People washing clothes and dishes in one of Hanoi's tiny alleys.
It is almost impossible for tall or overweight people to visit the house of Nguyen Thi Hue, located in a dark and narrow alley in the downtown area of Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi.
“The fat ones have to turn sideways while tall ones have to bend over,” said the 68-year-old resident who lives in Hang Dieu Street’s alley 24.
Each day, Hue and her neighbors have to make their way through the tiny alley that measures less than 50 centimeters (20 inches) wide and 1.68 meters (5 feet, 6 inches) high.
“The alley is fully covered by the expanded first floors of houses on both sides and it is totally dark,” Hue said, adding that they have to use flashlights to traverse it.
Hue is among many Hanoians who live in narrow alleys in the capital city and suffer from many difficulties living under such conditions, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper has said in a report.
“You have to lean on the wall and inch your way out whenever taking a bicycle out – struggling for at least 10 minutes to escape from an alley that is just 20 meters long,” Hue was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying..
Hue said her house is also very small and her son had to move out after he and his wife had their second child.
“We had to borrow the house of a friend on the street to organize his wedding 15 years ago,” she said.
Yet, Hue’s alley is not Hanoi’s smallest, the Tuoi Tre report said further.
Alley 34 off Hang Da Street measures just 46 centimeters at its narrowest point.
“At the narrowest place, there’s a pillar protruding from the house on one side,” it quoted Le Thanh Binh, one of the alley’s residents, as saying.
“In 1980, people broke a section of that pillar to widen it enough to take a bicycle through,” he said.
For people living in narrow alleys, they have to find a place to keep their motorbikes, which are too big to carry into their houses.
Xuan, a resident living in an alley off 44 Hang Buom Street, said he and his neighbors have to lock their motorbikes on the sidewalk of the street.
“Luckily, there’s a night club and many eateries nearby [and they keep an eye on the bikes],” he said.
Ngo Van Tin feels lucky to live in an alley on Dong Xuan Street because it’s big enough for a bike.
“But I had to sell my expensive scooter after moving here and buy a cheap one because it can be easily damaged in the narrow alley,” he said.
Such narrow alleys are home to tiny houses where many people in a family are crammed into small spaces.
The house of Nguyen Thi Nga in Gach alley is just 14 square meters where six people in the family reside.
“We sleep right on the floor, it’s less than two meters wide,” she said.
Several families in the alley share a common washroom downstairs.
“My mother-in-law is 85 years old. We take her to shower only a few times every month. She is old and it is dangerous to carry her down the narrow and old stairs,” she said.
Nga’s son is 25 years-old and works in the ecotourism sector driving an electric car.
She said he has yet to take his girlfriend of two years home because of the narrow alley and small house.
But the issues which most concern residents living in narrow alleys are emergencies and funerals.
“Recently, my neighbor Thach was sick and the ambulance arrived on the street but it was impossible to carry the stretcher into the alley. A neighbor had to carry him out on his back,” Xuan said.
Nguyen Trong Hao, a resident in an alley on Hang Bac Street said it is more upsetting whenever a relative dies.
“It is impossible to carry the coffin through,” he said.
He said his neighbors must carry their seriously-ill relatives to the hospital and that funerals have be held at a local mortuary.
The house of Nguyen Van Khanh in Gach alley was damaged when people were carring the coffin of his neighbor out of the alley several years ago. It had to be rebuilt.
“We had to persuade him to do so and feel really pity for that. It was scary because a part of the coffin went through a section of his house,” Nga said.
“Khanh rebuilt the wall and now we do not let the elderly or sick live in the alley anymore.”