Whether it’s huddled on tiny plastic stools cluttering a footpath, admiring a rooftop view over Hoàn Kiếm Lake, or strutting down a strobe-lit dance floor, Hanoi offers a night life to suit any taste.
Hanoi’s nightly drinking venues are easily divisible into three broad categories: ultra-informal, chic but casual, and top-end decadence.
Any visit to Vietnam is incomplete without trying bia hoi at some point. Bia hoi is home-brewed beer sold from impromptu street-side establishments that vanish during the day.
Image courtesy of Hanoi Weather.
At night, lights are strung up over tree branches and tiny plastic stools and tables sprawl over pavement and onto the roads. Bia hoi is served in plastic pints for 5000 dong, or just 25 cents.
These places are popular among locals and the more daring tourists, who looked around wide-eyed and bewildered.
Every hour, police cruise along the street. Those people sitting on stools in the gutter are made to rise and move to the footpath, but once the police disappear, the gutter sprawl returns.
At my favourite bia hoi, an entrepreneurial landlord rented out his outhouse, accessed by a long, dark alleyway. He siat in the doorway and demanded 2000 dong for the privilege of using his unlit, stinking chamber.
At about 10.30 or 11 PM, the chairs are stacked. The lights are shut down and unstrung, and the road merges back into a normal, darkened street.
Chic but casual
For those looking for something a little higher class, or perhaps simply just higher, Hanoi is replete with rooftop bars – if you’re willing to look for them. So obscurely hidden was my first rooftop bar, I’m afraid I can’t provide an address.
The first bar came as something of a surprise. On the back of my expat friend’s motorcycle, we swung into a ceramic shop, nearly scraping the shop lady on the sharp turn. We revved past her and into a pencil-thin alleyway out the back of her shop, past a window revealing a man napping in his bed, and into someone’s courtyard.
Two loitering locals presented us menus in this garage-type setting and bid us stay standing after we made our orders. Once we’d received our drinks, we spiralled up about six flights of stairs to a tiny rooftop terrace. Beyond was a view of the Hanoi skyline trimming the Hoàn Kiếm Lake. It was a marvellous sight, improved by a low-key crowd.
Another rooftop bar popular with the expatriate crowd in Hanoi is Bar Betta, located near the Fine Arts Museum. On the lower floors, there’s a great retro vibe with mismatching antique furniture, all squishy couches and chintz armchairs, and Hollywood prints of Marilyn Monroe, among other equally classic American actors.
Image courtesy of Nua The Gioi
The rooftop supposedly offers great views of French colonial architecture, though of course at night it is little appreciated. It has a moody setting and can become very packed – and of course, if you’re keen for local interactions you’ll be hard pressed to find any here. But on the plus side, happy hour on the night I was there (a Wednesday) was free beer from 8PM to 9PM. No catch.
If casual isn’t your style, Hanoi offers even the most lavish, upmarket locations to spend a lot of dosh on a night out.
Taboo is one such place. This is a club venue shaped like a ship and set on the shore of the West Lake. The standard here is high so avoid flip-flops, singlet tops, and board shorts if you want any chance of entry.
Image courtesy of asobi.vn.
Blue and green strobe lights blind you on entry and heavy electric beats pulse through the air.
This venue hosts Vietnam’s richest; men in shirts sipping shots from several hundred-dollar bottles of whisky. If you want free drinks of incredibly expensive alcohol, this is where to come – Westerners are welcomed into the local’s embrace with continuous toasts to new friendship (and if you are, like me, averse to drunkenness, I advise you not to finish your glass, as you will find it refilled the moment it is emptied).
Outrageously extroverted Vietnamese girls in skin-tight black dresses attract attention by strutting on a glowing catwalk in the centre of the hull. If you’d rather watched from the sidelines though, the upstairs balcony overlooking the dance floor is a much more low-key.
Hanoi is full of surprises. The examples I’ve given in this post are but a drop in the ocean of night life opportunities – perhaps you’ve encountered similar interesting venues (and if so, please share them in the comments below). But the only way you’re going to experience them yourself is to hit the streets, nose around, and discover it all for yourself. Enjoy!
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