Night not so young after midnight for Hanoi businesses

By Staff reporters   October 8, 2019 | 05:14 am PT
Night not so young after midnight for Hanoi businesses
Tourists and locals at Ta Hien Street, a renowned beer hub in the Old Quarter of Hoan Kiem District where service is available until 2 a.m. during the weekend. Photo by VnExpress/Kieu Duong.
Unhappy residents and not-so-happy businesses show that Vietnam's capital city needs to plan its nightlife better, several experts and officials agree.

It has been almost three years since Vietnam's capital decided to lift its midnight curfew on a trial basis, letting restaurants and bars in the downtown district of Hoan Kiem operate until 2 a.m.

However, the number of businesses registering to open over midnight has dropped from 65 to 54.

Of those that have stopped the night game, six have been suspended for violating fire safety regulations and other criteria needed for them to remain open after midnight.

Starting September 1, 2016, Hanoi allowed restaurants and bars in Hoan Kiem to open until 2 a.m. from Friday to Sunday.

But the city also made it clear that businesses that stay open past midnight must meet security criteria, register with the district authorities and have soundproofed establishments.

Explaining why there are hundreds of household businesses that offer late night services, but only 65 had registered to remain open until 2 a.m., Doan Quang Cuong, deputy head of Hoan Kiem's economic department, said: "People have hesitated because if they are officially registered to operate through the curfew, they have to hire more staff and spend more on inputs, while the number of customers may not be as high as expected."

In 2016, the revenue of households running post-midnight services grew by 50 percent, but by last year, this had dropped to 30 percent, he said.

"Restaurants and bars are allowed to open until midnight during weekdays and stay up until 2 a.m. in the weekend, but two additional hours are not enough to make much of a difference. Customers can only drink a few more beers and/or enjoy several more songs before the place is shut down," Cuong noted.

As a general comment on the pilot plan, Cuong said "the authorities have had difficulties finding the legal basis and building rules to carry out the plan and have only set several criteria for night-time businesses."

Just two

Nguyen Trung Thuy, chairman of the Ly Thai To Ward in Hoan Kiem District, said the ward was home to many routes running along the iconic Sword Lake, one of the top tourist attractions of Hanoi, including Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Dau, and Tran Nguyen Han.

However, over the past three years, only two households have registered to open a bar and a coffee shop until 2 a.m.

But recently, the ward has suggested the higher authorities withdraw licenses of the two households because they were found selling balloons containing laughing gas, which is only allowed to be traded and produced for industrial use. They also played music way too loud, Thuy said.

"They repeatedly open later than 2 a.m. even after being warned and fined many times by local police," Thuy said.

Police step in to tell a bar in Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District to close as it is almost midnight on a week day. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Police step in to tell a bar on Hang Buom Street, Hoan Kiem District, to close as it is almost midnight on a weekday. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Hien, head of the division for administrative management of social order under Hoan Kiem's police department, said the two businesses that have been shut down recently in Ly Thai To Ward are not alone.

Many nighttime businesses in Hang Buom and Hang Bac wards have met the same fate for the same violations, he said.

In mid-July, Hanoi police sent 250 officers to check 20 of 46 businesses in the districts and found many selling laughing gas balloons and hookahs.

"In some wards, we found so many laughing gas cylinders that we did not even have enough space to keep them. And even after they are fined, restaurants and bars keep offering such services, because of the profit they could earn," Hien said.

Hien said the fact that the city allows businesses in Hoan Kiem to operate late until 2 p.m. has more or less satisfied the partying demand of tourists, allowed local businesses to earn and contribute more to the district’s budget, and created jobs for more people.

Unhappy residents

At the same time, however, the policy has brought up several problems, one of which is the overload it puts on the police force, requiring more officers to work weekend nights to ensure safety and security.

Another obstacle is the reaction of locals in the area.

At 9 a.m. on a Saturday in September, Nguyen Bao Anh, 68, a resident of Ly Thai To Ward, wore a tired face.

Anh said he and the rest of his family of six, including two children, got almost no sleep the previous night because of the loud music from the bar next door.

"We had shut down all doors and windows but we could still hear the sounds clearly. We are living with tiredness and lack of sleep," he said, adding that the noise from bars that operate through midnight has been the topic that gets all the attention at every meeting of residents in the ward.

Ever since the city lifted the midnight curfew, it is estimated that 50 families with 300 members in the ward have found their sleep disrupted.

Nguyen Van Khang, 72, another resident of the ward, said his family has set up soundproof partitions, but they have not helped much.

"We hope that the authorities would stop giving permission to operate until 2 a.m. and later for establishments in residential areas," he said.

Nguyen Van Quang, owner of a pub at the junction of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen Streets in Hang Buom Ward, said the district should make adjustments to regulations on businesses that open through midnight and beyond.

Most houses along Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen are rented to run business, and this means that establishments there can open through midnight without having as many impacts on residents compared to those in other parts of the district.

"If the city could do a better job of regulating areas in which businesses are allowed to operate overnight, along with having more specific regulations to ensure that the policy would do no harm to other residents, it would be more convenient for businesses, too," he said.

Cuong agreed with Quang's suggestion, saying the city needs specific planning in terms of space and time for Hanoi's night-time economy, and that the Old Quarter, where Ta Hien lies, is still considered a potential hub for growth in this economic niche.

He also said it was necessary to lengthen the time for night-time businesses instead of limiting it to 2 a.m.

At present, outside Hoan Kiem District, all performance shows, dance clubs and karaoke bars are banned from opening between midnight and 8 a.m. Internet cafés and other recreational services are banned from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

‘Cutting off a tourism hand’

Nguyen Quoc Ky, CEO of Vietnam’s leading tour operator Vietravel, said Hanoi is "a peaceful city under good management," so there was no need to place any curfew.

Ky said Hanoi, and many other major cities in Vietnam, are making a mistake if they fail to encourage overnight businesses.

"Setting up a night curfew is no different from cutting off a tourism hand...," he said.

He argued that one of the reasons many foreign tourists do not return to Vietnam for a second time is that the country does not have enough entertainment activities to attract them, in particular the lack of a vibrant nightlife.

Tourists keep flocking back to Thailand because that country has a wide range of services, especially late in the night – shopping, eating, drinking and many other activities that allow tourists to immerse themselves in the "authentic culture" of Thailand, he said.

He felt Hanoi should add folk culture activities in its agenda to entertain tourists at public places during the night, instead of just allowing people to party all night. He said this would also create opportunities for different sectors to do better business, earn more and expand their operations.

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