Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros3Street vending and its resilience...


À Hanoi, la vente ambulante informelle est une forme commerciale très populaire. Malgré son rôle important dans les besoins de consommation des habitants, elle est toujours confrontée à des politiques défavorables de la part des autorités qui considèrent ce commerce comme la cause de problèmes urbains négatifs. Ainsi, pour les autorités, les vendeurs de rue et les marchés informels deviennent des objets à éliminer pour promouvoir une image moderne de la ville. De leur côté, les vendeurs de rue doivent à la fois répondre à la demande des habitants et résister aux actions des autorités. Malgré la pression des autorités, le commerce de rue et les marchés informels restent très présents, voire en croissance ces dernières années. En particulier, l’un des lieux où les marchés informels sont les plus vivants sont les ruelles des quartiers spontanés, formés par l’urbanisation par le bas. Se pose alors la question de savoir si les ruelles sont un lieu favorable à la résilience du commerce de rue. Sur la base d’une méthodologie qualitative, nous analyserons les pratiques socio-spatiales des commerçants de rue en observant et en interrogeant 21 commerçants dans deux grands marchés informels de longue date : le marché de Kham Thien et le marché de Van Chuong dans l’arrondissement de Dong Da, un quartier peuplé central où le contrôle gouvernemental sur le commerce de rue est strict. Par ailleurs, des données ont été recueillies dans des documents officiels, des ouvrages scientifiques et des médias qui ont tous considérablement contribué à la réalisation de cette étude. L’article montre que grâce aux caractéristiques structurelles des ruelles, les activités commerciales informelles y ont peu d’impact sur l’image urbaine moderne souhaitée par les autorités et donc les vendeurs de rue sont moins touchés par les opérations de renouvellement urbain. En outre, le réseau complexe de ruelles étroites et en zigzag permet aux vendeurs d’échapper facilement à la police. De plus, la « coopération mutuellement bénéfique » entre les vendeurs et les habitants et entre les vendeurs et les autorités dans les relations « obliques à la loi » contribue de manière significative à la vitalité du commerce de rue dans les ruelles.

Haut de page

Texte intégral


1Informal street trade is a popular and visible practice in many cities, especially in developing or emerging countries in Africa, Latin America, South Asia or in the Middle East (Monnet, 2006; Cling & al., 2012; Racaud & al., 2018). This trade form takes root in poverty, unemployment, or political instability. Many studies have shown its important role in the urban economy while, in public space, street trade faces conflicts and threats, particularly from the authorities who always try to abolish, limit, or standardize it. The existence of street vending indeed represents complex power relationships between street vendors, street shop owners, residents, and the authorities, in the context of an ambiguous legal framework.

2Likewise, in Vietnam, there has been a great development of street trade since the economic reform in the late 1980s. This growth has been so strong in major cities such as Hanoi, which has been witnessing the growing role of street trade in the capital’s urban economy (Fanchette, 2016; Huong, 2019). Since 2007, this commercial activity has been legally recognized yet not fitted with a business license. Despite all this, street trade is continuously subjected to threats from the authorities, who take it for a negative impact on the urban order, cleanliness, and urban modernity.

3Although many studies on street trade in Vietnam and particularly in Hanoi have been done, they are mainly on a large scale focusing on the life, income, and socio-economic role of traders, mobility (Moustier & al., 2007; Duc and Thai 2010; Khue 2011; Eidise & al., 2016; Minh, 2017; Turner & al., 2021). In this article, we focus on the microscale of a specific type of workplace: the alley. Formed during the urbanization from below in Hanoi, narrow and winding alleys are very popular but barely visible and rarely mentioned or yet understudied in urban studies (Son, 2010; Gibert-Flutre and Imai, 2020). This article explores the existence of street trade in the alleys and tries to explain why alleys are resilient place of street vending, enabling it to satisfy people’s needs and at the same time, to resist unfavorable urban policies during urbanization.

4This article grounds on field data collected from 2017 to 2020 during a PhD in urban commerce in Hanoi. Based on a qualitative methodology (Morange and Schmoll, 2016), we will analyze the socio-spatial practices of street traders in two large and long-standing informal alley markets: Kham Thien market and Van Chuong market in Dong Da District, a central populous district where legal control in street trade is very strict. In these two alley markets, Kham Thien market benefits from a higher legitimacy than Van Chuong market thanks to the tolerance of local authorities. This analysis is established from the observation and 21 interviews with street traders in these two alley markets as well as the discussions with numerous trade experts and members of the neighborhood watch. In addition, qualitative as well as quantitative data were collected in official documents, scientific studies and media coverage, all which have considerably contributed to the completion of this study.

5The article is divided into three main parts. The first section presents the development of street trade in Hanoi, unfavorable government policies on street trade, and the persistence of informal alley markets. In the second part, we discuss the characteristics of the alley, in alley neighborhoods, their formation, urban forms and social structure. The third part clarifies the existence and resilience of the alley’s street trade in three aspects: (1) Street trade and the relationship between different types of vendors in the alley; (2) Alley street trade in the relationship with the inhabitant’s consumers and (3) with the authorities.

The development of street trade against urban planning

6The economic reform “Renovation” (Doi Moi) in 1986, with a transition from a planned economy to a market economy, did mark a major turning point in the Vietnamese economy. Spectacular economic growth in recent years has made Vietnam one of the most dynamic emerging countries in Asia. In this economic development of the country, there is a trade boom in major cities like Hanoi, where consumers are being able to shop in a variety of commercial forms: from the most modern shopping malls to informal street vending which takes place in public space of the capital every day (Pham and Dugot, 2020).

The social and commercial role of street trade in Hanoi

  • 1 A front-street house in a long and narrow form. It is also known as “tube house” in Vietnam.

7In Hanoi, there are tens of thousands of street vendors, mobile and fixed, remaining a very visible trade form. Most of them are farmers coming from Hanoian rural areas and nearby provinces (Fanchette, 2016). This phenomenon particularly linked to urban migration of rural migrants to seek economic opportunities (GSOV and UNFPA, 2020). A large part of them has neither a determined professional qualification nor a stable job, constituting a reserve for street trade. Other street vendors (11%) are low-income city dwellers, such as retirees (Fanchette, 2016). For most of the street vendors, this work is occasional. Rural migrants go to the city to increase their income then send it to their family living in the countryside. They sell affordable products, mainly fresh food and fruits, to serve daily needs of the inhabitants (Minh, 2017). In addition, a significant number of small shops in street compartments1 participate in street vending by expanding commercial space on the sidewalk. This phenomenon contributes to the diversity of street trade while blurring the boundary between the compartment shops in private space and street trade in public space.

  • 2 Fresh food in the market implies the meat of animals slaughtered (1) on the spot in the presence (...)

8Street vending plays a crucial role in the commercial system of Hanoi City. It makes an important contribution to creating a network of informal markets – the main place to sell daily food. There are believed to be 213 informal markets which are mainly located in the central districts (Hanoi Municipal People’s Committee [HMPC], 2017). The market share of these informal markets account for 40% of the commercial structure of the urban area (Huong, 2019). Street trade proves to be important not only to low-income people but serves a very large portion of the population who still prefers consuming fresh food from markets over supermarkets2 (Pham and Dugot, 2020).

The unfavorable policies toward street trade and the persistence of informal alley markets

  • 3 According to the Government’s Decree no. 39/2007/ND-CP on independent and permanent commercial a (...)
  • 4 Reforms since Doi Moi allowed people to migrate freely. This has caused a very rapid increase in (...)

9Although it is recognized as a legitimate activity3 and has a proven role in trading practices, from national, municipal and local authorities’ perspective, street trade causes many negative effects: traffic congestion; lack of food safety; attraction of migrants to Hanoi4; and bad image of the city (Moustier & al., 2007). In addition, in the effort of developing modern commerce in order to promote urban modernity and “civilization,” the authorities consider street vending as an undesirable trade form going against their attempts (Vietnam Ministry of Trade, 2006).

  • 5 Promulgating regulations for the street vendor management in Hanoi City, Decision no. 02/2008/QD (...)

10In recent years, Hanoi authorities have therefore taken numerous decisions on eliminating and banning street vendors and informal markets from public spaces, especially on sidewalks and main streets5. Accordingly, street traders are banned from operating in 9 areas, 63 streets in 7 districts of the city (6 central districts and 1 suburban district). Apart from these places, street vendors are prohibited from occupying public space unless they have permission from the authorities. However, up to now, except for a few streets in the old town for tourism, no street has been officially licensed for fixed stalls of street trade. This means temporarily stopping or occupying a fixed place in public space by street traders is considered as a crime. At the same time, the city regularly marches out on the streets and sidewalks with so-called sidewalk campaigns, aiming at eliminating private occupation including street vending and informal markets. Therefore, street trade always operates under uncertainty and hostility on the streets where they have to deal with many threats from the authorities.

  • 6 According to our field research from 2017 to 2020, the studied markets had more than 20 stalls o (...)

11However, despite these threats, street trade remains very present, especially in informal markets. The number of street markets increased from 112 in 2008 to 213 in 2017 with the formation of many new commercial liners, mainly in central districts where the management is the strictest (Tam, 2015; HMPC, 2017). Precisely, these informal markets are mostly located in the alleys. In three populous districts in central Hanoi (Hoan Kiem, Dong Da) and peri-center Hanoi (Cau Giay), there are 33 out of 50 informal markets located in the alleys6, demonstrating the alleys’ attractiveness towards street vendors. Many alley markets even have existed for decades such as Kham Thien or Van Chuong markets. It seems that the alleys formed during urbanization from below serve as the solution to street trade in the city. In the next part, we will examine the urban and social characteristics of the alley and how street trade works within it.

The domination of neighborhood alley in urban structure

12Doi Moi marked a transition from anti-urban policy to urban development policy which has become an engine of the economy. This shift has led to a brutal urban development (Duchère, 2019) and strong population growth in Hanoi. According to the data published by the Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee in 2019, the population of Hanoi is over eight million, increasing by 1.6 million from 2009. The urban population rate in the Hanoi province increased rapidly: from 36.8% in 1999 to 49.2% in 2019. This contributes to the very high urban population density: up to 9,343 inhabitants/km² in the 12 urban districts, about 6.7 times higher than in rural areas of Hanoi province (1,394 inhabitants/km² in the 18 rural districts). This vigorous demographic growth, particularly in urban districts, is mainly due to a growing migratory attraction. Hanoi is an attractive city that offers opportunities for work, study, business and then a higher standard of living for lower classes, especially for migrants, including permanent and seasonal migrants. From 2009 to 2019, the intra-urban population increases by 1.3 million and most of them are migrants (Thao, 2019).

13Population growth, waves of migration and rapid urbanization have led to a “phenomenon of self-building” in villages. This phenomenon has had so considerable repercussions on the peri-urban village structure that it has incorporated these villages into the urban ensemble of Hanoi. The initial structure of these villages is characterized by the network of roads resulting in a spatial structure reminiscent of a tree (Cuong, 2001). The hierarchical network includes a main road of 3 to 4 meters wide with secondary roads that are 1.8 to 2.5 meters or even 1 meter wide. Secondary roads lead from the main road to hamlets and residential plots (Son, 2010). Due to the high density of population and the need for familial financial resources (garnered through the sale or lease of land), large plots in residential areas were divided by original private landowners into smaller ones, usually in a long and narrow shape. Empty spaces are then filled with self-constructed buildings in the form of compartment (Figure 1). According to a World Bank statistic in 2011, this type still accounts for more than 60% of the total housing production in the districts of Hanoi. Self-building is seen as a favorable solution when the state cannot yet meet the housing needs of residents due to hyper rapid population growth. This phenomenon can be observed everywhere in the city, from the center to the urban periphery.

14The structural change of rural village urbanized by self-construction results in a new circulation network that is divided into three levels according to the Decision no. 04/2014/QD-UBND, 2014 of HMPC (Figure 1):

15Level 1: Main alley (Ngõ): formed on the basis of the main road of the village. The main alley is a small road that leads from a street to a residential area, with at least one end leading to a street. The main alley average width is from 3 to 5 meters.

16Level 2: Secondary alley (Ngách): formed from the village secondary road. The secondary alley is a small road that leads from the main alley to a housing unit, with at least one end leading to the main alley. The average width is from 1.5 to 3 meters.

17Level 3: Tertiary alley (Hẻm): is a small road that leads from the secondary alley to a group of houses, with at least one end leading to a secondary alley. The tertiary alley is formed by private landowners who divide their land into several lots of 25–40 m² (2–5 plots in average) for family members or rentals. These plots constitute a passage of 1-1.5 meter. After the construction of the buildings, this passage is called Hẻm – tertiary alley. These tertiary alleys can be sinuous or straight, depending on the division made by the owners.

Figure 1. Structural diagram of the alley network in an alley neighborhood of Hanoi.

Figure 1. Structural diagram of the alley network in an alley neighborhood of Hanoi.

Realization: PHAM 2021

18The width of the alley depends on the period of its formation and of the district urbanization: the older the alley, the smaller its width. The closer the district is to the city center, the greater the land pressure and the narrower the alleys. In Hanoi, 90% of the alleys are less than 4 meters wide. As a result, most alleys are inaccessible to cars. The explosion of self-building by residents made the domination of the alley neighborhoods in Hanoi’s urban structure. Indeed, according to Gibert and Son (2016), 88% of Hanoi city dwellers are living in the alley neighborhoods. And according to estimations of the General Construction Association of Vietnam (Quyen, 2016), 30% of Hanoians live in one-meter-wide alleys. A majority of alley dwellers are financially disadvantaged, underqualified for a job or unemployed. The alleys have therefore become a good choice of housing for them (Son, 2010).

19Although the dominating urban alley network remains an important element of the Vietnamese urban identity, it is only considered as a secondary part of the city as the alleys were fewer or more forgotten in many urban renovation activities (ibid.). According to Mr. Tran Ngoc Hung, President of the Vietnam Construction Association (Quyen, 2016): “the authorities and urban planners are not interested in the renovation of alley neighborhoods […] which are considered as an ‘empty space’ in urban planning.”7

20In some cases, alleyways were partially or completely demolished (Son, 2010) to accommodate urban projects associated with the neo-liberal economic reforms in Vietnam (Schwenkel and Leshkowich, 2012). However, due to the resistance of the inhabitants (inadequate land compensation value, unwillingness to lose familiar habitat, etc.), the population relocation and replanning of the alley was always a big obstacle for the urban projects. This situation made suspended projects so common, contributed to the persistence of the alleys (Son, 2010).

21The above analysis shows the specific urban form and social structure of the alleys as well as its role in urban policies in Hanoi. These had significantly contributed to the existence of street trade in the alleys that we are going to clarify in the final part of the study.

The alleys as a place of resilience for street vending

22In this part, we will discuss the existence of street vendors in the alley through a case study of informal alley markets of Kham Thien and Van Chuong (Figure 2). The article will analyze the street trade’s commercial use of space, social interactions and survival strategies through the relationships (1) among alley vendors themselves and between (2) street vendors and inhabitants and (3) at last the authorities.

Figure 2. Kham Thien and Van Chuong Alley Market.

Figure 2. Kham Thien and Van Chuong Alley Market.

Source: Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment; edited by PHAM, 2021

Street trade and the relationship between different types of vendors in the alley

23As shown in the previous section, the alley’s structure is divided into three levels: Main Alley (Ngõ), Secondary Alley (Ngách) and Tertiary Alley (Hẻm). The density of trading practices varies according to the level of the alley where it takes place. The commercial activities in the main alley are the most animated (Figure 3) compared to those in other-level alleys where commercial activities are sparse (in secondary alleys) or there is no business (usually in tertiary alleys).

24These alley markets are formed under the aegis of two main sellers:

  • Compartment shop vendors: they are vendors of the shops located on the ground floor of the compartment. These shops are mainly grocery stores, pharmacies, small fashion shops, small restaurants, small services, etc. Many stores extend their commercial space to the sidewalk or the alleyway, creating hybridization between compartment shop and street trade (Figure 3-image in the left).

  • Street vendors: they are either people coming from the outskirt of Hanoi (for the majority) or local alley dwellers. These vendors mainly sell fresh food such as meat, vegetables, fruits, etc. They are divided into two categories: fixed and mobile ones. Fixed vendors set up their stalls at a location on the alley sidewalk or alleyway (Figure 3-image in the left). Many of them place stalls on the compartment doorsteps, creating a form of commerce that mixes the street trade (with transactions taking place in a public space – sidewalk/alleyway) and the compartment shop (with the stalls in private space). Regarding mobile vendors, they move continuously and stop temporarily at a few locations in the alley (Figure 3-image in the right). The number of mobile vendors varies depending on the time of the day. For instance, in the early morning or late afternoon, when people go to the market to go shopping, itinerant traders are very present in the alleys. Specifically, street vendors can be both fixed and mobile. They stay in one place in the alley but sometimes, they may become mobile traders, in the alleys or elsewhere, when they need to expand their sales space and find more customers to sell the rest of the day.

Figure 3. Vendors in Kham Thien alley market.

Figure 3. Vendors in Kham Thien alley market.

The meat and vegetable stand in front of a household goods store in a compartment (left) and a mobile street vendor selling fruit (right).

Source: PHAM, 2020

25The compartment shop vendors who own or rent the real estate, regardless of whether they have an official business license or not, are more powerful than the street vendors in the alley. Many shop owners “privatize” and occupy the sidewalk, the alleyway in front of their shop, allowing them to extend their commercial space. Usually, that privatized public space is leased to fixed street vendors. This combination created a complementarity of two commercial forms (compartment shop and street trade). For example, according to our observations, some grocery stores often lease the space in front of the shop to street vendors selling fresh food (vegetables, fruits, meat) in order to create a product diversity and complementarity (Figure 3). In addition, this has led to a close social relationship between them through the fact that fixed sellers look after the shop when the shop owners are away. On the other hand, fixed street vendors can store their things in compartment shops at the end of the working day.

26This immobilization gives fixed street traders a higher status than mobile street vendors who are considered as “walking visitors.” Indeed, itinerant vendors are sometimes scolded for obstructing sedentary sales. They often choose to step back and move away immediately or temporarily stand at available places with no rental fee. This is because, in mobile street vendors’ mind, humility is better for their business. On the other hand, mobile street vendors’ yield act is originated from their inferiority complex due to their poverty, low education level or differences in lifestyle (Thu, 2013). Street trade seen through the relationships between alley traders shows an organization among different types of vendors. This contributes to reducing the conflict between them and to maintain the stability of street trade in the alleys of Hanoi.

Street trade in the alley in relationship with the inhabitant consumers

  • 8 Hanoi has more than 5.7 million motorcycles, representing 86% of transport in Hanoi in 2019, acc (...)
  • 9 Vietnamese consumers go to the market very often with an average of 18.86 times/month (Nielsen, (...)

27The informal alley markets, as local commercial activities, satisfy the daily shopping habits of a large part of local people. In particular, these small retails guarantee purchases for urban neighborhoods where official markets are lacking while modern retail has not yet met people’s daily needs for fresh food. The alley market serves both alley inhabitants and people living outside thanks to its convenience and easy access. For alley dwellers, people in the second and third alley levels can easily make their purchases in the main lane. Besides, it is crucially important to remind that the majority of the alley neighborhood are low-income people such as migrant workers or students. Informal markets and affordable street vending have become their favorable commercial places. As an informal activity, street traders do not have to pay tax so the selling price in street markets is lower than that in official markets or supermarkets. Hence, the number of alley market customers remains stable, thanks to the working-class inhabitants of the alley neighborhood. As for people living outside the alleys, the main alleys directly connect to the street, making it easy for their access. With motorbike mobility habits8, consumers can make purchases “on the saddle” in the alley markets as they do not have to park their vehicles like in official markets (Figure 4). This helps customers to save time on shopping, to meet the consumers’ habit of doing shopping every day in a short time (Huong, 2019)9.

Figure 4. Purchases “on the saddle” in Kham Thien alley market.

Figure 4. Purchases “on the saddle” in Kham Thien alley market.

Source: PHAM 2020

  • 10 According to our survey, the rental price of fixed positions on the alley ranges from 20 to 150 (...)

28A very important favorable factor in the viability of alley trade activities is the mutually beneficial cooperation between vendors and alley dwellers. The compartment landlords on both sides of the alleyway earn rent from street vendors while street vendors have good points of sale at a much cheaper price than street compartments’10. At the same time, the landlord guarantees the fixation of the street traders’ place in the context of the non-legalized fixed street trade, similarly to the case we regularly noticed: when appears the police force during the municipal campaigns to evict informal markets, sellers can remove their stalls then put it inside private space of the compartment thanks to the complicity of the household and/or shop owners.

29Not only people living in the main alley, households in the secondary and tertiary alleys also benefit from street trade. In the Van Chuong alley, some available places on the sidewalk (with no compartment on its back) were privatized by residents living in the second or third level alleys. These spots are leased to fixed street vendors at 1,000,000 VND (40 euros) per month (Figure 5). Besides, some households in secondary and tertiary alleys provide storage for street vendors from suburban areas and will keep their belongings after a working day. The rental price for some carrying poles (Figure 3 – image in the right), for example, is about 2 euros per month. Street traders and households create a close and diverse social relationship: they look after the house for the owner, they chat regularly, “making friends” with landlords, especially elderly house owners. In return, households help street vendors in introducing and marketing products to buyers.

Figure 5. Some available places on the sidewalk (with no compartment on its back) were privatized by residents living in the second or third level alleys in the Van Chuong neighborhood.

Figure 5. Some available places on the sidewalk (with no compartment on its back) were privatized by residents living in the second or third level alleys in the Van Chuong neighborhood.

Source: PHAM 2020

30All those have contributed to the sense of community, which is one of the most specific characteristics of the alley neighborhood. Indeed, the alley space is where the social connection is so much visible. The inhabitants help each other in family practices, according to their living conditions, health or age. Local authorities and alleys dwellers allow certain poor people living in the alleys to use this space for sale for free. Besides, these vendors play a role in the functioning of the alley district. They open small grocery stores or small tea bars at the beginning of the main alley, secondary or tertiary alleys. They are considered as the “guardians” of these alleys. Aside from the sale, these “guards” can also be partially in charge of the alley security maintenance such as observing or questioning strangers entering the alley. This organization somehow maintains the characteristics of a community life in the alleys, which refer to old habits in traditional rural villages (Son, 2010).

Street vending in the alley and their relationship with the authorities

31First, we notice that the street vendors show their “soft resistance” to threats from the authorities. Indeed, vendors temporarily shy away from the law enforcement thanks to the very specific structure of the alley. The alleys are made of former small village roads. Thus, today, the alleys are mainly intended for the traffic of small two-wheeler vehicles such as motorcycles and bicycles. This makes the access of law enforcement officials difficult, for they often use small trucks during patrols. In case the police appear, street vendors in the alley can either step back their stalls into the compartment private spaces, or slip into the secondary or tertiary alleys. These very narrow and zigzag alleys could help them to escape the police easily. On the other hand, the network of narrow, winding and complex alleys is also taken as a temporary shelter for street vendors outside the alley, doing business on the sidewalks or streets. They immediately enter in small alleys when law enforcement patrols the street. After the police go away, street traders come back, and everything is back to normal. Not only temporarily hiding themselves from the police, street vendors have other ways to resist the authorities: they bribe the police to “rent” their sales positions as fixed merchants at the Van Chuong alley market. These acts of circumvention give fixed street merchant’s peace of mind during police patrols (they still sell normally at their place without having to run away) and in return, they bring informal economic benefits to a part of the functional forces. And the narrow barely visible alleys are a good place to hide this act of circumvention of the law. We can also wonder if these perennial alley markets benefit from a certain tolerance of the local authorities for informal activities.

  • 11 The realization of the “Year of Public Order and Urban Culture (Municipal People’s Committee of (...)

32As mentioned above, urban activities in the alley in general and commercial activities in particular are often outside the urban planning. These actions are barely visible and hardly affect the desired modern city image of the municipal committee. Therefore, for the authorities, urban practices in the alleys, in which street vending play a part, are not the main object of their annual urban renewal operations11. Hence, the alley ways are considered as “no man’s land” where legal power or police are the least effectively established or claimed (Tonnelat, 2005, cited by Monnet, 2006). The alleys prove to be the ideal place for informal markets and street vendors.

33Besides, the authorities seem to perceive the persistence of street trade and especially its role in the city as it meets the daily needs of city dwellers and, at the same time, creates jobs for a part of the labor force that the state cannot take in charge yet. For all of this, some informal alleyway markets can be considered as “semi-legal” markets with the acceptance of neighborhood authorities. It is the case of Kham Thien alley market: every day, each street vendor must pay a daily ticket issued by the authorities. This daily ticket is very cheap, only 3,000 to 5,000 VND (0.12 to 0.2 euros) for a business. This amount is regarded as a location tax or a waste collection charge. This formalization of the alley market helps the neighborhood authorities to obtain an amount of money from informal alley market activities. However, this shows an inconsistency in authorities’ practices, showing, on the one hand, their tolerant actions and, on the other hand, their strict policy of eliminating and banning informal commercial activities. Also, this indicates the lack of coherence between national, municipal, and neighborhood authorities in regard to street trade. From the street trade’s perspective, by its “soft resistance” to the authorities, its relations to other commercial forms and its economic interests and convenience to customers show its ability to indirectly influence the authorities to claim rights and (working) space.

34The increasing number of informal markets, especially in barely visible alleys; the “soft resistance” of street merchants and the government’s acceptance of some alley markets indicate the “quite encroachment” (Bayat, 2013) of street trade is happening simultaneously as Hanoi’s urban development and modernization. Indeed, these informal commercial practices do not only exist but are expanding their space in the Vietnamese capital. However, the rights to informality (Morange and Spire, 2019) for these trades in Vietnam, similarly to many other developing countries, still remain very limited. As a matter of fact, in a very top-down governance model in Vietnam (Duchère, 2019), street traders in alley markets receive only fragile acceptance or tolerance from the neighborhood authorities while this commerce still faces the still very unfavorable municipal and national urban policies.


35In order to promote commercial and urban modernization, the authorities try to abolish street trade by administrative measures but the issue of consumption needs arising from demographic pressure has not yet been resolved. The fact remains that all those controversial issues weigh on street trade as it needs to, at the same time, responds to the inhabitants’ demand and fight back the authorities’ actions. In this process, the alleys – product of the bottom-up urbanization, with its specific urban and social form –, significantly contribute to the resilience of street trade.

36Street commerce activities in the alley show a flexible transition and a complex hybrid of public and private space, of fixed and moving, of legal and illegal. All create a “blurry and fluid” street trade (Monnet, 2006). Besides, the “mutually beneficial cooperation” between street vendors and inhabitants and between street vendors and authorities in a “law-breaking relationship” (Duchère, 2019) significantly contributes to the vitality of street trade in the alleys. In particular, this relationship shows a form of organization, not only within sellers, but also between them, inhabitants and the authorities. This reality demonstrates that street trade is not an “unstructured and chaotic” informal activity as it is sometimes described (Steiler, 2018).

37The alleys are still occupying most of the urban space from the center to the periphery. In the urbanization process of Hanoi, alleys are continuing to form from urbanized peripheral villages. Besides, migration flows to the city create a source of labor force for informal jobs including street trading. With what has been analyzed, the alley would continue to protect street trade, especially when traditional markets were banned or restricted from new construction in the intramural city (Decision no. 5058/QD-UBND, 2012 of HMPC) while the modern trade form (supermarket) has not met yet the needs of fresh food of urban residents.

Haut de page


BAYAT A. (2013), Life as Politics. How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, Second Edition, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 392 p.

CENTRAL POPULATION AND HOUSING CENSUS STEERING COMMITTEE (2019), The 2019 Vietnam population and housing census: Major findings, Statistical Publishing House, Vietnam, 45 p.

CLING J.-P., LAGREE S, RAZAFINDRAKOTO M. & Roubaud F. (2012), L’économie informelle dans les pays en développement (The informal economy in developing countries), Agence Française de Développement, 363 p.

CUONG P.-H. (2001), Chuyển đổi cấu trúc vùng ven đô thị lớn Đồng bằng sông Hồng thành đơn vị ở trong quá trình đô thị hoá (The transformation of urban peri-urban structure in the Red River Delta into a residential unit in the urbanization process), PhD thesis, Hanoi, National University of Civil Engineering.

DUC T.-T.-M. & THAI B.-T.-H. (2010), “Vấn đề người bán rong trên các đường phố Hà Nội” (Questions of itinerant vendors on the streets Hanoi), International conference: Sustainable development of Hanoi capital – civilized and heroic City for peace, Hanoi.

DUCHERE Y. (2019), Hà Nội et sa région : une géographie du compromis en régime autoritaire, Paris, Les Indes Savantes, 238 p.

EIDSE N., TURNER S. & OSWIN N. (2016), “Contesting Street Spaces in a Socialist City: Itinerant Vending-Scapes and the Everyday Politics of Mobility in Hanoi, Vietnam”, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 106, 2, pp. 340-349, DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2015.1117936

FANCHETTE S. (2016), Hà Nội, a Metropolis in the Making: The Breakdown in Urban Integration of Villages, Paris, Édition IRD, 196 p.

GIBERT-FLUTRE M. & Imai H. (2020), Asian Alleyways. An Urban Vernacular in Times of Globalization, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 228 p.

GIBERT-FLUTRE M. & SON P.-T. (2016), Understanding the Vietnamese urban fabric from the inside: a view from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City alleyway neighbourhoods, International Institute for Asian Studies,

GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM (2007), Decree on independent and permanent commercial activities without business registration, Decree no. 39/2007/ND-CP.

GSOV & UNFPA (2020), “Migration and urbanization in Vietnam: Situation, tendency and differences”, 2019 Population and Housing Census, Financial publisher.

HANOI MUNICIPAL PEOPLE’S COMMITTEE (2017), Hanoi portal,;jsessionid=HTHl12Xe9OBdRNNJTviyUWIy.undefined

HUONG H.-T. (2019), Chợ truyền thống trong quá trình đô thị hóa ở Hà Nội (The traditional market in the urbanization of Hanoi), Phd thesis, Hanoi, Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences.

KHUE T.-T (2011), Les marchés informels dans le développement urbain de Hanoï (Informal markets in the urban development of Hanoi), French-speaking post-master’s thesis, Hanoi, University of Architecture of Hanoi, Ecole supérieure nationale d’architecture de Toulouse, 360 p.

MINH N.-T. (2017), Le commerce ambulant : une économie populaire – le cas de la capitale Hanoi au Vietnam, PhD thesis, Paris, Sorbonne Paris Cité University, 360 p.

MONNET J. (2006), « Le commerce de rue, ambulant ou informel et ses rapports avec la métropolisation : une ébauche de modélisation », Autrepart, 3, 39, pp. 93-109,

MORANGE M. & SPIRE A. (2019), “Le droit à la ville aux Suds. Appropriations et déclinaisons africaines”, Cybergeo,

MORANGE M. & SCHMOLL C. (2016), Les outils qualitatifs en géographie. Méthodes et applications, Malakoff, Armand Colin, 224 p.

MOUSTIER P., LOC N.-T.-T., SON H.-T. & AN B.-A. (2007), “Promotion of Public-Private Dialogue to Maintain Poor-friendly Fruit and Vegetable Street Vending in Hanoi,” Acta Horticulturae, 794, pp. 239-247.

NIELSEN (2018), Modern format stores capturing Vietnamese shopper trips, Research report.

PHAM S.-D. & DUGOT P. (2020), « La modernisation commerciale à Hanoi. Entre émergence mondialisée et réalités vernaculaires », Urbanité,

QUYEN L. (2016), “Hẻm đô thị và mảng trắng quy hoạch” (Urban alleys and planning gaps), Người Đô Thị, August 4,

RACAUD S. (2018), “Street Vending Facing Urban Policies. Who owns the streets? Uses, appropriation and mobilization for (commercial) streets”, Articulo - Journal of Urban Research, 17-18,

SCHWENKEL C. & LESHKOWICH A.-M. (2012), “How is neoliberalism good to think Vietnam?”, Positions Asia Critique, 20, 2, pp. 379-401.

