Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A little Hanoi'ed

As I stepped onto the busiest intersection in the Old town I felt the surge of brashness provided by the beers I had consumed earlier in the night. The moment of certainty quickly subsided as a family of four whizzed directly behind me on a tiny scooter. I maintained my pace, one foot after the other, as I soon found myself engulfed in a sea of motorcycles. Eyes straight ahead, I pressed onward eventually emerging on the other side, half-surprised that I had survived the venture. The riders did what they seemingly always do in Vietnam and continued straight through the intersection swerving to narrowly avoid pedestrians and other riders.

One step at a time...

A common experience in Hanoi, Vietnam and luckily it only takes a few crossings to gain the confidence to tackle any street in country. The added rush of a risky crossing only adds made the night out more exciting.

Nightlife in Hanoi caters to the masses. Whether you are looking for a quiet lakeside beer, a rambunctious sampling of the local draft while sitting on children's chairs, or the unique experience of fresh snake blood and bile shots, Hanoi has it all.

Most nights for me started out at the Hostel, enjoying a few of the locals brews: Halida or Bia Ha'noi. Both beers are decent but buying overpriced beers from a hostel can lead to an expensive night. Most backpackers and travellers eventually make their way over to what has come to be known as "the Bia Hoi Corner," a sight to be seen. Found at the intersection of Ta Hien St. and Luong Ngoc Quyen St., hundreds of westerners sit atop tiny plastic chairs sprawling into the intersection from all four corners. What brings them here? Bia Hoi. Bia Hoi is beer brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in plastic jugs. It is a very light(3% alcohol) refreshing lager and is extremely cheap, 15 cents a glass if I remember correctly.

Once you've had your fill of Bia Hoi (if trying to get drunk, you will be very full), Head to one of the Old quarter's many bars. I usually ended up at a place called Dragonfly which provided Jenga making for fun drinking games.

On my final night in Hanoi, a floating club called Solace was recommended to me by a girl working at one of the bia hoi "bars." Solace is a hot cramped barge nightclub floating on the Red River. I had a great time at this bar, despite the terrible reviews I have since read. The bar has its fair share of prostitutes and lady-boys but they are avoidable. I guess what I liked most about this bar was that it was like nothing I could find at home.
A dirty but good time.

A regret I have of my time in Hanoi was that I never made it to the highly recommended Apocalypse Now. This is widely known to be the most popular nightclub in Hanoi, so if you are thee it is probably worth checking out.

If you are looking for a slightly more adventurous drinking experience, snake village is a must. Certainly to be avoided by for vegetarians or animal advocates, the nearby village of Le Mat provides an exciting drinking adventure. It’s about 10-15 minutes from Old Quarters on the back of a motorcycle-taxi, and any taxi driver will be able to take you there, drop you off, and pick you up a couple of hours later. I, myself did a tour run by the hostel I was staying at. The tour was obviously overpriced but most importantly it allowed me to meet a bunch of fellow travels and share the unforgettable experience with them. Le Mat is home to an assortment of restaurants all serving entirely snake meat, thats right, snake. Eating snake meat is traditional in northern Vietnam and is an activity for 'Manly men.' In traditional Vietnamese medicine drinking the blood of snakes (particularly the cobra) is believed to increase sexual virility.

The snake eating experience is as follows. The waiters will bring you a live snake that, depending on your desire, they will allow you to kill. The waiters will assist you in preparing shot of snake blood and bile(and if you are lucky the snake's heart) mixed with local spirits. The taste is almost entirely that of the very rough spirits. Once the shots are taken the snakes are brought back to the kitchen to be prepared. While waiting for your meal you will be served snake whisky and Beer. Then comes the food! The snake dishes I had were phenomenal. I was truly amazed with how delicious everything was. I think it was mostly down to the great blend of spices that they used which could've made any food taste great.

This is a big year for Hanoi as October 2010 will officially mark 1000 years of the establishment of the city. So plan your trip, prepare yourself for an awesome time and always be confiedent while crossing the street.
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