5 Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem District
Almost as iconic a Hanoi landmark as Hoan Kiem Lake, though not as picturesque, Ho Guom Plaza, also known as Shark Jaws, looms over the southern edge of Old Quarter and provides no fewer than six different eating and drinking options.
The best place to view its majesty, and get an idea of what’s inside, is from the other side of the ridiculously higgledy-piggledy road junction on which it sits. From here, signs for Legend Beer, Highlands Coffee, Korean Restaurant Mi Han Quoc, and City View Cafe — as well as odd one out, Aldo shoe shop — are easily visible, as is the building’s distinctive shape and array of balconies.
The most positive thing — perhaps the only positive thing — about Ho Guom Plaza is, of course, the views: choose from vistas of Hoan Kiem Lake, the crazy road junction and Old Quarter rooftops.
Unfortunately, getting to those views isn’t the most pleasant experience. The entrance to the upper floors is at 5 Dinh Tien Hoang, next to the entrance to the Tourist Information Centre which is on the ground floor, and is initially up a grotty staircase. You can then take the lift or continue up the stairs the rest of the way.
Legend Beer is on the first floor and, despite the least impressive views of the lot, is the most expensive. Drinks come in at about double what you’d pay elsewhere, so unless you’re a fan of German beer (it’s sold on draft) don’t bother. This could put you off venturing further — it nearly put me off — but don’t despair: the drinks are cheaper higher up.
The second floor is home to chain coffee shop, Highlands Coffee. On the downside, it’s a chain coffee shop, but on the plus side, the prices are the same as at its other branches and are affordable. Also, the inside area is comfortable and the seating outside is well-spaced out and offers a choice of views.
But before you dash on in, check out Hanoi Soul Cafe, on the same floor. It’s not a place to visit if you like your surroundings well designed, but firstly, the drink selection is better than Highlands, with prices not too far off what you’d pay for a place without the views and secondly, the staff member I met today was fantastically friendly and helpful. However, its value depends on whether you can get one of the few tables on the balcony overlooking the lake: on my visit that wasn’t a problem but I imagine it fills up later on when the youth of Hanoi come out to play.
Next floor up is Mi Han Quoc, a Korean restaurant serving primarily hotpot and griddled meats. I’ve eaten at one of its other branches and found the hotpot average and the steamed wontons delicious. Opposite is a Japanese restaurant, as yet untried.
On the highest two floors accessed via this staircase is City View Cafe. Recommended for the views only, drinks are pricey and service indifferent. But you can see all the way across the lake, which makes it worth a stop.
For the best views though, you’ll need to go to Avalon. I’m not sure if it’s considered to be part of the same building, but it’s as near as damn it so it’s going in this post. Avalon is accessed via a separate entrance, on Cau Go opposite the end of Dinh Liet Street. Take the lift to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor itself is a mostly inside area, with a small balcony, and the sixth floor is a smoking area; unless you like your environment muggy I suggest walking quickly through and up the spiral staircase to the roof terrace. Western and Vietnamese food is served, along with a wide selection of drinks, including cocktails. It’s by no means cheap, but neither is it the priciest place in town, and it’s worth the price of a beer (around 50,000 VND) for an hour spent enjoying the views.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 17th September, 2014.