Hanoi Review and Things to Do

(Above photo taken from my hotel balcony at the Nova Hotel, Hanoi)

The relief was overwhelming. We had reached Hanoi after a final 12 hour leg that was 6 hours too many.

The first goal was finding a park for Jonny that turned out to be a 30,000VND a day minor drama. Once he was finally nestled down in a spot I couldn’t help but think that I would be quite happy if I never rode a motorbike ever again.

Feeling like I had been on the receiving end of 12 rounds with Iron Mike I hobbled off to my lodgings “The Central Backpakers” located bang in the middle of the old quarter.

The place was nice enough and the staff even more friendly plus every night between 8-9pm they gave away free beer – that’s right free beer. As good as this was I also visited the new Hanoi Backpackers (Ma May area) that also did free beer and the facilities and atmosphere were far superior. So if you’re planning on staying at a backpackers in the old quarter then Hanoi Backpackers is the place to be.

With the exception of a three day two night Ha Long Bay cruise that was absolutely outstanding (booked via the Central Backpackers) I decided against doing any of the various tourist attractions in the city. Rather I spent days wandering the streets and visiting local coffee shops and cafes.

Whilst at one of these roof top cafes I had an inspired thought that for the Hanoi review I would make the ultimate sacrifice and research as many rooftop cafes as possible, visit them all, sample their goods and report back.

It really is a tough life sometimes 🙂

The following list is by no means exhaustive as I’m sure there are 10s of not 100s of other cafes with roof top terraces in Hanoi but if you’re a lover of good food, coffee and a cold beer with a view this list would be as good a starting point as any.

ROOFTOP BARS AND CAFE REVIEW:

Puku cafe and restaurant 16/18 Tong Duy Tan street, Hanoi

Puku Cafe

Location:
Puku is located close to the main Hanoi railway station in the old quarter.

Music playing when I arrived:
Seal, “Crazy”

Internet:
Wifi @ 13Mbps

Food:
Large selection of western food to choose from. Such classics as “Bangers & Mash” and “Eggs Benedict – Puku Style”.

I had a Beef, Cheese and Bacon burger that was a solid 8/10.

Service:
Friendly, attentive and English was passable.
Mains average 90-100,000VND.

Puku Interior

Drinks:
Again a large selection of drinks with multiple wine and cocktail options. Cocktails are 85k and a Beer Hanoi is 30k, served cold without ice. Vietemeise coffee came in at 25k for a straight black.

Value for Money:
Not the cheapest option in Hanoi but when compared to other Western bars Puku comes out slightly on the cheaper side of town. Food portions seem good and the drinks price is less than others.

Either I didn’t see it or Puku doesn’t run any happy hours specials.

Customers:
70% westerners during my visit.

Conclusion:
Given this place lacks a rooftop terrace you maybe wondering why I came here? Well it’s run by a kiwi so I had to check it out and the food and drink menus could have been uplifted from a bar in Auckland.
Puku scores quite well across the board but does lack a bit of atmosphere probably due to the fact it is open 24/7 thus making it quite a transitory stop.

Oh and did I mention they do booze and food deliveries 24/7? How very kiwi…

Solid 7.5/10

Bar Betta

Bar Betta

Location:
34C Cao Ba Quat Street, about 15min walk from the centre of the old quarter

Music playing when I arrived:
“Another Day”, Angus & Julia Stone

Internet:
Wifi @ 3Mbps

Food:
Selection of Salads, pastas and baguettes as well as daily specials.
I had a carbonara that was excellent and a beef curry lunch special that was very average.

Service:
Very attentive staff but English is definitely their second language.

Mains average 80-90,000VND.

Drinks:

Plenty of Mocktails on offer but I couldn’t find Cocktails anywhere. Solid wine list and the cheapest beer was tiger at 35,000 VND for a 350ml draft. If that’s not big enough you can upsize to 500ml drafts of Carlsberg and Tiger for 50,000VND.

Plenty of Coffee options available but no cheap and cheerful Vietnamese options with a basic espresso coming in at 30,000VND.

Bar Betta - Interior

Value for Money:
Middle of the road value for both food and booze but where Betta really wins out is the outstanding 2-1 happy hour on draft beers (Carlsberg and Tiger) that runs from 3pm until 7pm everyday and an hour worth of free beer every Wednesday from 8pm until 9pm.

Customers:
100% Vietnamese during my visit.

Bar Betta Interior

Conclusion:
I ended up visiting Betta four times on my short stay in Hanoi so that gives you an idea of how much I enjoyed it. The food menu is rather odd however and really doesn’t align to the overall feel of the place. If I was lucky enough to be in charge this is the sort of bar would really benefit from a top notch Tapas menu but I’m not running the joint and the current menu although a bit of a weakness is passable.

The lack of cocktails maybe my oversight but if not it is also rather odd.

But the reason I kept on coming back here was a) the traditional Vietnamese feel, b) good music from a good sound system and c) excellent atmosphere.

Solid 9/10

I-feel Cafe 63 Cau Go Street

I-Cool

Location:
63 Cau Go Street, right next to Ho Goam Lake in the Old Quarter

Music playing when I arrived:
Blow my Whistle by FLO RIDER

Internet:
Wifi @ 45Mbps

Food:
Good selection of reasonably priced Vietnamese and Western dishes. I had a Caesar Salad and it was excellent.
Mains average 100,000VND.

