Tourists and youngsters cheered when Hanoi started allowing downtown restaurants and bars to stay open until 2 a.m. over the weekends last September. Now a new plan is looking to extend longer opening hours to the rest of the week.
We hit the streets to meet the people who have already been staying up to keep the city safe, entertained and well-fed.
As expected, the street vendors who sell sticky rice and banh mi to party-goers insisted that our conversations remained anonymous and off-camera. “My name was in the news once and the police made me move. I can’t risk it again,” said a banh mi seller in Ba Dinh.
We didn’t have much luck with the sellers at a famous flower market either, except for a quick chat with one of them.
Walking around the city and talking to more workers, it became clear to us that Hanoi after dark is a mixture of two different worlds colliding: the fun party scenes for those who enjoy pulling an all-nighter, and the quiet clockwork jobs of those who can’t afford to just call it a night.
Working from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. does not mean better pay, despite the major health and safety risks, and most night workers would happily switch to day jobs, if they could.
These are their stories.
The technical job is simple but it often gets complicated at night.Hoang Quoc Nam
This June, I will have been working here for 20 years. Our shift runs from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and sometimes vice versa, and we have a full day to rest between each 12-hour shift.
Our job is to receive notices from the central station through our system. When we see the level crossing up the line from us being closed for a train, we start closing ours too.
The technical job is simple but it often gets complicated at night. Ten years ago, drunkards and drug addicts started coming into our office every night to ask for hot water or food, then find a way to mess with us. Those gangsters brought knives too. We couldn’t fight them so we’d just let them have their way. We’d be nice and eventually they would leave. If things got heated, we’d call the police.
Now there are fewer junkies, but angry truck drivers and gangsters still hang around, shouting at us to pull up the barriers, so we always have two people on duty.
It's at its busiest during weekends and holidays when there are more trains passing through the city at night.
I know it’s a tough job and I only earn enough for myself, but my parents did the same job for me. I’m glad there haven's been any accidents for the last 20 years, or else I’d be in prison right now (laughing).
If I had a day job that involved dancing and could earn me the same amount, I would definitely quit this night job.Bui Thi Ai Linh
Dancing is my passion and my full-time job. I work at bars every night from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. During the day, I’m a hip-hop dance teacher. I have my own studio where I teach young children.
I have been dancing for more than 10 years. I’m proud that I can earn enough to live on as a dancer, even though it means working day and night.
I have to say being a bar dancer doesn’t pay as well as being a dance teacher, but it’s a stable job that brings around $30 per night, six nights per week.
I started my job here 18 months ago. I was quite shy and nervous. Gradually I got used to it. My style is a bit sexy anyway, so I really don’t care if people judge me on the clothes I wear and my moves. There are prejudices, I know! But I’m a dancer, not someone who gets on stage to flash their body.
I'm harassed from time to time by customers trying to touch my hair or shoulders, or those who are bold enough to grope my breasts or my bum. When it's serious, I go crazy and sometimes hit them, but the security guys are always on hand.
The creeps are mostly young Vietnamese men. I got a lot of foreigners telling me they love my dancing, some politely ask me out on dates. If I feel safe, I go. It’s a fun job.
I’ve been dancing in Saigon and Singapore as well. I think Hanoi is less hyperactive than the other two. Here it’s even difficult to get a meal at night, let alone nightlife.
If I had a day job that involved dancing and could earn me the same amount, I would definitely quit this night job. Now I have fun and freedom, but it affects my health and it’s not really safe to be out at night.
During the day, I work as a bank security guard, so I only get four and a half hours sleep every day.Vu Manh Linh
I’ve been in the army for more than a year. I am from a northern province and before enlisting, I worked as a driver.
My night guard shift starts at 11 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m. The mission is to stop people from going through this gate. This area is surrounded by Ministry of Defense offices so it’s not that dangerous at night. The few robberies we get here are usually busted right away.
It’s fun in the army and we are provided with every essential. During the day, I work as a bank security guard, so I only get four and a half hours sleep every day.
When my duty ends this December, I may go home to help run the family business.
I don’t have any hobbies as a guard here, except for people watching and making friends with the middle-aged people who come here in the early morning to play badminton.
If they don’t see me here for a few days, they’ll bombard me with questions when I return. (smile).
When my younger son gets married, I’ll quit this job and babysit my grandchildren.Nguyen Thi Tam
Any money for me? Journalists who've been here before always gave me money to take pictures.
I’ve been selling flowers here for three to four years I think. These days sales are slow.
Usually I can’t sell all these Chinese flowers. Most nights we have to carry them all the way to the cold storage warehouse.
I’m from the outskirts and I catch a bus to get here by 7 p.m. every day. I work for this stall’s owner until 7 a.m., sleep for the whole morning and work as a babysitter in the afternoon.
I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck all my life. I've got used to it but when my younger son gets married, I’ll quit this job and babysit my grandchildren.