Out with my "beau"

Hanoi offers so much to see and do that it’s easy to think of it as that “special someone”.

By Le Diem on November 15,2019 11:02 AM

Out with my

PHOTOS LE DIEM

A day, rather than meet a new guy, I prefer to have a date with… Hanoi, my hometown. Though we’ve “known” each other for nearly three decades, I always find “him” attractive and have a good time with him because “he”:

Is in good shape

Hanoi usually wakes up early, even before the first rays of sunlight brighten the sky to the east, when health-conscious early-risers head outdoors. Both young and old, they flock to lakes, gardens, or parks for some morning exercise.

Here and there they cycle, jog, play badminton, move their body to the beat of lively music at aerobics classes, or do Tai-chi, yoga or slow moves with sticks, swords, or fans.

It gives Hanoi a fresh and healthy image and it’s fun to join in.

Has coffee that smells good

The aroma of coffee fills the air everywhere in Hanoi. Once described as “deep in the DNA of Vietnamese”, coffee in Hanoi is an example of such a sentiment, with hundreds of cafés and plenty of different types to choose from.

The most popular coffee among Hanoians is brewed in a traditional filter, dripping into a glass for a thick, intense brew that is sipped black or with sweetened condensed milk. Hanoi was recently listed by CNN Travel as being among the top 10 places in the world with the best coffee. It impressed with “ca phe trung”, or egg coffee, which has a creamy, meringue-like egg white foam placed on top of a cup of black coffee. It was created by Café Giang at 91 Nguyen Huu Huan Street in Hoan Kiem district and was served to reporters at the international media center during the second US-North Korea Summit in Hanoi in February.

Moreover, Hanoi stands out for its café culture. We don’t go to a café just to drink coffee. “Going for a coffee” in Vietnamese also means to hang out. So, cafés come in different styles in architecture, décor, and menu and are commonly found down small laneways, bringing a surprising ambience to not only enjoy a coffee but also other drinks as well a good time with friends and family.

As I’m into old things and art, I usually head to vintage-style cafés, such as the Cong Café chain, Xoan Café (5, Laneway 411, Truong Chinh St., Thanh Xuan district), Cuoi Ngo Café (4, 68/78 Cau Giay St., Cau Giay district), and, especially, Nha San Art Café (Laneway 6, Vinh Phuc St., Ba Dinh district) - the only café in a stilt-house of ethnic minority people from the northwestern mountains and which at times holds art exhibitions or has live music.

Cafés by one of Hanoi’s many lakes are also a popular choice, like Café Dinh (13 Dinh Tien Hoang St., Hoan Kiem district), Café Cay Si (10 Pham Huy Thong St., Ba Dinh district), or Colonel Quy’s Star Café (107H Vu Mien St., Tay Ho district).

Is interesting

The Old Quarter has been the center of Hanoi since the capital was established in 1010 and so is the perfect place to get to know more about the city.

Still bearing the original street layout and architecture of ancient Hanoi, the Old Quarter is a great place just to wander around. But it can also be a challenge given it’s set out like a chessboard and all its streets, houses, and shops tend to look quite similar, and even Hanoians have been known to get lost in the “maze”. There are, though, plenty of surprises to be found.

The area is constantly buzzing. At the beginning of the 20th century it consisted of only 36 streets, most of which now form part of the Old Quarter. Each street at that time comprised merchants and households specializing in a particular trade, such as silk or jewelry, etc., which the streets were named after. Many streets no longer specialize in that particular trade but you can still find some that do, such as Hang Bac St. (selling silver products), Hang Thiec St. (tin), or Hang Ma St. (votive paper).

Though it’s quite safe to stroll around, your pocket may take a “hit” if you buy artwork, handicrafts, or other items. Not that there’s any dishonesty going on - but the array of ceramic, silk, brocade, wood, bamboo, and lacquer products, among others, starting from $2 (VND45,000) a piece, might see you buy and spend more than you intended.

