Wednesday, November 5, 2014

36 Hours in Hanoi

Five years ago Hanoi might rightly have been viewed as Washington D.C.: a place of politicians and bureaucrats, conservative and a bit dull. But in recent years, thanks to a new pride injected by 1,000th-birthday celebrations in 2010, an influx of entrepreneurial Vietnamese returnees, expats and a creative Internet-enabled population, the city’s pulse has quickened. With a number of construction projects threatening older neighborhoods, and an exodus of residents from the city to suburbs like West Lake, Hanoi is changing fast. But right now, it feels poised over a sweet spot, its tree-lined lanes and graceful old architecture, traditional culture and fantastic street food complemented by a contemporary arts scene that’s managed to survive bouts of censorship, idiosyncratic boutiques and increasingly sophisticated dining and night life. 

 1. Coffee With a View | 5 p.m. ­ 

 Hanoi’s infamous rush hours are best taken in from on high. At the edge of the Old Quarter, a narrow passageway at the back of a store displaying kitschy paintings leads to Ca Phe Pho Co. Occupying most of a picturesquely decrepit former merchant’s mansion, the cafe is known for its egg coffee, a strong local brew capped with a sort of sweetened condensed milk zabaglione (100,000 dong for two, or $5, at 20,400 dong to the dollar). Place your order downstairs (the menu also lists smoothies, shakes, sundaes and beer) before climbing three flights to a terrace with a sweeping view over thousands of motorbikes on their circumambulation around Hoan Kiem Lake.


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