Hanoi comes alive at night. The day’s oppressive air cools and draws out the people. The city lights up in glorious colors as lanterns glow around Hoam Kiem Lake. Motorbikes cease their endless buzzing as drivers start to park before going to restaurants or stroll the busy streets.

The lake is the central attraction. Young lovers walk hand-in-hand or sit on curbs to watch the lights glow across the water. People sip specialty coffee at Hapro’s and talk of families and friends. Children line up for ice crème and try to eat the bars before they drip down their chins. Mother’s and father’s wipe their faces clean with wet cloths.

Across the street, tourists enjoy their own ice cream specialties at Fanny’s as waitresses serve brightly decorated treats neatly arranged in colorful patterns. Cinnamon sticks, cookie chunks, and umbrellas protrude from the cool delicacies. No one makes better ice cream than the Vietnamese.

Farther around the lake girls sing and dance different routines on a small stage. Several acts perform as listeners gather in tight groups amazed at the professionalism of the young entertainers. Girls twirl in unison and perform intricate steps, their small bodies swaying with the rhythm of the music.

Older couples practice their own dances on the other side of the lake. The classical music helps swirl them about as they move to the sounds of various waltzes, fox trots, and even swing music from big bands of another era. The women are dressed in silky ballroom gowns, the men in sharp and neatly pressed suits of brown, black, and grays.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is just letting out. Happy tourists spill onto the street, all grins and smiles as they discuss the various puppet acts that floated before their eyes: the crazy tigers, fishermen battling a storm, and the parade of the returning university student. The puppets seemed to walk on water and people wonder how so many figures were operated on such long poles underwater without getting crossed and tangled.

Ahead the Thursday evening street market is open. Children laugh and play and follow around the women selling balloons. All kinds of goods are sold here: watches, clothes, wallets and purses, lighters, trinkets for the hair, games and radios and CD players. Hang Dao Street is closed from the lake all the way to Dong Xuan Market. The bright lights glow down the street as if stars have fallen from the sky upon the city. People crowd the street like a tide washing from side to side.

In the City View Café, above the lake, guests enjoy specialty dinners. Many sit on the large balcony drinking beer and coffee as they watch the people on the streets.

On various side streets restaurants come alive with bubbling soups and sandwiches made of chicken and pork. Braziers cook sticks of beef, bubbling pots of banh tom, fondue, and a specialty coffee called nau trung sua nong – coffee with milk sugar and an egg.

Toward midnight the streets fall asleep and wait to wake another night, wait to rise through the dark and call to her friends.

Nights are made for walking. They are cool and the lake is beautiful. 

 

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