Friday, November 30, 2007

Flowers Business


The flower business is really hot now in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. I love wandering around to see how florists are arranging their flowers. Most regular florists in Hanoi use heaps of paper and decoration around their bunches of flowers. In some Hanoi streets, the florists sell to a more specific consumer.


In Phung Hung Street, most businesses sell flowers and anything relating to funerals. I talked to some girls who work sticking flowers into round boards for funerals. Each takes them around one hour to finish and it lasts a few days. They use mostly old flowers and plastic flowers for the outer rounds and they use good flowers for the big centre piece to attract the customer's attention.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Toys to Eat

Flour toys

I remember very well these flour toys because they belong to my childhood. When I was a little boy and I used to see many old people making these beautifully shaped toys to sell in front of my school and in the market. During my years at elementary school and maybe secondary school, the sellers were always around but they seemed to disappear when I went to high school. Maybe I grew too old to notice them?

Flour toys maker

I hadn't seen them for such a long time until last week in front of the Ethnology museum. I was really nicely surprised, and it brought back a lot of fond memories from my school days. Because I took quite a few photos, I bought several toys from the seller above but I didn't eat them like I used to do when I was a little boy. I remembered when we finished our classes, we usually bought at least one everyday and asked our mothers to put them on the top of the cooked rice for about 15 minutes then we used to eat them. They didn't have much flavour but that's the way we did at that time.

Flour toy maker

The man told me he spends less than 10 minutes making each one. They all look gorgeous, colorful and only 5000Vnd. If you ever see this man, buy some to help him out. Nice thing to keep even though it's another dust collector :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Street Vendors

Street fruits

Street businesses are a unique part of Vietnamese culture. In the past, street businesses were a common way for poor people to earn an income and this is the same today. However, the local authorities in Hanoi are making it hard for street vendors to trade these days.

Fruits sellers

I think one of the reasons is there are too many people who come to Hanoi to do the same thing and sell the same stuff. Lots of people are selling hats, books, fruits, flowers, postcards and t-shirt on the streets, following tourists from one place to another to sell their things. It's not always pleasant and tourists can't enjoy their walking tour because they constantly have to refuse politely from these aggressive sellers. Lots of sellers I've talked said that if they don't hassle people they don't sell anything and they go home empty handed.

Fruits sellers

Two weeks ago, while I was eating duck eggs from a girl on the street, she suddenly ran away with her basket. A xe om called out that the police were on their way. If these sellers get caught, they lose their stuff and receive a fine. It's funny to watch the vendors rush away quickly when the police arrive. But everything's back to normal when the police men are gone. Eventually, the duck egg lady comes back and I finished my snack :) These sellers could be really good 100m athletes.

Street seller

Street vendors are a part of our culture and, even though they are a nuisance sometimes, they should be allowed to remain trading in the streets. Maybe the government should introduce a license to restrict their numbers though?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Architecture In Vietnam

Dong Xuan market

Someone said "No matter how tall and skinny a building, it seems that there is always room for more storeys." This is the reality of Vietnamese architecture and I'm not sure that you can see this anywhere else in the world. Because Viet nam doesn't have much land and our population is increasing unbelievably fast, property in Hanoi and in other big cities is very expensive and the price rises everyday.

Old Houses

The artful mixture of colors and houses in Hanoi makes this place so beautiful. French colonial and art-deco architecture with mostly yellow paint are the most impressive.

Skinny house

The long tube houses in Hanoi may make me wonder about how it is possible to live in such tiny holes but that's the way it is in Viet Nam because we say, " Land is Gold".

Skinny house

If you have a good look inside a typical house, you may be surprised because there may be about 8 0r 9 people living in such a small area. In Hanoi, the basic house consists of the first floor, which is a welcome room, the second floor has bed and bathrooms and the drying room for hanging the clothes is on the top. However, do not be surprised if you see Vietnamese people hanging clothes in front of their houses or on the electric lines. Sometimes they don't even have a permanent bed, a garden hardly ever. They only put mattresses or mats down before they sleep then they fold them back up in the morning. And imagine, there is only one tiny kitchen and bathroom in one house.


In addition, throughout the city, you can see some big Soviet-style buildings such as the Hanoi railway station and the post office. Many of the pagodas and temples have been influenced by Chinese architecture. Some rich Hanoians who live around West Lake in nice big villas. This is a really quiet area but very expensive and secure.


