Seven Surprising First Impressions of Hanoi – 1

I’d meant for this to be a Buzzfeed-style one-photo, one paragraph sort of thing. But then I realised I had more to write than that.

So over these posts I’ll talk about seven things I’ve found surprising about Hanoi, over the first month or so I’ve spent here.

1. It’s hip

Although the image I had of Hanoi was of men sitting on plastic stools drinking bia hoi and eating pho, along with a few backpacker or expat bars, the truth is more complicated.

There are a lot of people sitting on plastic stools, drinking bia hoi and eating pho or bun cha, and there are also a few expat bars (and plenty of backpacker ones), but there are also lots of places in between these two extremes – two new joints have opened on our road alone since we moved in a month ago! It seems like every block has a Shoreditch style coffee joint, or smoothie bar, or banh mi dispensary.

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These all tend to be locally run, and show the pace of change here. But the difference between these ones and the ones in Shoreditch is that the prices they charge are comparable to those charged elsewhere in the area. It’s not pricing people out, it’s attracting the younger generation of Vietnamese in.

Cong Caphe was perhaps the first of the new wave – it was founded by an American-Vietnamese couple almost 10 years ago – and has since expanded to 16 branches. It serves Vietnamese style coffee, as well as slightly more modern styles with coconut and ice.

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But many of the newer joints are smaller, perhaps showing that the barriers to entry are lower now than they once were. Places like Kopiteh, up between the Old Quarter and Truc Bach, which still has the entrance to its living quarters visible from the bar – much like most of the more traditional shops and restaurants here. Or SmileMee on Phan Bội Châu, open a week, still finding its feet, but with some fantastic homemade pumpkin milk (and staff who speak English).

 – A small coffee shop opposite the cathedral; great iced chocolate milk and decent espresso.

It’s fun to pop into these sorts of places, grab a coffee, and help a small business start up – especially at these prices.

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