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Hanoi: Around the clock

By: Nguy Ha Posted: November-10-2010 in
Funky Buddha bar
Nguy Ha

Sample 24 hours of non-stop entertainment in Hanoi, as we go from the traditional to the modern.

5 am: Exercise
The whole of Hanoi stirs gently as if it is itself waking from a sound sleep. Autumn breezes make the weather cooler, and the scent of milk flowers hangs in the air. It is the best time to breathe in Hanoi’s air at its purest. Many people start the new day with morning exercise. People flock to Hoan Kiem Lake, Thong Nhat Park and Thu Le Zoo to exercise. No one pays attention to others but all of them concentrate on the music from old radios. Old people in white outfits slowly dance with swords and fans, creating an idyllic picture of morning which lacks the usual bustle of Hanoian life.

As the sun creeps higher, vendor photographers pull out banners, and cyclo drivers clean their seats. Exercisers fan out along the streets home. The sound of automobiles and motorbikes ends Hanoi’s quiet morning.

7 am: Pho
It is time to have breakfast. Pho (noodle soup served with beef or chicken) is a Hanoian specialty, though it can be seen many in localities, both at home and abroad. At 49 Bat Dan Street, customers have to queue up to enjoy traditional pho with white rice noodles, fresh beef and savoury broth, sitting on small wooden chairs unchanged in half a century.

A more recent development of the classic dish is chicken Pho, the best of which can be found at Mai Anh Chicken Pho, 32 Le Van Huu Street.

8 am: Coffee
Coffee has been an important part of Hanoian life since the French period. Some of the most famous shops such as Café Giang (Hang Gai Street) and Cafe Nhan (Hang Hanh Street), first opened in the 1930s. In the minds of most Hanoians, small alleys, dark stairs and quiet balconies are ideal places. Pavements under tree shade are also popular spots to watch the world go by. Café Lam (Nguyen Huu Huan Street) is well worth a visit, as it is famous for its original paintings supplied by down-at-heel artists in exchange for their overdue coffee bills.

9 am: Sightseeing
There are many places of interest, including the Temple of Literature (Vietnam’s first university, built in 1070), Tran Quoc Pagoda (one of the country’s most ancient pagodas, built in the sixth century), the Old Quarter, and Hoa Lo Prison.

11 am: Shopping
At Hang Gai and Hang Bong streets, there are a lot of silk and handicraft shops, including Hanoi Moment and Sapa. The shops’ high-quality products, in different colours and designs, lure shoppers with a more discerning eye. The Khai Silk and Ha Pearl shops offer high quality ready-to-wear and tailor-made garments.

12: Lunch
One of the favourite dishes of Hanoians is bun cha (soft noodles and grilled meat). The mouth watering aroma of the charred minced pork patties or short thin pieces of pork grilled on charcoal are hard to resist. A serving of bun cha includes white soft noodles, a bowl of sauce, grilled pork, and herbs. One of the most well-know bun cha shops is located at Hang Manh Street (25,000 - 30,000 VND) but there are many others around town.

2 pm: Tea
Tra da (green or dried tea served with ice) is a common low-cost beverage in Hanoi and elsewhere. It can be found on almost every pavement of Hanoi’s streets at 1,000-2,000 VND a glass. The refreshing, astringent, icy drink smoothly combines tartness with a sweet aftertaste.

4 pm: Young rice and ice-cream
In autumn, Hanoi’s most noteworthy specialty is com (flattened and roasted grains of husked unripe rice), with the best com produced by farmers in Vong Village. The image of a woman carrying a bamboo frame with bamboo baskets of com wrapped in lotus leaves and tied with rice straw is a much loved symbol of Hanoi. Com is green, fragrant and sweet, topped only by the addition of banana.

Ice-cream sold at Trang Tien Street entices many Hanoians, even in the depths of winter. The Trang Tien Ice Cream Company has sold different kinds of ice-cream, including chocolate-, green bean- and taro-flavoured, for half a century.

6 pm: Water puppetry
Mua roi nuoc (water puppetry) was born many centuries ago in the Red River Delta as an alternative way to show their puppetry art during floods, especially following the harvest. Hidden from audiences behind a large screen, puppeteers stand chest-deep in water, skillfully using bamboo rods and pulleys to manipulate the wooden puppets. Their performances in the form of playlets are accompanied by a small orchestra led by a narrator.

Visit Thang Long Puppets Theatre (57B Dinh Tien Hoang), and Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (Nguyen Van Huyen Road).

8 pm: Dinner – The old and the new
The most famous restaurants specialising in pho cuon (a new form of pho) can be found at Ngu Xa Street, near Truc Bach Lake. Beef, vegetables and spices are rolled in a luscious, thick, soft rice noodle wrapping.

An alternative is Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish served with soft noodles and spring onions) at 14 Cha Ca Street. The food was so famous that Paint Street was renamed the Cha Ca Street, and US cable TV channel NBC listed the restaurant as one of 10 places you should see before you die.

Bowls of chillies and peanuts for adding to the mix lie next to large dishes of dill. What makes the dish so unique is the ‘do-it-yourself’ cooking as you wrestle with the spitting turmeric-dyed fish in the table-top charcoal grill.

10 pm: Bar time
Bars usually stay open until midnight, with Funky Buddha at Ta Hien Street offering the best in interior design and contemporary sounds. Other favourites include Dragonfly on Hang Buom Street, the white-washed minimalist Studio on Ma May Street and the tourist friendly Funky Monkey on Hang Thung Street.

2 am: In search of Solace
If you are looking for somewhere to carry on the night, Solace is probably the best option. The bar-cum-disco, situated on a barge on the Red River is almost the last show in town. Often crammed to capacity between 1 to 4 am, the sweat-box of a mini-club is worth paying a visit at least once.

4-5 am: Quang Ba Night Flower Market
The Quang Ba night flower market on Au Co Road which opens from 10 pm until 5 am the next day provides a wonderfully vivid insight into city life. Different kinds of fresh flowers are on sale at amazingly low prices

Read more articles by Nguy Ha


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