Me and Abi cross the Long Bien Bridge whenever we go to work. More on that here. Long Bien Bridge sits on top of Hanoi’s Red River, connecting Long Bien – a pretty affluent area – to the heart of Hanoi.
It also sits over Bãi Giữa (translated to Middle Island). Expats here refer to it as Banana Island, for obvious reasons. Bananas everywhere. Probably enough for the whole city. A quick Google search of Banana Island throws up little results, and it remains unexplored to the masses. However, whenever we drove over it, it seemed intriguing to us.
After some snooping on Facebook, we found an easy way to get there, surprisingly close to where we live. It was a sunny day for the first time in a couple of weeks, so we packed our sunglasses and set off for Banana Island.
Within five minutes, the road we had to follow had slowly turned into a dirt path, and things got noticeably more poverty stricken. We were greeted by four kids and their mother who were obsessed with our camera. We spent a good five or ten minutes taking their photos, met by their hysterical laughter. Their mum seemed really grateful for this at the time.
We want to print the photos and somehow get these over to them. Maybe if we go to Banana Island again.
We said our goodbyes, and got back on the dirt path, which then turned into a very rickety bridge.
After seeing another couple drive over it, we made our way across. I think from that point, we were officially on Banana Island.
One thing that every Hanoi expat agrees on, is that Hanoi is an assault on the senses. The bad smells, the amazing tastes, the fascinating sights. But the sense that dominates the most for me is the noise. There is never a quiet day in Hanoi, with the roaring of motorbikes and the constant beeping of horns. The noise pollution is insane. Yet there we were, a ten minute drive away from our house, and we could hear absolutely nothing. Silence.
At one point we stopped to take a picture of one farmers garden. He told us to wait for a moment so we can take his picture. He came back holding a hoe and posed with it for us. Lovely bloke.
As we continued, we found ourselves reaching the end of the island. We found a bunch of shanty style boats sitting on the Red River. The people living in these houses originally came from the provinces, meaning they weren’t allowed to register for a permanent address in Hanoi. They ended up building their own community here on Banana Island. Apparently they are policed by the authorities, but they let them live there for now. I’ve heard that their kids are put through schools by charities/NGO’s of some sort.
Aside from a few angry dogs, everyone was really welcoming and happy to see us. A hearty “HELLO” whenever we drove past. At one point we found another little community which had a really cool pink temple beside it.
Little did we realise that we were next to a community of nudist men that meet up, exercise, and go swimming in the Red River together. We didn’t really see any nudists, but our friend went there next day, and they were playing badminton together. Why the hell not ay?
The fresh air, and the silence was amazing, and just what we needed. We couldn’t believe that that was available so close to the centre of Hanoi. Go and explore Banana Island for a couple of hours the next time it’s sunny.