It’s already nine p.m. but the nightlife in Hanoi begins as soon as the sun goes down. After joining a slow but steady flow of pedestrians pushing through the crowded sidewalks, we give in to one of the Vietnamese women’s persistent efforts and sit down on her low plastic chairs sprawling into the street. Before we even have time to take in the glaring lights, constant honking, and shouting from one side of the street to the other, two sweating dark-glass bottles appear on the tiny table in front of us.
There’s a reason they call this Hanoi’s beer corner.
A half-hour on this corner is more entertaining than any movie you’ve ever seen. Lost tourists fight the overstimulation of the surroundings while checking Google maps on their phones. Beautiful girls in matching sequinned dresses and heels sell cigarettes to the tank-top-and-flip-flop clad men. A car dares to attempt a three-point turn in the intersection despite a chorus of honking protestations from the sea of motorbikes flowing around it.
All of a sudden, there is a flurry of activity on the periphery of the corner. Like a choreographed number, the local restauranteurs begin stacking their broken stools and plastic tables with intense speed, precision, and urgency until only one row of chairs remain. Something is about to happen.
We hear it before we see it. A monotonous voice in a language we don’t understand blares from a megaphone over the sounds of the street. Moments later, what looks like a vintage army transit rolls through the intersection, parting traffic like the Red Sea. Cops are here.
But they don’t stop, they were just here to make an appearance at the party so you don’t forget about them. And as soon as they’re out of sight, the stools and tables spill out on to the street as quickly as they disappeared. It makes for an amusing show of street camaraderie.
Moments like these are what make traveling to Southeast Asia so fascinating. It gives a tiny glimpse into the world of the Vietnamese people and the unwritten rules and agreements between the locals. The best education comes from sitting on uncomfortable chairs close to the ground with a beer in hand.
Check out our most recent post from Southeast Asia about the Hanoi Opera House.