Sidewalk cafes and eateries offer visitors a vantage point from which to observe and experience the life of ordinary Hanoians.
Despite the cold weather at night, beer shops on Ta Hien Street in the capital city are filled with customers, and somewhat surprisingly, many of them are foreigners.
Displaying no discomfort at sitting on tiny plastic chairs on the sidewalk, they drink cool and freshly-brewed beer, chatting with friends from afternoon until midnight.
Unable to find empty seats in a crowded shop, Michael Wenzinger and his three friends walk around the street and wait for customers to leave.
ââ‚¬Å“We sit here every night. We want to see the lives of the people,ââ‚¬ said Michael, whoââ‚¬â„¢s visiting from the United States, after finding seats at a corner when a couple left.
Nearby, the shop owner welcomes a group of newcomers with his smattering of English. Without any assistant, he serves customers himself with beer and roasted peanuts, while his wife collects the money.
The street side bar, spread over about 10 square meters, has just enough space for a glass cupboard and several beer buckets, and patrons help themselves from a pile of plastic stools at the corner.
For many foreign visitors, this is where the allure of Vietnam lies, not in luxurious restaurants with
French baguettes, Italian pizza and noodles, Japanese sushi or Thai curries, but with food vendors or small stalls that serve traditional Vietnamese foods on sidewalks on side-streets and main streets in downtown areas.
It is in such down-to-earth places they can connect with the place and its people in more authentic ways.
Sarah Conlon said she is able to understand the life of ordinary people in Hanoi from such vantage points. At a street-side restaurant on Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, the British visitor sits on a tiny stool just centimeters above the sidewalk, crouched over a steaming bowl of duck noodle soup.
Arriving in Hanoi last week on a 12-day tour to Vietnam, Michael says the most wonderful thing about the capital city is that he can watch life around him and enjoy local food and drink at such close quarters.
ââ‚¬Å“People here spend a lot of time, from working to eating, just in the streets. It is different from our country, where people are only walking and moving in the streets, and they do everything else inside buildings,ââ‚¬ Michael said.
Sarah said she can see that Hanoi is a busy city with a good social network. She likes it that Hanoi has small and individual shops to serve mainly its working class.
ââ‚¬Å“It seems that I can buy everything from everyone in the street. Everything is very cheap.ââ‚¬ Back home, goods are sold in big shops or supermarkets at much higher prices, she said.
Another visitor, Sally Mash from Australia, who has visited 12 countries on a world tour, said she loves Hanoiââ‚¬â„¢s unique beauty with many old buildings, its cultural treasures and itinerant street vendors selling fruits from baskets hung on shoulder poles.
ââ‚¬Å“This makes Hanoi unique and beautiful, different from other cities in Asia.ââ‚¬
Evening is the most wonderful time of day to enjoy life in Hanoi, Sarah said.
She spends her evenings at cafes or bars, or goes around the bustling downtown streets. Life in the city is later than in England, so it is ââ‚¬Å“more interesting,ââ‚¬ she said. In her country, all shops close at 8 p.m., so nights are quieter.
However, the most attractive part of Hanoi for Sally is the friendliness of its residents, from street vendors to motorbike taxi drivers. ââ‚¬Å“I really love Hanoi. I feel here that I am warmly welcomed.ââ‚¬
The bad and the ugly
Many foreign visitors are impressed by the sheer number of motorbikes in the city as well as the driving skills displayed by commuters.
ââ‚¬Å“Vietnam seems to be the country of motorbikes. People are good drivers. They move slowly, so it is not dangerous,ââ‚¬ Michael said. However, he was finding it difficult to put up with smoke from the vehicles. ââ‚¬Å“I feel uncomfortable. I have a sore throat because of pollution from motorbikes.ââ‚¬
Meanwhile, the ââ‚¬Å“pip pipââ‚¬ sounds from the motorbikes give Sarah a headache. She also finds it difficult to cross the streets, and finds it tough that people cannot walk on sidewalks because vendors have occupied them, or they are being used to park motorbikes.
In addition, the streets are so jumbled up and their names are so hard to remember. Sarah and her boyfriend took short walks to find something to eat, but ended up getting lost almost every time trying to find the way back to their hotel.
However, a hotel receptionist told her that she can walk around streets without a map. If she is lost, just give a motorbike taxi driver the address. The driver will take her there.
Despite the discomforts, Sarah wants to return to Vietnam. This time, she has not had enough time to visit Sa Pa in the northwest and Ha Long Bay.
In fact, she wants to live and work here, maybe teach English so she has more time to learn about this tropical country.
Reported by Bao Anh