Many of the things Hanoi is by day it isn’t by night. I should clarify. From dawn until about 7pm the city is crazy, busy, congested, and loud. From 7pm until around 11pm people eat, walk in the park, bring their children out to play as the temperature cools and the day transitions to night. Shortly after 11 it’s mostly empty. These empty streets are marked by flashing LED signs left on all night, the odd tea or snack stand with a young people on their way home, and the olive-drab Communist guards on night watch outside embassies, major organizations and government buildings. There are some neighborhoods that stay open later – go up to the backpacker district and it’s lively until about 12:30, but most of Hanoi is quiet by 11.
By day the roads are a melee of cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, vendors, and pedestrians, each going their own way. Crossing the street requires constant vigilance, a steady pace and a brave heart, and the city is so full of people that walking down the sidewalk involves weaving around parked motorbikes, street food vendors whose plastic stools fill the walkthrough, garbage, bicycles laden with grapefruit or dragonfruit or avocados.
After 11 the four lanes of the main roads are empty, with solitary motorbikes or taxis passing by in a stream of light and noise, and things receding back to silence and darkness. Bicycle vendors roll by every 10 minutes or so, a big container strapped to the back filled with stewed pork rolls or sweet mung beans banh bao (dumplings). A homemade recorded tape on repeat announces the snack for sale, speaker powered by the pedaling of the bicycle. You can hear them coming way before they come into sight – a break in the silence.
I’ve wanted to capture this side of Hanoi, so different from the bustle of most daytime pictures. So here are a collection of night-time photos from a variety of our walks or rides around the city after dark. Some depict the evening bustle, some are of our house, some are of the city looking empty. The connecting theme is really just “nighttime”. I want more of these, and we’ll probably venture out with the camera and tripod again…but for now: