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Bia Hoi Corner, Hanoi
Bia hoi is fresh brewed beer tapped from barrels. A big glass costs 2000-5000 VND (less than 25 cents) so it is no surprise that Bia hoi is popular throughout Vietnam. It is mostly served at street bars where customers sit on small plastic chairs on the sidewalk. A popular place for Bai hoi in Hanoi is "Bia Hoi Corner" at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen in the Old Quarter. Here travellers rub shoulders with locals while watching the chaotic traffic of scooters, cyclos, street vendors and disorientated tourists wizz by.
Cho Dong Xuan, Hanoi
The Central Market in Hanoi's old quarter is a big industrial building packed with plastic flowers, stuffed animals and polyester fabrics in every colour and pattern. Most stuff are for wholesale and not many tourists venture in here, which just makes it even more interesting for people watching. On the top floors sellers are sitting, eating, even sleeping on top of their goods, while porters heavily loaded with cargo squeeze through the narrow lanes. The market extends into streets around the market building. Out here you will find fruit, vegetable, meat and stuff you wouldn't know what to do with.
Ceramic mosaic wall
Along Yen Phu Road
To mark Hanoi's 1000 years anniversary in 2010 the wall of the Red River dyke was turned into the longest ceramic mosaic in the world (3.85 km). It consists of many parts made by both Vietnamese and international artists, all with their own style and techniques. From the Yen Phu Road it looks really splendid and vibrant, but a closer look will reveal that parts are already crumbling. Despite some complains about the mixed quality and lack of overall theme, the wall is a fresh splash of urban art in the otherwise conservative Hanoi.
Citadel of Thang Long
Entrance from Hoang Dieu, Hanoi
Hanoi is more than a thousand years old and was original called Thang Long (well, actually it goes further back). It was founded in 1010 and was the Imperial City for several dynasties during which it had the honor to be sacked by the Mongols, not just one time but three times. In 1397 the capital was moved, but Thang Long was kept as a region capital, a position it hold for another 490 years before it become capital for French Indochina. In the meantime the name had been changed to Hanoi (in 1831). Then came the Indochina Wars and not until 1975 was Hanoi again capital for a unified Vietnam.
During all that time the Citadel of Thang Long served as some sort of fortress or military headquarter. Up until recently the citadel was off limit, but then UNESCO added it to its list in 2010 and today the citadel has open its gates to the public. The complex contains a range of different buildings, including the imposing South Gate and a newer structure, a reinforced concrete meeting room used by General Giap during the Vietnam War. There is also a North Gate on Phan Dinh Phung St, but you have to walk around the military compound that is still in use today. Come during the weekend and you have a chance to witness Vietnamese wedding photo sessions.
Get a haircut
Anywhere in Hanoi
If you are a guy and want to go local, get a haircut. You can either go to a shop or try one of the barbers in the streets. No matter what hairstyle you request, you will get the same hair cut. Super short at the sides and a bit fluffy on the top. In addition to your new style the few stray hairs on your ears will also get plucked. You can even have your ears cleaned. The hairdresser then mount a headlamp and dick into your ear canals with a long stick. Whatever he catch he will deliberately put it on a napkin on your shoulder, so you see how much he have managed to get out. It can be a very violating feeling to have your ears clean that well.
Hip hop dance
At the Ly Thai To statue, Indira Gandhi Park, Hanoi
Hanoi is a conservative city in a communist country, so when you suddenly see some hip hop dancing on a public square, it catches your attention. The first thing you notice is that the hip hop dancers are pretty darn good. Flip, spin on head, salto, nothing seem too difficult for these guys. Second, their outfit is just what they have. None of them can afford real American street fashion, so they just dance in old track pants and cheap sneakers, no brands here. These are Hanoi's cool kidz.
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum
Ba Dinh square, Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh was not just the founder and leader of the Vietnamese communist party, he is considered the liberator and father of the modern nation of Vietnam. He created the independence movement Viet Minh who victorious fought both the Japanese, then the French, and in the end the South Vietnamese coalition, which included the Americans. Ho Chi Minh past away in 1969 during the Vietnam War, so he never lived to see his nation reunified and independent. Against his wish he got embalmed like the communist fashion dictated at the time, so today the pickled remains of Ho Chi Minh can be enjoyed at his fine mausoleum. Dress nicely, stand in line and behave for it is a serious affair to visit Uncle Ho.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart and soul of old Hanoi. To the north of the lake lies the charming Old Quarter with its web of narrow streets and traditional shops. The west area of the lake is the colonial Hanoi with broad boulevards and French designed mansions. To the east is the posh area, while the south is more common residential and commercial area. The beautiful lake itself is full of history and myth. The story goes that a giant turtle lives in the lake and if you manage to see it, you will get long life and prosperity. The funny part is that the lake does have at least one big turtle (yes, we have seen it) but whether a new one is put out once in a while, we don't know. Hoan Kiem Lake is always a great place to rest those tired feet and take in the atmosphere, whether it is public morning exercise or photo sessions of wedding couples.
Long Bien Bridge
Spans over Red River
The Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi is another of Gustave Eiffel's creations. Its 1682 m length spans over the Red River and was completed in 1903. During the Vietnam War it was repeatedly bombed but was rebuilt every time, leaving it in an alternated design than original. Today it is still used by pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and trains heading to Haiphong. For reasons unknown to us, the traffic on the bridge travels on the left hand side.
Around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
It is an unbelievable sight to see Hanoi wake up. In the early morning when the sun haven't yet rose and the streets are empty for traffic, the people of Hanoi take in the public space for their morning exercise. Elderly ladies still in their pyjamas invade city squares for tai chi lessons, while bare chested men carry their home-made dumbbells down to the side of the road for some serious fitness training. Mid-age women in 80s outfits pump away in old school aerobic formation to loud Vietnamese dance music, while others again just play a game of badminton on the sidewalk in between joggers and power walkers, all in their pyjamases. The public morning exercise in Hanoi has to be experienced - and you can even join in if you want.