As Hanoi traffic gave way to even less space for walking. Frustrating many. It looks like the city finally listened. It’s now time to take back the streets…
Any Hanoian who has battled the city’s hectic traffic has a theory on how to best regulate the barrage of motorbikes, cars and pedestrians that are guaranteed to clog the pathways of the Old Quarter on any given weekend. Due to limited space in the area’s narrow streets, the most popular opinion has always been that the motorbikes and vehicles would one day have to go.
The initial trial of Hanoi’s walking street began in 2014 and involved barricading Hang Buom, Ma May, Hang Giay, Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien and Dao Duy Tu streets to everything other than foot traffic. The test run gained positive reviews from both bia hoi drinkers and Old Quarter shopkeepers alike. The next major step came in September 2016 when the city expanded the walking street area to include the entire circumference of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Beginning at 6pm on Fridays and stretching into the late hours of Sunday evening, the Hoan Kiem area of the walking street now sees thousands of visitors each weekend. The newfound real estate has been claimed by local street vendors and buskers performing everything from traditional Vietnamese folk music to break-dancing and magic tricks.
The gathering crowd of pedestrians are a mixture of expats, tourists, bar hoppers, weekend warriors, dog walkers, children, teenagers and families. The chaotic Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square can now be walked without fear of oncoming traffic. Instead, the jam of cars has been replaced with balloon merchants and the enticing aromas of street food carts.
In front of the Cam Tu “self-sacrifice” monument, you will find local children and some nostalgic adults playing schoolyard games, such as tug-of-war, double dutch and o an quan, a traditional Vietnamese board game drawn and played on the pavement where the object of the game is to collect as many rocks as possible from your opponent. Many of the local spectators and players will happily teach you this game if you show an interest.
Closing off an entire district of the city to vehicles can either be a curse or a blessing depending on who is being asked. For area shop owners, this arrangement has brought increased business. People who visit Hanoi’s Bia Hoi Corner will also be happy to know that, due to the success of the walking street the city’s mandated and much-loathed 11pm curfew has been lifted, or at the very least, much loosened.
The downside is that getting to your usual Old Quarter watering hole may now take more steps and planning. You may have to park your motorbike farther away than anticipated, and then wade through a sea of people to get to your destination. As for motorbike parking, one of the most convenient and secure locations is the parking lot under the bridge at Nguyen Huu Huan and Luong Ngoc Quyen. The fee is a flat rate of VND5,000, and the lot is open well into the night. There are many other parking options farther into the Old Quarter, but these spots are often crowded and there is a premium charge on weekends, especially if you are a foreigner.
Hanoi’s walking streets are an enjoyable place to spend a day or night on a promenade with friends and family. For those who can deal with the throng of people, it is a great environment for drinking and people watching. It is refreshing to be able to experience local culture and food without having to fend off motorbikes and vehicles, although you may still find it necessary to deal with the occasional hoverboard and child in a rented electric car.
With the large crowds, it has become apparent that the walking streets are a much-needed addition to the city. Hanoi was becoming almost unwalkable, so any place that will allow you to walk freely is surely welcomed, even if it is only on the weekends.
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