Upside Down, Rightside Up

Some days, I really feel the fact that Vietnam is on the opposite side of the planet from where I grew up.

A lot seems opposite here. I say what I believe is a simple Yes or No question, get a Yes or a No, then act accordingly, then get a disapproving look. Well, don’t say yes if you don’t mean yes!

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I still love Hanoi. I love the coffeeshops. I love the Old Quarter. I love the quiet that descends after a long day of loud traffic. I love that there is so much life crammed into the space here. I love the fact that there are still so many parts of the city that surprise me. We rode around the West Lake the other day and went under the great bridge that first brought us to the city one year ago.

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For example, a couple weeks ago we went to a part of Hanoi that felt more like Seoul or Hong Kong. High, modern buildings. Fast, mostly car traffic. Fancy places. Baby stores that carried the very best products. It was like stepping into a different city (or country) entirely. We went to a rooftop bar with a swimming pool on the 26th floor, and bought $1 bottles of beer and observed a wedding photoshoot. The song I associate with the first night we spent in China by the XX came on, and we looked out over the incredible human hives that are constantly being built in Hanoi. Royal City is the big, bright thing in the distance there.

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I know that I am constantly, just by existing here, confusing and befuddling and frustrating people. I am from a place almost as far away as it is possible to be. Of course everything I say and do is completely different from what is considered acceptable here. I am huge and blonde and a bit loud. I’m going to stick out.

But then, there is the happiest part of my days here. Finding the new street of guild members, from a happy little accident that left me bruised but brought me to the Teapot Street of Hanoi (heaven!) to the pleasant confusion of finding a restaurant with no walls and a waterfall indoors (outdoors?).

The next adventure is approaching, this particular time in Hanoi is coming to a close. It’s a great life here, and I hope to come back.

Then, there might be a new place I want to live in Vietnam….

Shots Around Hanoi: A Few Weeks

Got behind. Things have been rough lately. Yesterday I learned what thoughts go through my mind when I fall off my bike in rush hour traffic, for instance (“Well, I broke my ankle” was one, even though I didn’t. “Damn, a bus will probably hit me” was another, which also didn’t happen).

Here’s some of the great stuff we’ve seen in Hanoi this month. More coming soon.

I think this group of photos really captures how varied Hanoi really is. There is an endless variety of cityscapes here, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface after nearly seven months living here. Nothing better than getting some cheap bikes and riding around the West Lake.

I’m constantly amazed here. Then sweaty. Then utterly frustrated (with classes).

Getting better at lightroom work. Give me your critiques in the comments!

Bia Hoi Pub Crawl: Authentic Hanoi for Under a Fiver

Is this the cheapest pub crawl in the world? Maybe. Is it a great way to see ‘real’ Hanoi and be ‘authentic’ in the city? Definitely.

We woke up on Saturday, our first weekend day back from the Colorado holiday we took over Tet. Russ said, “Do you think the Bia Hois are all on Google?”

We decided that they are, and then we decided to try a Bia Hoi Pub crawl.

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First, some history. Bia Hoi is a very light, fresh lager-style beer that is made in Vietnam. The name of the drink is synonymous with the name of the place that one can drink it. A “Bia Hoi” is a small or large place that serves the fresh beer and some type of food to have with it. Most places are indoor/outdoor, local, and have tiny plastic chairs to sit on.

Bia Hois are the local pubs of Hanoi. It’s a great place to hang out and watch the world go by, and the beer is around 3% ABV. Keep this in mind as you count up how many glasses we had (!). Don’t worry, you can walk between them and sample the local beer all over Hanoi without stumbling around.

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Believe it or not, this was before all the beer!

We detailed our tour, with directions so that you can go for yourself! All the photography is black and white because, well, Hanoi in February is very Noir.

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Please note that the brown part is our route on the UBER home! Redacted for our privacy.

If you want to do this on your own, first walk down to the bottom of Thong Nhat Park (Lenin Park) below Hoan Kiem Lake (assuming that you are a foreign tourist who is staying in the Old Quarter). This is a 4.5 km walking tour. 

The first local pub you’ll want to find is Bia Hơi Hiền Bảo Khánh near that park. This is our local Bia Hoi and where we started.

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If you are two people, you’ll want to master saying, “Hai bia hoi!” so that you can order two glasses of the stuff. Handy Guide:

Three bia hoi = ba bia hoi
Four bia hoi = bốn bia hoi
One million bia hoi = triệu bia hoi

It’s frothy, light, and cold. The traditional glasses are the standard.

This Bia Hoi is a great place to watch the traffic on the big road, Dai Co Viet. At rush hour it can be pretty insane. Once you’ve had your fill, you can either follow the road to the next place or walk through Lenin Park (you’ll need to pay a ticket price for the park, 4.000 VND per foreign person).

