.
Across the way, other men stood talking into their mobile phones, or in front of stalls or shops exchanging small talk with friends, acquaintances, associates or passers-by. Behind them, women tended to the goods, keeping the tented tables stocked and neat, sometimes with small children in tow.
Operating Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 7 pm and stretching north from Hang Dao to the area near the large Dong Xuan Market, the Hanoi Night Market is targeted mainly towards locals who do come to shop, but just as many to browse, socialize, mingle and eat. With few exceptions, the merchandise on offer isn’t geared towards visitors: cheap clothing and jewelry, mobile phone covers, shoes, bootleg bags, CDs and DVDs.
Restaurants are plentiful along the streets and alleys that lead towards the market’s main thoroughfare, adding a pleasant aroma to the soundtrack provided by the ever-present symphony of scooters. Even more vendors set up shop along the fringes, again, almost all run by woman. A small plastic chair at one of those makeshift stands is the best place from which to sit and watch the hustle and frenzy of commerce typical to this part of the world. The most sound investment, too.