Hustle and bustle finally back in town

15:00 | 19/05/2020
More than three weeks after restrictions were loosened, normal life has gradually returned, bringing back crowded streets and traffic jams in big cities. However, it’s not the end of Vietnam’s prevention measures as local authorities and citizens are still being cautious.
1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town
Many bars, restaurants, and other venues are currently offering discounts to attract customers

At Ta Hien – the most famous beer street in the capital city of Hanoi – restaurants have been lit up after the social distancing came to an end. Groups of youngsters flocked in to fill up the empty seats in so-called “foreigner street” which used to be so frequented by international travellers. Ta Hien now is the entertainment base for mostly Vietnamese, as international flights to the country are still at a halt.

According to a VIR survey, only 15 out of the 56 F&B businesses have resumed business since early May. Since then, eateries in Ta Hien have been receiving increasing numbers of visitors. Some of the bars and pubs which were often crowded with foreigners still remain closed. Other main streets in the Old Quarter such as Luong Ngoc Quyen, Dao Duy Tu, and Hang Buom are also in the same situation.

Due to the pandemic, as well as restrictions and social distancing that came with it, many streets that were once entertainment hubs for foreigners and Vietnamese became deserted. Tran Van Khoa, owner of a restaurant on Hang Buom street, said that his business used to have five employees, but Khoa is now the only one working there. “These days, our place welcomes merely 10 per cent of the customers we had before COVID-19. I hope the pandemic will soon be controlled globally so everything can return to normal,” Khoa said.

Even though since the end of April, when the social distancing was eased and businesses in Hanoi were allowed to reopen, one can see an obvious difference as there are hardly any buzzing scenes and jammed bars and restaurants.

Similar to Hanoi, popular nightlife streets in other big cities such as Danang and Ho Chi Minh City are also only slowly recovering. When the government allowed non-essential services, and then bars to reopen, the streets have gradually become a little more vibrant with pumping music, buzzing streetlights, and growing crowds. Streets well-known for their culinary and entertainment services like Bui Vien, De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao, and Le Thanh Ton have started to come back to life again – especially since Ho Chi Minh City has allowed bars and other non-essential services such as spa and massage parlours and bars to resume operations from May 9.

Despite the absence of international visitors, these businesses gather a decent number of Vietnamese and expats coming for a new breeze after the confined social distancing.

“The number of guests who enter Bui Vien for games, food, and beer is not high yet. However, they revitalise the street, and it makes me feel delightful when wandering around, meeting and chatting with them,” said Christoph Steigerwald, an expat living in the city. “Although it’s still not the same bustling atmosphere as before, at least the streets are slowly being revived.”

It is not easy to recover after the semi-lockdown measures as people remain cautious. Therefore, many businesses have introduced promotion programmes such as buy-1-get-1-free and other generous discounts to attract more customers.

“I think It is really helpful because guests like me want to pick up good bargains,” Christoph stated.

At the moment, locals and expats working and living in the country are still worried that the return of crowds could give the disease another chance to flare up. Clays Nguyen, a resident in Binh Thanh district said, “My friend from Hanoi came here on a business trip, so we made an appointment to meet up in Bui Vien street. Although everything has been eased, I still feel uneasy that many people do not wear masks and might sit close too to each other in public.”

Meanwhile, night markets and streets which are home to various entertainment activities and culinary experiences in major cities have long been one of the main drivers for the development of the nightlife economy in Vietnam.

After COVID-19 disrupted nightlife activities, neighbourhoods are now showing good signs of recovery. Many localities in Vietnam are planning to lift up nighttime activities such as pedestrian streets, food streets, night markets, bars, and pubs. Economic experts also said that nighttime businesses would be a positive solution to help revive Vietnamese economy after the health crisis.

Ngo Hoai Chung, vice chairman of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, stated that his office had previously submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism a pilot project of building an economic model for tourism development. According to Chung, tourists coming to Vietnam enjoy the local life out until early in the morning; therefore, the development of night streets will contribute significantly to luring international tourists to the country. At the same time, it also gives Vietnamese the chance to experience a wide range of attractive services.

Measures remains tightened

When VIR talked with people on the streets, they still seemed to be worried about COVID-19 breaking out again in the locality. The risk is particularly high in cities like Hanoi as it announced the resumption of the pedestrian streets around Hoan Kiem Lake starting May 15, while many other tourist spots are also reopening to welcome guests.

However, according to the authorities, despite the easing of restrictions, the assurance of epidemic prevention and control is still tighten. Every day in Hang Buom street, local police still arrange checkpoints and monitors, and remind businesses to strictly follow the city directives on pandemic prevention and control.

