American writer E. Shillue once wrote an intriguing sentence: ‘The itinerant vendor carries the most romantic item in the East – the shoulder pole…’. (*) Let’s explore the beauty of these itinerant vendors – the ones that carry the simple charm of Vietnam.
When you visit Hanoi, you will easily come across women with bamboo shoulder poles or small bicycles carrying a variety of distinctive gifts representing the capital city. From aromatic cups of coffee with energy to refreshing cups of iced jelly dessert, from steaming hot sticky rice cakes to carts selling Pho and vermicelli – all neatly arranged on these bustling carts. Each season has its own offerings. In the summer, there is a hint of pink from the fragrant lotus flowers, while autumn brings carts adorned with thousands of beautiful chrysanthemums. In winter, the streets are filled with the pure white colour of apricot blossoms.
An old bicycle and a few baskets are all that these street vendors need. While Hanoi may age, these street vendors never do. Alongside the glamorous stores, there are steadfast and organized itinerant carts. Strong yet gentle, modern yet traditional – this is the beauty of Hanoi.
Have you ever spent a leisurely day wandering from one street to another, embracing the Saigon heat and seeking refuge in roadside eateries during sudden rain showers? While wandering like that, you will encounter ‘Saigon on the shoulder poles.’ These are small fragments in the vibrant urban tapestry hiding behind high-rise buildings, the noisy hustle and bustle. Starting from Tao Dan Park, following Truong Dinh Street to Vo Van Tan intersection, crossing Turtle Lake, passing through Paris Commune Square, and heading towards Independence Palace, you will witness flexible and interesting survival scenes. These can be shoulder poles carefully covered with nylon to avoid street dust. In the limited space, street vendors can prepare and mix flour using the flour containers they carry, while their mobile ovens for frying cakes are covered with paper boxes of various colours. In the summer, many tourists stroll along Le Loi Street, attracting people with various professions who rely on small capital to survive. They sell old coins, vintage lighters, T-shirts and fabric hats with the Vietnamese flag printed on them. There is even an artisan sitting quietly near Ben Thanh Market, carving souvenir letters for tourists.
Hue is known as a special city with five UNESCO-recognized cultural heritages. Hue attracts visitors with its ancient and mysterious beauty, such as tombs, palaces, Trang Tien Bridge with its poetic charm, and the calm Perfume River. Among these ancient beauties, itinerant vendors are also a distinctive feature of this famous dreamy and gentle city. In the early morning, you will encounter slow-paced footsteps on Truong Tien Bridge or shoulder poles passing through markets and entering the Imperial City. The female street vendors wearing ao dai sit in a corner selling tea and traditional Vietnamese desserts, while tourists sit around, enjoying the delicacies. This image adds a simple and charming touch to Hue. The phrase ‘Ai bèo, nậm, lọc không’ is slowly and melodiously announced by the vendors, lingering in the silent space, captivating listeners with fond memories. It would be a mistake to mention Hue’s itinerant vendors without acknowledging these melodious calls.