Price: 36.000 VND for 4 glasses of beer ($1.58)

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Next up, we’ve got the beautiful views of a lake and train tracks from Bia Hoi 302.

This is a nice lake to walk around, in a neighbourhood without many tourists. It’s a great place to see people walking their dogs and to use their nice bathroom. It’s nice by Bia Hoi standards, with toilet paper and a dedicated female toilet!

If you stay for a bit, you’ll be able to see a train going on the tracks near the lake. This is a great Bia Hoi for watching the trains and traffic.

Price: 41.000 VND for 4 glasses of beer and two packets of nuts ($1.80)

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Now you’ll turn north and walk toward the Old Quarter, but stay on the side of the tracks where Bia Hoi 302 is found. You can walk straight up the tracks, through a local neighbourhood. This is a district where there are many furniture artisans, and you can lose yourself in the alleyways. It looks a little dodgy to the untrained eye, but it’s safe.

If you follow the tracks, you’ll eventually start running into more and more people who are posing for Instagram selfies on the tracks. This is how you know you’re near Ga Hanoi (the Railway Station).

Find your way to a major intersection just south of the station and you’ll be at the third stop, Quán Bia Hơi Cường Nga.

This is a really busy Bia Hoi. We arrived right around rush hour, and sitting right near the traffic made me physically dizzy! They speak English and are very used to tourists.

Price: 60.000 VND for 6 glasses of beer ($2.63) 

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Once you cross the traffic safely, you can walk across to the next Bia Hoi we stopped at, Thien Nga Restaurant. It’s at the top of Lenin Park. This is the only Bia Hoi in our pub crawl that doesn’t serve Bia Hoi Hanoi (they serve Viet Ha).

Don’t miss the beautiful old tree out front. They offer fruits and incense to it daily.

Price: 42.000 VND for 4 glasses and two packets of nuts ($1.84)

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Now you’re up in the centre of town. You’ll see a lot more tourists and it’s going to be a lot busier.

Walk along and find the massive, sprawling Bia Hoi called Thu Hang beer on the corner. This is my favourite of the day, because it is so clean and lively. One of the great things about the Bia Hoi in Hanoi is that when you walk in, it can feel like a German Drinking Hall during Oktoberfest or even an ancient tavern. I love the energy of the places.

Since you will definitely need to wee at this point, know that they have a great toilet. It’s Asian-style (thank god) and they keep it clean. It’s a tiny bit more fancy than the other ones that we visited, and had a beautiful peach blossom tree for Tet.

Price: 45.000 VND for 4 glasses of beer and two packets of nuts ($1.98) 

We were HUNGRY at this point. We walked into a new place, which turned out to be awwwwwwwsome. Bít Tết Ngọc Hiếu is a Hue-style sizzling Banh My restaurant. Just go. It’s amazing.

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Re-fueled, we finally walked to the last destination on our pub crawl. There are several beer places in the same neighbourhood, including one of our favourites the Hoa Vien Czech beer hall. This time, though, we went to the Bia Hoi. The best part of the night was the guy who works there, who was supremely friendly.

Price: 40.000 VND for 4 glasses ($1.76)

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Watching someone pull out of a parking spot directly toward us like…

From here, you can easily walk back to the Old Quarter. You could also hail an Uber.

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$12 for two people, $6 for one including 13 glasses of Bia Hoi (£9 total, £4.50) 

There are guided Hanoi pub crawls that you could pay for, but they are around $9-12 per person and don’t include drinks! Why pay for that if you have the chance to go to the Bia Hoi? We spent about six hours on our pub crawl, but we are definitely on Hanoi Time. You could walk this in 2.5 hours if you pushed the pace and only had one beer at each place.

This is a great walking tour of some areas that you won’t necessarily see in Hanoi if you just keep to the guidebooks. Grab some friends or find them at the Bia Hoi. People will be friendly and you’ll be living like the locals.

If you want a real Hanoi experience, try a Bia Hoi pubcrawl.

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A Bladerunner-Inspired Pop of Colour for you!

 

Shots Around Hanoi: Three

Like I said in the transition between 2015 and 2016 in Shanghai, the past is now another country. And 2017 is in that past.

….I was more eloquent in the past.

Hanoi continues to offer great things to photograph. I continue to be SHIT at street photography, which makes it difficult in a metropolis such as this. I continue to sacrifice my last two remaining brain cells on the pyre of SERIOUSLY-COULD-YOU-JUST-FUCKING-SPELL-CAT-PLEASE in class daily, draining me of life-essence and leaving me unable to be creative much of the time.

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I started making a shawl.  It’s kinda chilly now. 12C, the standard summer temperature in Iceland last summer.

Here are the shots.

FYI, I did go stand on a live railroad track on Sunday afternoon. As you can see from the photos, that’s what all serious photographers in Hanoi (apparently) do. It must not be but so dangerous. I mean, the bridge is only 120 years old!