When I arrived in Hanoi, I was more than a little taken aback. I am a total city boy at heart, born and raised in London, and it’s not often that a city makes me feel unsettled but that’s what happened when I arrived in the Vietnamese capital. The place is crammed full of people and motorbikes that are sprawled across some very narrow streets. I think Hanoi may have been a shock in part because I had just arrived from almost two months in Laos, where the city culture is very different – practically non-existent in fact. In places like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, I got really used to restaurants with only a couple of people in them and no traffic on the streets. Hanoi is the total opposite.
A pavement scene in Hanoi.
Fortunately, after a day or so in Hanoi, my city instinct kicked in and I really started to like the place. As with any city, Hanoi is a great place to explore in the evening – that is when there are most people on the streets and when the city has the most to offer its visitors. If you really want to kick it with the locals, you can do nothing better than sit on the pavement with hordes of people from Hanoi as they drink 10,000 dong (20p) beers and snack on street food. The pavement culture in Hanoi is probably its #1 attraction, and it presents a real point of difference from other Asian cities, so do get stuck in and drink that cheap and fresh Bia Hoi. If you’re visiting in the summer like me, you’ll be grateful for the cool refreshment.
More pavement joy in Hanoi.
Hanoi knows how to do beer, that’s for sure, but its people also have a deep passion for coffee. At home, I would only ever drink a cup of coffee in the morning with breakfast, but in Hanoi they drink it all day long, and it’s very common to see people meeting up at night just for a cup of coffee. Again, there are a tonne of places where you can drink a coffee on the street (by the sword lake is a nice spot) but I was taken by a local to café called Cong Caphe and without exaggeration, I had the best coffee of my life in this place. I ordered a ‘coconut coffee’ not really knowing what I would get, and I ended up with a coffee meets ice cream drink, which just tasted bloody amazing. I’m not even a coffee fan, and I was ready to French kiss the owner out of gratitude.
Cutest menu ever.
Coffee that dreams are made of.
After my little caffeine hit, I decided to take a walk around the Old Quarter, and it was such a pleasure to see groups of friends dotted around the city playing music. They would attract audiences of both locals and tourists and were all very accomplished performers. I was particularly fond of this group who I found perched outside the steps of a bank.
And of course, my post about night-time Hanoi would not be complete without a little shout out to the homosexuals. The first thing I do when I reach a new city is investigate the local gay bars, and the second thing I do is visit them. For a city of its size and with its population, Hanoi has a spectacularly underdeveloped gay scene, with just one gay bar in the whole city. Though there is just one bar flying the homo flag in Hanoi, I really enjoyed my night at GC Bar, and would absolutely recommend the place to anybody wanting to explore a bit of gayness while in Vietnam. I arrived at around 9pm on a Saturday night and there were probably about 10 other people in the bar, and by 10.30 the place was absolutely heaving with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists who were enjoying cheap beers and dancing around the pool table to pop music. In Hanoi, everything shuts pretty early, so we were all done by midnight, but get friendly with some locals and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of an after-party.
Not only the worst photo ever taken of GC Bar, not only the worst photo ever taken of a bar, but the worst photo ever taken.
Have you been to Hanoi? What was your favourite night time activity (keep it clean!)?