SON P.-T. (2010), Morphologie urbaine, dispositifs techniques et pratiques sociales : cas des quartiers de ruelles hanoïens, PhD thesis, Lyon. Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, 347 p.

STEILER I. (2018), “What’s in a Word? The Conceptual Politics of ‘Informal’ Street Trade in Dar es Salaam”, Articulo, 17-18,

TAM N.-M. (2015), Phát triển thương mại Hà Nội theo hướng văn minh hiện đại đến năm 2020, tầm nhìn 2030 (The commercial development of Hanoi in the direction of civilization and modernization to 2020, with a vision to 2030), PhD thesis in economics, Hanoi, Trade Research Institute.

THAO N. (2019), “Hà Nội trước áp lực tăng dân số” (Hanoi under pressure to increase population), L’économie urbaine, October 9,

THU T.-N.-M. (2013), “Vài nét về nhóm lao động tự do nông thôn – đô thị trong vai trò hỗ trợ kinh tế gia đình” (About the rural – urban liberal workers in the role of supporting the family economy), Journal of sociology, 122, 2, pp. 70-75.

TURNER S., ZUBEREC C. & PHAM T.-T.-H. (2021), “Visualizing frictional encounters: Analyzing and representing street vendor strategies in Vietnam through narrative mapping”, Applied Geography, 131,

VIETNAM MINISTRY OF TRADE - Department of domestic market policies (2006), The strategy for domestic trade development for the period 2010-2015 and development orientation to 2020, Hanoi, Ministry of Trade.

WORLD BANK (2011), Vietnam urbanization review, Technical Assistance Report.

Haut de page


1 A front-street house in a long and narrow form. It is also known as “tube house” in Vietnam.

2 Fresh food in the market implies the meat of animals slaughtered (1) on the spot in the presence of customers or (2) in the slaughterhouse at night and delivered to the market early in the morning. It guarantees the taste, the texture and above all, the freshness of the meat. Refrigerating food, as it is in the supermarket, lost its highly appreciated freshness.

3 According to the Government’s Decree no. 39/2007/ND-CP on independent and permanent commercial activities without business registration.

4 Reforms since Doi Moi allowed people to migrate freely. This has caused a very rapid increase in the number of migrants to major cities in Vietnam and, at the same time, posed social and infrastructural challenges for these cities.

5 Promulgating regulations for the street vendor management in Hanoi City, Decision no. 02/2008/QD-UBND and Decision no. 46/2009/QD-UBND, 2008 and 2009.

Strengthening the liquidation of informal market, Decision no. 1885/UBND-CT, 2015.

6 According to our field research from 2017 to 2020, the studied markets had more than 20 stalls of fresh food products, daily groceries. In addition, we observed the temporary appearance of a significant number of itinerant traders in these markets.

7 See interview:

8 Hanoi has more than 5.7 million motorcycles, representing 86% of transport in Hanoi in 2019, according to the Hanoi Traffic Police.

9 Vietnamese consumers go to the market very often with an average of 18.86 times/month (Nielsen, 2018). According to Huong (2019), out of nearly 500 Hanoi respondents, 42% go to the market in less than 30 minutes/time, 53% go to the market in 30 to 60 minutes/time.

10 According to our survey, the rental price of fixed positions on the alley ranges from 20 to 150 euros/month, depending on its location and surface. Meanwhile, city-center houses are always seen as a great value real estate due to its limited offers and the competition between brands to be able to rent it.

11 The realization of the “Year of Public Order and Urban Culture (Municipal People’s Committee of Hanoi) Directive no. 01/CT-UBND, 2014.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Structural diagram of the alley network in an alley neighborhood of Hanoi.
Crédits Realization: PHAM 2021
Fichier image/png, 49k
Titre Figure 2. Kham Thien and Van Chuong Alley Market.
Crédits Source: Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment; edited by PHAM, 2021
Fichier image/jpeg, 464k
Titre Figure 3. Vendors in Kham Thien alley market.
Légende The meat and vegetable stand in front of a household goods store in a compartment (left) and a mobile street vendor selling fruit (right).
Crédits Source: PHAM, 2020
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Titre Figure 4. Purchases “on the saddle” in Kham Thien alley market.
Crédits Source: PHAM 2020
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Figure 5. Some available places on the sidewalk (with no compartment on its back) were privatized by residents living in the second or third level alleys in the Van Chuong neighborhood.
Crédits Source: PHAM 2020
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Si Dung Pham, « Street vending and its resilience in the alleys of Hanoi (Vietnam) »Belgeo [En ligne], 3 | 2024, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2024, consulté le 25 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Si Dung Pham

Doctor, Hanoi University of Civil Engineering, Hanoi, Vietnam
ORCID 0009-0000-9666-2276

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search