Hello! It's hubby Brian. I am guest blogging an entry for Hanoi as Katie was sick the entire time we were there and only left the hotel to get pho ga (chicken soup). Hanoi was equally as crazy, if not more crazy than Ho Chi Minh, but it definitely had more charm. The traffic situation is insane, especially around the Old Quarter where we stayed (and I did not get too far from the Old Quarter myself, due to time constraints and Katie’s illness). The streets in the Old Quarter are rather narrow. And the sidewalks are used entirely for street food seating, and motorbike parking, so one is required to walk in the road, along with all the various motorized and non-motorized traffic. I sat at a bia hoi one afternoon and took several videos of the traffic because it is like nothing you see in the States. Here is a link to one of those videos. There is also a link showing one of the walking full service, sit down restaurants here.
The Old Quarter is largely a market area, and several streets are named for the items that are predominantly sold on that street, so you have “tin street” and “silk street” and “shoe street” etc. Hanoi also has several lakes dotted around the city, giving at least a small sense of nature to the crowded urban streets.
My favorite past time in Hanoi was enjoying beers from the little corner beer shops called bia hoi. Every morning, someone from the shop goes to a larger brewery (the bia hoi I went to got its beer from Bia Hanoi) and fetches the day’s supply. “Unlike canned or bottled beer, bia hoi has no additives or preservatives and is essentially made to be consumed on the day that it leaves the factory. As a result, there is no stocking of bia hoi, and outlets must forecast accordingly. They must purchase just enough to last one full day. Locals will tell you that bia hoi, which typically has an alcohol content of somewhere between 4 and 4 1/2 percent, is best when served early in the day--as close to when it has been made as possible.”
I enjoyed the beer as much as any I have had in Southeast Asia (though I hear Beerlao is quite nice, and I intend to sample that this evening, or even this afternoon. Perhaps Beerlao is also better served earlier in the day?!?), and each glass is about 33 cents. The environment at the bia hoi is very social and communal (and male). I was made to feel welcome at the local bia hoi near my hotel despite my language barrier, and it was a great place to watch the local traffic go by.