Nov 06 2011
Bia hoi: fresh and cheap and sometimes half decent, sometimes well… just fresh and cheap. Served straight from the metal kegs into distinct bia hoi glasses, it’s an iconic Vietnamese drink.
Most visitors to Hanoi are familiar with International Bia Hoi corner: the junction of Luong Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien and Dinh Liet. When I came to Hanoi in 2009 there was a bia hoi on every corner, charging 3,000 VND a glass. Now there are fewer outlets and the price is 5,000 VND a glass — that’s inflation.
It’s a good spot to while away an hour or so, offering the chance to meet people or just enjoy people-watch. But bia hoi joints elsewhere are also worth trying, both to mix more with the locals, for a slightly different brew and for the food. (Food is an important part of most bia hoi places and should be experienced.)
So, for the good of Travelfish.org readers I took a deep breath and went out in search of a few other bia hoi venues worth a visit if you fancy a change. Note that I’m only covering streetside bia hoi here, not the slightly more upmarket (maybe not the right word) beer hall venues, and have kept to around Old Quarter.
Having said that, I started my research at Bia Hoi Ha Noi at 1 Tran Vu, next to Truc Bach Lake. Despite being a few kilometres outside of Old Quarter it’s worth including for its location by the lake. Unfortunately the beer we had there wasn’t too good – a slightly metallic taste – and the food menu is limited, but it’s comfortable, with plastic chairs rather than stools, and a breezy venue.
From there I headed towards Old Quarter and tried out three different spots: 13 Tran Phu, 2 Duong Thang and 22 Hang Tre (it’s easier to refer to them by address as they often don’t have a name). The difference between them was minimal: all had an inside and outside seating area, charged 7,000 or 8,000 VND per glass, had a good atmosphere, served the same selection of food at similar prices — although the menu at 22 Hang Tre had no prices, so ask first — and had friendly and efficient service. All were fine.
As for the quality of the beer, our preferred option was at 13 Tran Phu, although unfortunately the toilets really let this place down. As a man you may not care so much about the toilets but as a woman it’s a consideration, particularly as drinking bia hoi is not a local female occupation – I didn’t see any other ladies drinking at any of the places we stopped — so we really are not catered for. 13 Tran Phu had no female toilet at all, so I had to wait for it to be empty before I could nip in and lock the door.
On a happier note, the toilets at 22 Hang Tre were the best I’ve seen at a bia hoi – thanks to the fact you have to use the facilities at the restaurant next door. A definite bonus point. Unfortunately the beer wasn’t great but the nuts were our favourites.
You may laugh, but nuts are another important consideration when selecting a bia hoi place. We’re fans of the slightly cinnamon flavoured variety, and they’re available at 22 Hang Tre and 2 Duong Thanh. The nuts at 13 Tran Phu are the strange uncooked monkey nut types, not so great, and 1 Tran Vu served up a rather tasteless variety.
So in summary, there’s no one place I’d say is a must go. Really, differences are minimal and no one place ticked all the boxes. What I would say is to just go and try some other places, perhaps more for the experience than the beer itself.
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Tags: bia hoi