SCMP Tuesday, April 17, 2001


The Cool Guide to Hanoi

HUW WATKIN

The cool places to stay: Plenty of room as the expectations which led to the building boom of the early 1990s have yet to be fulfilled. But that hasn't really brought prices down at the top end which includes the Hilton Hanoi Opera and the Metropole. In the mid-price range there's the Sunway and the Meritus Westlake which, as the name hints, offers panoramic views of Hanoi's largest lake. A comfortable bargain is the Huyen Trang, while backpackers can take their pick anywhere in the Old Quarter.
The cool places to go: Take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, stopping for coffee and the art galleries. Trundle around the tree-lined street in a cyclo or stroll through the Old Quarter for a reminder of how Asia used to be. Visit Uncle Ho's mausoleum or take it easy in any of a hundred small bars, bistros or cafes. Hire a bicycle and head out to the city limits where urban turns to rural in a blink.
The cool places to eat: The alfresco Au Lac Cafe has friendly staff and an enormous menu of Western and Vietnamese food. Moca Cafe for Hanoi's trendy set with an equally impressive menu or tapas at La Salsa, a laid-back and inexpensive eatery which specialises in the most delicious marinated mushrooms in Southeast Asia. For up-market - and pricey - Vietnamese food there's the Nam Phuong, or for the same at a local price try any on Mai Hac De Street.
The cool places to shop (and what to buy): Contemporary art at the galleries which surround Hoan Kiem Lake, ceramics at Bat Trang village, silver, opium pipes and ethnic hill-tribe jackets on Trang Tien Street.
The cool places to drink and dance: Polite Pub on Bao Khanh has a nice mix of locals and expatriates and is also popular with travellers. The New Century Nightclub could be anywhere and shows you that the ideological rigidity and conservatism which was once North Vietnam is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. For a less techno beat you should check out Apocalypse Now. But coolest of all are the Bia Hoi stalls, a local institution which spill across the sidewalks each evening serving home-brewed lagers.
The cool places to be seen: The Press Club's Terrace Bar on a Friday night, Bar des Artistes at the Hilton Hanoi Opera, classical concerts at the Opera House, the Jazz Club.
The coolest person in town: Quyen Van Minh. Hanoi isn't noted for visits by international celebrities, but Quyen Van Minh is the local celebrity. He built the Jazz club and plays an array of instruments.
What to be seen wearing: Anything designer which prominently displays the designer's name. Leather and brightly coloured woollen jumpers. Anything "Western".
What was cool five minutes ago (and should be avoided like the plague): Platform shoes, army surplus gear.