These days, there are lots of crazy ideas for building and house design in Viet Nam which is not surprising when you think about our history. In the big cities and even in the countryside, there are so many big architecture firms. I just hope the planning authorities manage to protect the character of Hanoi by preserving the old quarter and many of the French buildings and oriental temples and pagodas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Electric poles

Western people who come to Vietnam as tourists or for work are both amazed at the electrical work and the crazy wiring. The main purpose of the electric poles is to transfer electric wires from one point to another point but it isn't like that in Vietnam. Now, those skinny poles have to hold many different kinds of wires such as TV cables, telephone cables and other communication wires and advertising boards. People also hang their washing and their bird cages on them!

Electric poles

It looks like a huge tangled fishing net in some places. It is really dangerous and there are quite a few deaths by electric shock in my country every year. Quite frequently, a loose wire is hanging down over the road.

Electric poles

I suppose this is one of the problems of Vietnam's fast development but something needs to be done about it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Le Tonkin Restaurant

Le Tonkin Restaurant

We were all invited to join Lora's farewell party at Le Tonkin restaurant two months ago. This is one of the beautiful restaurants in Hanoi which is located in a gorgeous French building surrounded by nice gardens in Ngo Van So street. We were so excited to be there in such a nice place with friends and to eat nice Vietnamese food, at least that's what we expected.

Lotus Salad

After experiencing quite a few restaurants in Hanoi, I know a bit about Vietnamese food and this place was disappointing. They seem to use a bit too much seasoning, salt and MSG because even the salads were salty. For the prices we pay in these kinds of restaurants, I expect better.

Fresh spring rolls with pork and prawns

We ordered some beautiful Allan Scott white wine from New Zealand and they didn't have any bottles in the fridge. The waitress gave me a really warm bottle which she said was cold. I asked them politely to put it back in the ice basket and that we would wait, and also asked them to put few more in the freezer because we were a big group of 25 people. After awhile, they brought another bottle and put it on the table without an ice bucket. We were willing to pay over $30++ for a good and chilled bottle of white wine, not for hot white wine. Then, in the middle of the dinner, the waitress came over and told me that they had sold out of Allan Scott wine and could we choose a different brand but they once again came with warm bottles. What kind of service is that? In this kind of quality restaurant they should train their staff well as this is a really basic rule about wine but it seemed they don't really care about this.

Fresh fruit salad with pork

It seems as though it's the kind of restaurant that's only interested in serving tour groups - people who might complain but they are unlikely to see again. They are unlikely to see me again, either.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Love Hotels

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

Hanoi has an amazing range of hotels, from five-stars like the Sofitel and the Hilton to cheap mini-hotels and backpacker places. There is another kind of hotel - a guesthouse really - that is also very popular. Known as Nha Nghi in Vietnamese, different people come to these guesthouses for different purposes, many of them for their secret happy moments!

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

These places are common all over the city and the people who work there don't need many qualifications. The most important things they need is to be clever, fast in dealing, understanding and ignoring. You also have to know how to warn clients when the police show up and hide any documents or booking information.

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

Nowadays, there are many young teenage couples who, instead of being at school, play truant and go to hotels to 'study' being adults :). The number of older people who have secret second lovers also choose these places for their own privacy. The guesthouse staff don't care who they are, how old they are or what time they arrive. They give the room and collect the money, mostly by the hour! Such an easy job.

Nha Nghi - Guesthouse - Hanoi

On the down side, some of these guesthouse rooms for drug use, prostitution and gambling. Many people have been caught by police, publicly embarrassed in magazines and the hotel staff also get in big trouble because this is illegal. It is clear that these guesthouses are providing for a demand but the meaning of the word guesthouse has a different meaning in Vietnam!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Craft Toys

Coconut toys

Walking between Truc Bach Lake and West Lake in today's freezing weather of Hanoi was a bit of a shock. It's a bit early for winter! The weather was only around 17 degrees, drizzly and high in humidity that makes you feel really cold. I walked down to the Truc Bach supermarket to buy some stuff for my dinner and I also stopped by the man at the corner who makes craft toys.

Coconut toys

After I bought a toy grasshopper, I asked if I could take some photos of his products. He told me that it takes five minutes to finish a grasshopper and about ten minutes for a heart, and a bit more than that for a phoenix. He makes them look amazing with just a few coconut leaves. This is quite a popular business between the two lakes. Lots of guys but them for their girlfriends and parnets also for their children.

Coconut toys

Almost every single person looked at me on the way home because I was holding a toy coconut grass hopper. Maybe I am too old to play with these things? :)