You’ll have to spend a bit more than you’d pay for bia hoi or a cha da on the street, but with so many lakes it’s not too hard to find somewhere with a view and cheap drinks in Hanoi.
Let’s start with the Old Quarter. Here, our pick for best spot is Cafe Pho Co, located up a few flights of rickety stairs at the back of the silk shop at 11 Hang Gai. The multi-level café has a near-perfect view of Hoan Kiem lake — if you get a good seat — and serves a top egg coffee (ca phe trung) as well as cold beer. Order at the bottom of the stairs and carry the bottle up yourself to save the staff too many climbs.
Nearby Ho Guom Plaza affords a variety of views from its numerous dining and drinking options. Our recommendation is to head to Hanoi Soul Cafe. Outside seating with a view is limited but it’s cheaper than the other options.
It’s back down to street level for our next suggestion. The banks of Hoan Kiem are bereft of budget drinking options but not short of a bench or two — so pick up a can of Coke from a local store and watch the world go by. It’s not classy, but it is budget. Hapro Bon Mua Cafe, to the south of the lake, is an alternative if you want to upgrade, but it’s relatively pricey.
If the lake doesn’t float your boat, then how about the cathedral? The views might not be quite as compelling as the aerial views of Hoan Kiem, but Hanoi House is a cute and cheap spot from which to watch the world go by. La Place and Marilyn’s, on Au Trieu, also have small balconies overlooking the cathedral but are a bit pricier.
Truc Bach Lake and West Lake offer a huge array of drinking joints with water views. For high up views, try the cafes on the northwest edge of Truc Bach lake, at the junction of Truc Bach Street and Thanh Nien Street (the main road). Our favourite is Havana Cafe, which has a spacious, fan-cooled terrace on its fourth floor and offers Bia Hanoi for just 20,000 VND/bottle.
Back towards West Lake, one of my favourite places is tucked away Co Ngu at number 22 Thanh Nien Street. Deceptively, given it shares the same name as the dual carriageway between the lakes, the cafe is located on the narrow stretch of the road, just before it joins Yen Phu Road. Walk down the alleyway and up a few flights of – also rickety – stairs and you’ll reach the roof terrace which has a stunning view across West Lake. And it’ll only set you back the price of a mint tea.
Unlike Hoan Kiem Lake, numerous cafes line both Truc Bach and West lakes, with plastic chairs, and even deck chairs, set out on grassy — or concrete — banks. They’re not aerial views of course but pleasant places to while away a few hours, and drinks are good value. On Truc Bach, try along Tran Vu, near number 140, or head to My Sophie at number 60 if you’re more in the mood for an ice cream.
Good spots on West Lake include the peninsula near Tay Ho Pagoda, at the bottom of what is known as Quang An Street or Alley 27 Xuan Dieu, and the stretch along the south of the lake near the water park. And we mustn’t forget Commune — with possibly the best view in Hanoi from its roof terrace, it’s a recommended place to hang out with a cheap beer and a lake view and we reckon it’s worth the 30,000 VND beer.
By Sarah Turner
Last updated on 24th January, 2015.