Sunrise over Long Bien Market

Long Bien market(VOV) – An early morning peek inside the bustling heart of the Long Bien night market.

Ever wonder where the tangy herbs in that steaming morning bowl of pho bo (noodle with beef) come from? Have you ever marveled at the color and variety of fruits and vegetables on offer at the local wet market? You’ve only been up for fifteen minutes, but the woman who’s just sold you a kilo of mangosteens has been hard at work for hours.

Tucked away between Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the Red River is the Long Bien night market. Vendors and middlemen begin gathering here around two in the morning to snap up the best of the day’s incoming food.

When we arrived at about 4:30am to have a look around and snap some photos, the frenzied activity was already in full swing.
We began our morning by climbing onto the Long Bien Bridge, which affords a wonderful vantage point down into one corner of the market. Designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel, the bridge was originally finished in 1903. Further reconstruction was necessary during the American War after numerous bombing raids. These days, this iconic landmark serves as a crossing for bikes, motorbikes, and trains.

Long Bien marketAfter a while we climbed down from the bridge to get a closer look at the activities within. Buyers went from vendor to vendor with baskets, pushcarts or motorbikes in search of the best quality at the best price. Wave after wave of men and women with no time to waste nudged first but pushed, if need be, to get through the thronging crowd.

Large trucks came in full and left empty. Their payload was unloaded into covered areas where dozens of women crouch and sort through the newly arrived produce. I was astounded by the quantity of oranges piled in one room; never before had I been overpowered by the scent of orange rind. In other areas, entire families sat among humongous piles of green mangos. Money changed hands at a dizzying pace.

Eventually, we needed a break from the action. The rising sun cast its first light, signalling the winding down of the day’s activities. Away from the commotion, we encountered two men seated on small plastic stools, engaging in gentle conversation over their morning tea. The day’s business had drawn to a close and now was the time for that sweet moment of repose after a morning of hard work.

As we climbed up the gentle rise out of the market and onto Yen Phu, we were struck by how normal, how commonplace, how quotidian all this activity truly is. Thanks to the industrious individuals who bring food to and from the Long Bien Market each day, Hanoi enjoys unbelievably fresh food, all for a good price.

Andrew Crichton