Dinh Sy Trung, Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hang Buom ward shared, “If there are any violations detected, we will handle them in accordance with the law. We have sanctioned two cases at high levels, along with many other minor cases, to raise people’s awareness.”

In the meantime, restaurants, bars, and pubs still maintain regular body temperature checks, distribute disinfectant, and remind customers to follow hygiene rules to ensure safety. Businesses also refuse to serve customers with high body temperatures after testing.

Nguyen Trung Hieu, manager of a bar on Bui Vien street, said that the establishment has spent VND45 million (nearly $2,000) to buy a disinfection chamber, ensuring all people visiting the bar are disinfected. In addition, they also switched to using paper cups and writing customers’ names on them to make sure the guests drink from their own cup and not mistake it with someone else’s.

“The pandemic has threatened tourists, but Vietnam has done its best in the fight and achieved remarkable results,” Yuksel Karakoc, who is living in Hanoi, told VIR.

“I think this is an essential point for people to hold a strong belief in the country. I believe that the streets will soon get crowded again when international tourists are allowed to enter the country,” he added.

Nguyen Thi Tuyet Van - Manager Miss Saigon Restaurant & Bar

1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town

I am pretty happy as we are getting back to routine business eventually. When receiving the reopening announcement from the authorities, we made preparations and has been getting ready to welcome guests.

However, the number of customers at this time is not as high as we expected. Most of them are local people, and the number of guests has dropped to 30 per cent compared to the time before social distancing.

We usually get a huge influx of dinners at weekend too, but not right now. It is not strange to me because the market needs time to recover. Yet while we are still pessimistic, at least we are able to continue to operate.

We also supply hand sanitiser and require our staff to equip masks and follow the protective measures of the government.

Le van thanh - Manager Egg Coffee

1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town

As soon as the government allowed the bar to reopen, we immediately worked out our business plan. We cleaned the bar to ensure our customers are protected. We also follow safety measures such as supplying hand sanitiser from the Ministry of Health.

It has been nearly a week since reopening and the street is increasingly getting crowded, but we cannot compare the time before COVID-19. We have only served a small number of guests so far. The number of foreigners coming to our bar has fallen by 90 per cent, but fortunately our regulars are mainly living in the city, so to some extent we feel lucky.

The outbreak has damaged the economy and tourism is the most vulnerable sector, so as part of the industry, we have been impacted.

Cuong Nguyen - Founder C-Brewmaster Beer JSC

1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town

During social distancing, our two beer restaurants strictly followed the government’s regulations on COVID-19 prevention.

To date, we still require our staff to wear face masks and gloves when on duty, and at our establishments there is always hand sanitiser available for guests. We will continue to maintain these measures as the restaurant’s hygiene assurance, even after Vietnam announces that the pandemic has passed. This is for our own health as well as for the guests. On the other hand, it is not feasible for us to guarantee a two-metre distance between each table because our restaurant is located in the old quarter with limited space. Fortunately, number of diners coming to us is not high at this time, and the volume has decreased by 70 per cent.

Ali Gencer - Turkish expat

1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town

I have been living in Vietnam for five years and can see from these tough times that the country is doing a great job so far in containing the virus and protecting health.

As an outgoing person, I was quite frustrated when experiencing more than a month of social distancing, but the timely response from government has definitely worked and it turned out to be a necessary move to prevent the spread of the virus. I am glad that I stayed in Vietnam, and that I have been going along with the regulations on disease prevention, because this is what any individual in Vietnam has been doing which has brought positive achievement. And now today, the outbreak here has been mostly controlled and I can go out enjoying the social life again. Though things have yet to return to how they used to be, I’m glad to see vitality back around.

Wu Yuelin - Taiwanese expat

1492p22 hustle and bustle finally back in town

Seeing as Vietnam and Taiwan have shared similar containment measures on the coronavirus, which highlighted early preparedness and social restrictions, and have both brought positive results, I feel more secure than ever in Vietnam because it reported even far less cases than Taiwan.

I was a bit worried when Vietnam said the restrictions would gradually be less strict, but when going outside and seeing that everyone was wearing masks, I believed in the public awareness here. In addition, there are not much crowds nowadays even when businesses and services are back, and I get my body temperature checked in many places, with hand sanitiser also available in public places. I hope that Vietnam will keep going this way and share inspiration with others, soon placing the pandemic under control to give back the world its normal life.

By Mai Truc Oanh

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