I was born in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and I had one year of living in Nagasaki as a foreign student. My biological clock ticks after sunset, so night-time is the best time for me to enjoy the beauty of the city I live in. I believe that when darkness covers everything, that is the time the city shows its vitality, or its true beauty. I love nightlife in both Hanoi and Nagasaki; they share the same sparkling modern city lights, but the atmospheres are totally different.
The first time I set foot on Nagasaki, I discovered something similar to Hanoi. It must have been the weather – mild, and quite humid. Nagasaki is located in the south of Japan, and I found the weather comfortable for me. It’s about 35oC in the summer and -2oC in the winter (Hanoi is 42oC at its hottest and 5oC at its coldest). Sometimes it is hard for me to sleep on humid nights, just like in Hanoi. City lights are sparkling, and both Nagasaki and Hanoi have several attractions for tourists – they are such exploratory cities. However, the similarities are just on the surface. The more I discover about Nagasaki, the more I realize how much it is different from Hanoi.
The differences are from the atmosphere, or the way people live in each city. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, the center of economy and politics of the country, so it is bustling and quite stifling. Because of its history of agriculture, people tend to wake up very early in the morning to go to work and reserve the night for entertainments. After the sun goes down, the city lights go up, and that is the time you can see how Hanoians truly live. Every day at 6pm, a sea of people overflows into the streets, causing traffic jams that last for hours. The public transportation system is so inconvenient that almost all people use personal transportation like motorbikes and cars. The streets show how dense Hanoi’s population is. After rush hour, the area around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is well-known by the Hanoi downtown, becomes the most bustling night-time destination in Hanoi. That lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city, which has many historical attractions like The Red Bridge, Jade Island or Ngoc Son Temple…The Turtle Tower standing on a small island, shining bright like a pearl on the center of the lake. The view is very beautiful, everything is sparkling with effulgent colorful light at night. It always made me stop to gaze it for a whenever I passed by.
At the weekend, the whole place becomes a pedestrian zone, so people can walk freely on the road and watch street artists perform their talent. Nearby that is the Old Quarter, where both tourists and local people can enjoy Hanoi foods with diversified and delicious things at cheap price, like “bún chả”, “chè” or “phở”. Drinking and hanging-out there, in Ta Hien street for instance, has became a culture of young people in Hanoi. The foods of the Old Quarter are so attractive that President Obama and Chef Anthony Bourdain could not resist; so it would be a mistake if a tourist visited Hanoi without enjoying foods there. The bustling atmosphere is usually active until midnight or later. In brief, Hanoi is a lively city that goes to sleep only very late at night and still wakes up early in the morning; in other words, a thousand-year-old-city with young and modern lifestyle!
By contrast, Nagasaki is the most peaceful city I have ever experienced. It has a convenient public transportation system including buses, trains and streetcars, so tourists have many choices to discover the city. The population is very sparse, and I have never seen people uncomfortably crowded here even during rush hour. Nagasaki people tend to wake up later and go to sleep earlier than people in Hanoi. For instance, business hours are about 9am to 9pm, compared to Hanoi’s 7am to 11pm. There are several attractions in Nagasaki like Glover Garden, Museum of Modern Art, Dejima, Penguin Aquarium, Hous Ten Bosch. But they all seem to close at 6pm. The most interesting place still open after sunset is Inasa Mountain – one of three best night views in the world. From there, I can see all of Nagasaki’s mountains, sea and city lights. The view is so breathtaking that it always takes me hours to photograph it.
Mount Inasa in Nagasaki was called “million dollar nightview” (source: Google)
Moreover, taking a walk at night, tourists can drop by a Japanese restaurant to enjoy Nagasaki specialities such as Champon, Okonomiyaki or Castella cake. Another option is Hakanomachi the Chinese Town where people can enjoy Chinese food or go shopping in a popular pedestrian mall. It’s very interesting to explore Nagasaki at night, but the only thing that most of tourists might not like is all the stores close too early. After 9pm, there is mostly nothing to do anymore, unlike Hanoi where 9pm is just the beginning of the evening. Generally speaking, Nagasaki is a peaceful and beautiful city with a plenty of cute little things; it seems to be hard to call Nagasaki an entertaining city, but it might be the best place for tourists to relax their mind.
Hanoi is always noisy, and it shows off everything it has for both tourists and local people. I was born in Hanoi, so I am used to the bustling activity of big cities. The first time I set foot on Nagasaki, I thought that I was going to have one year of boredom because I had never been interested in somewhere too quiet like here before. But now I realized I was wrong. Nagasaki is the kind of city that, the more you explore it, the more you see its hidden charm. Aside from various attractions for tourists, the peacefulness of Nagasaki must be the thing I will miss when I go back to Hanoi next year. Hanoi and Nagasaki, they both possess beautiful nightlife, but in very different ways.