Not just a trade area, the Old Quarter is also a dense residential area, featuring numerous old dwellings. Heading down a tiny laneway, with room for just one, is like an exploration into an aboveground tunnel or cave. The daily life of years long gone has been preserved, from small houses shared by two or three generations of one family to public bathrooms and communal spaces shared by several households, which make it distinctly different from other parts of Hanoi.

Museums, galleries, and cultural centers in the area provide more to discover about Hanoi, Vietnam, and the world in general, with exhibitions and other events taking place from time to time. The book street of Nguyen Xi is an interesting place to find the latest works of Vietnamese and international authors, including many original English versions.

Out with my "beau"

Has charm and a peaceful nature

Along with the Old Quarter, West Lake, the largest natural lake in Hanoi and to the northwest of the city center, is another spot I never get bored with.

It’s where Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest in the capital at 1,500 years old, is located. Visiting the pagoda brings not only the serenity of a pagoda but also great views, thanks to its lakeside setting and beautiful architecture.

With a water surface of over 500ha and a shoreline of nearly 18km, West Lake is also ideal for either a walk or a bicycle or motorbike ride, with plenty of fresh air and pretty sights with lots of trees and gardens.

West Lake is the most popular place for many in the capital looking for somewhere to relax and find some peace and quiet by the water, with a cup of coffee in hand under the shade of trees, watching people fishing, birds flying around, and stunning sunsets changing the skyline.

Knows how to cook

When the feet are tired, it’s time for the tummy. Being the country’s center of commerce and culture for centuries, Hanoi is truly a haven of great food, especially street food. A diverse range of dishes are found everywhere and with similar quality and prices. It’s so easy and convenient to satisfy those tummy rumbles for only a dollar or so.

In addition to “pho”, a popular dish of many for either breakfast, lunch or dinner, Hanoi is also bursting with other specialties such as “bun cha” (grilled pork balls and belly slices with noodles in a sugar, vinegar and fish sauce soup), “nem” (spring rolls), “cha ca La Vong” (grilled fish with noodles), “banh mi” (Vietnamese sandwich with different kinds of fillings), “banh cuon” (steamed and rolled rice pancakes), “banh xeo” (Vietnamese pancakes), “bun rieu cua” (noodles with a crab soup), “xoi” (sticky rice), street BBQ, and various kinds of hotpots, among many, many others.

There’s also a wide selection of “fun” food, like “thit xien nuong” (skewers), “nom bo kho” (papaya salad with beef jerky), “oc luoc” (steamed snails), “banh ran” (deep-fried glutinous rice balls with sweet or meat fillings), “nem chua ran” (fried fermented pork sausage), “pho mai que” (fried cheese sticks), and “che” (sweet dessert).

Is fun to be around

Now the tummy is full, the mind also senses a certain hunger. A bunch of lively pubs, bars and clubs is what it needs.

The Old Quarter is also the center of Hanoi’s nightlife and attracts thousands of people every night and especially on weekends, when it turns into a pedestrian zone. Street culture is reflected strongly here, particularly along the streets of Ta Hien, Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ma May, and Hang Buom, as people, both local and foreign, sit on tiny plastic stools right on the street with friends, toast each other with glasses of draft beer, and watch the crowds pass by. Some describe it as an open “fashion catwalk”, where they can catch the city’s “beautiful people” dressed to the nines. The city’s most lively clubs are all around, featuring popular local DJs pumping out electronic music that adds a vibrancy to the old streets.

Over at West Lake, which is known for being home to many Westerners, is also a load of options for a night out. Its nightspots have a Western style and menu and offer more varied drinks as well as music, allowing for either a chill night, live rock, reggae, jazz, or acoustic, or dancing to funk, techno, deep house or Latin rhythms. Docker Natura Pub, Hanoi Rock City, Sidewalk Hanoi Bar, 88 Lounge, The Republic, and The Snug count among the many popular places that complete my fun date out with my “beau”, Hanoi.

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