by Mark Robert Carle *
|Organised chaos: Customers and vendors mill around Long Bien Market while the rest of the capital sleeps. — VNA/VNS Photo Tuan Anh
(VNS) Being the insomniac I am, I woke at 3am at what most would say is a crazy hour to have your eyes open, but I wanted to see a part of the city that doesn't adhere to a conventional working day.
My friend, Hang and I met at the main Post Office in the Old Quarter and then drove the traffic free and quiet streets to the Long Bien Market. This market is one of the biggest and busiest in Ha Noi. It is called this because it sits under the Long Bien Bridge which has quite a storied history from the war. Long Bien is a cantilever bridge built in 1903 and was heavily bombarded during the American War due to its critical position – the only bridge at that time crossing the Hong (Red) River that connected Ha Noi to the main port, Hai Phong.
I read somewhere that like everything else in Ha Noi, this market is not only busy and chaotic, but also on steroids. If that was true I wanted to experience it, and whoa, I had no idea what I was getting into.
When I drove into the market area, it was obvious I was way out of my league for busy and chaotic experiences.
Even with that said I found myself caught up in the energy and buzz of this place. This was Ha Noi in its most throbbing state. I immediately looked for a place to park as I was quickly being overrun by people on foot and motorbikes. Long Bien Market is a wholesale market and distribution point for probably most of Ha Noi.
Farmers from all around the city head to this area on the Old Quarter side of the bridge carrying their produce on motorbikes and trucks. Some sell to middlemen while others set up their own stalls on the roads surrounding the market.
Men and women alike were loading up their motorbikes while heavy trucks dropped off mountains of produce. The only way to move is to either be aggressive and squeeze through narrow passageways and try to blend in with the traffic or be very agile and step in and out of small openings. I attempted a little of both and came out without getting squashed, yelled at or falling on anyone
I was fortunate to get off a few good photos just by being aware of my surroundings and what kind of commotion was nearby.
The market is also a popular meeting place for women from the outskirts of Ha Noi, who work as porters in an effort to feed their families. And work is just what they do, carrying heavy baskets balanced on either end of bamboo poles.
The tiny women are deceptively strong and move quickly through the clogged veins of the market place, negotiating their heavy baskets adeptly without stopping for man nor motorbike.
This market is packed to the gunnels with shoppers, motorbikes, trucks, market sellers, containers of every kind of produce, mounds of tied flowers, piles of herbs and spices, cut and quartered animal parts and small piles of plant parts.
I'd read another blog entry by a traveller about this market which caught my attention and inspired me to come here. But being a traveller and not a "resident" of Ha Noi, he found it to be filled with disorder and confusion. My take on it was that it was just another in Ha Noi for the locals. No confusion or disorder in any way. Hanoians know how to work in this environment, and honestly, I can't imagine it being any other way. They are like bees in a hive buzzing about in every direction, all at the same time, and that's not disorder or confusion to them, but it can be to the untrained eye.
A visit to Long Bien Market is probably not on any travel publications' list of things to do in Ha Noi, but a visit to this chaotic and bustling market is a must in my opinion, but to do so you've got to get up while the sun is still sleeping.
Hang and I finished our hectic morning with a drive through the still dark and quiet Old Quarter, which I knew in a few hours would be nearly as abuzz with people and commotion as the market was. — VNS
* Mark Robert Carle is a technology teacher from Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. He is a travel blogger on the Travelpod website.