Have you ever wondered where Vietnamese people go at night? Vu Ha Kim Vy tells you the secrets. Photos by Bao Zoan
Although Hanoi has a sometime-enforced midnight curfew, like Saigon, it still has a full range of activities and entertainments at night. While some people go to their favourite quan nhau (restaurant) with their colleagues after work for a few drinks, other just go out for a movie, especially if it’s a special promotion day of the week. All make Hanoi and Saigon hectic and beautifully colourful in a typical Vietnamese way.
Nhau is a Vietnamese word meaning a combination of actions including drinking, eating and chitchat. We love nhau, especially Vietnamese men. When it comes to drinking, we don’t have an awareness of time — we could nhau for hours, from 6pm to midnight, as long as we are still able to drink. Some of us also drink during working hours on any day of the week with a popular excuse — “It’s business!”
Everyone has their favourite spot for drinking, but the backpacker area (Bui Vien in Saigon and Ta Hien in Hanoi) is a popular choice, as 27-year-old Khoa explains: “Apart from the cheap beer, it’s more fun when you can watch tourists walking along the street.”
Areas like Hoang Sa Street, Truong Sa Street or Oc Quan 4 (snails in District 4) in Saigon and the hundreds of bia hois in Hanoi are also popular as in these places you can get a wide range of food and drinks at affordable prices. Those who love enjoying their beer with a loud dance music background go to beer clubs like Fox (21 Ham Nghi, Q1, HCMC), POC POC (39 Pham Ngoc Thach, Q3, HCMC) or Vuvuzela in Hanoi and Saigon.
Café and Tra Chanh
Similar to nhau, people who go to cafés are usually searching for a place to talk with friends in a calmer and more decorous environment. While some people always stick with high-end coffee house chains like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or Highlands Coffee, other express their distinctive styles through unique well-decorated cafés like Ut Lanh (Flr. 8, 244 Cong Quynh, Q1, HCMC), 81 Café (216B Nguyen Van Nguyen, Q1, HCMC), Lissom Parlour (68 Nguyen Huu Huan, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi) or Cong Ca Phe in both cities. For better views and cheaper drinks, we usually do ca phe bet (sitting on the ground) at parks including 30/4 or 23/9 in Saigon, or tra chanh chem gio (chitchat with lime tea) in the area around St. Joseph’s Cathedral or Tu So Market in Hanoi.
Selfies and Photos
Two popular places in Saigon for taking selfies and photos are Nguyen Hue Walking Street and Starlight Bridge in District 7, while in Hanoi teenagers prefer West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake for their photographs. In fact, we take selfies and photos everywhere. The main reason we come to these places is because of the location, view, space and atmosphere. Food and drinks are also available.
Parks, Guesthouses and Window Shopping
Most Vietnamese people still live with their parents until they get married, and cosy intimacies such as kissing or cuddling is still a taboo both in public and at home. My mother gave me a serious talking-to one time when I let my male best friend in my room when I was around 20.
Therefore, Vietnamese couples, especially students, like to find themselves at quiet, dark and free entrance parks. Sometimes things get out of hand romantically, which is why there are many guesthouses nearby with by-the-hour rooms for rent.
Aside from actually buying anything, supermalls have been favourite hangouts for a long while because they have expensive shops, escalators, airy spaces, well-decorated corners, and public benches with comfortable cushions. And most of all they have air conditioners that we can use for free, especially useful on summer nights. Unlike normal local markets, we can take a look and touch fancy products without purchasing them. In addition, a wide range of food and drinks at supermalls is also a popular draw.
According to Thuy, whom I first met at Saigon 3A Station (3A Ton Duc Thang, Q1, HCMC), the reason she loves hanging out there is it’s convenient to enjoy different things (coffee, beer, art, shopping and eating) at the same time without travelling far.
“These areas are usually designed and decorated in a unique and eye-catching style,” she says. “I come here for photographs also.”
While young Saigon people have other complexes including Saigon Garden (99 Nguyen Hue, Q1, HCMC) and Mason Bato (43 Nguyen Van Giai, Q1, HCMC) as well as other options at weekends, Hanoi teenagers have Hanoi Creative City (1 Luong Yen, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi) as a place for everything and The Yard (67 Pho Duc Trinh, Ba Dinh, Hanoi).
Note: Like other countries, Vietnamese people also go to the cinema, theatre, karaoke, night markets, live music shows and more at night, depending on their mood and what they feel like. However, they are not mentioned in this article, as the writer wants to focus on the most typical places Vietnamese people like to hang out.