Service:
As soon as I sat down I had staff flocking over me showering me in menus and a portable air con unit even though there was air conditioning in the place. Or in other words the service was exceptional.

Drinks:
Pages of cocktails on offer for 89,000VND as well as juices and smoothies. You’re looking at 35,000VND for a tiger and the same for a black Vietnamese coffee.

The only cocktail they didn’t appear to have was the only one I wanted, a Bloody Mary. The staff kindly made one for me that in retrospect they should have avoided as they absolutely butchered it. But I can’t blame them given I was probably the first customer to order a Bloody Mary ever!

Value for Money:
Food is well priced for the quality and the drinks are middle of the road.

Customers:
I was the only customer – perhaps that explains the attention.

Conclusion:
My assumption was that i-feel is a cafe chain but I was unable to find any conclusive proof of this fact. It has that sort of feel to it with the staff well drilled and the layout of the place nice and comfortable with the fastest Internet connection of all of the bars reviewed to boot.

It also has a prime location with an excellent outdoor area commanding one of the better views of Ho Goam Lake bang in the middle of the old quarter.

It was just a shame the music was such an odd mix of happy pop.

Solid 8/10

The Rooftop Bar

View from the Rooftop Bar

Location:
19th floor Pacific building 83B Ly thuong Kiet street. Just outside the old quarter.

Internet:
17mbps

Music:
Instrumental of some description.

Drinks:
70 for a cold Hanoi

200-300 for a cocktail; basically an extensive high end drinks menu.

Service:
Poor. Had to approach the bar for a drink. Expected more from a place of this quality. English was average.

Food:
NA, wasn’t offered nor did I ask for a food menu.

View:
Exceptional. The bar is 19 stories up and provides a 270 degree view over Hanoi.

Value:
Only the local high rollers or tourists with more money than sense would visit this place. After talking to a few locals post it sounds like this place is more of a night time club rather than a day time cafe joint. So perhaps if you want to mix it up with the well-to-do for a bit of a dance try the rooftop on a Friday or Saturday night.

Atmosphere:
Limited. A couple of tourists and a bunch of disinterested looking staff. Unless this is the spot for people to come and be bored then I sincerely hope it turns into quite the experience when the sun goes down.

Conclusion:
Average 6.5/10 (only thanks to the cracking view).

Cafe phố cổ

Pho Interior

Location:
11 Hàng Gai street. Note the cafe is accessed via a clothes and painting shop (that is well worth a look) so it can be easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Internet/Music:
None.

Drinks:
30 for a cold Hanoi, no cocktails & 20 for a straight black Vietnamese coffee.

Service:
Given it is an absolute labyrinth to get to the rooftop terrace you order downstairs, wait and take your drinks with you.

Food:
Small selection of cheap Vietnamese food was on over. Although I didn’t sample the cuisine I was assaulted by superlatives from the tourists next to me who were amazed by the quality.

Cafe phố cổ certainly strikes you as a quality of quantity type of place.

View:
Views over Ho Goam Lake from the 3rd, 4th and 5th floor terraces.

View from Pho Cafe

Customers:
Surprisingly all tourists.

Value:
The complete polar opposite from the rooftop bar with cheap everything.

Atmosphere:
Being only 3, 4 or 5 stories up depending on what terrace you choose you’re still exposed to the Hanoi street music (read traffic noise) which is good as there is no other music in the cafe. This is your more traditional Vietnamese spot and as a result it just feels right.

Conclusion:
The most traditional coffee shop of these reviewed and as such a good experience. The multiple terrace levels made the place funky and the coffee was absolutely outstanding. If you’re staying in the Old Quarter this place is well worth a visit.

8/10

Sofitel West Lake

Sofitel View

Location: 1 Thanh Nien Road, Ba Dinh District
The Sofitel is about 20min via taxi from the old quarter overlooking the largest lake in the Hanoi city area, the West Lake.

Internet:
2Mpbs.

Drinks:
Comprehensive cocktail list at 180VND a pop.

Excellent wine list where the sky is the limit when it comes to price. I had a few glasses of an excellent South African Shiraz @ 200,000VND per glass.

Beers, of all kinds, were 80,000VND per can.

Easily the most expensive Vietnamese coffee out of all the bars reviewed at 90,000VND per cup.

Service:
Excellent. Impeccable English and I was whisked away to a awaiting table as soon as I arrived.

Food:
As you’d expect at a world quality hotel the menu selection was comprehensive with a good selection of both Vietnamese and Western cuisine. Although pricey I’ve seen worse with starters at 200,000VND and mains predominately between 300-400,000VND.

View:
Well I thought the Rooftop had the best view in Hanoi. I was wrong.

The view from the Sofitel is breath taking as you look out across West Lake to the sprawling city of Hanoi.

Customers:
Interesting mix of couples, business professionals and locals.

Sofitel Bar

Value:
The Sofitel is at the expensive end of town but to cushion the hit on your wallet they run a special where every drink past your first between 5 and 8 is half price (so long as you order the same drink).

Atmosphere:
The view really is the atmosphere here with everyone left aghast as they gaze into the distance like a scene from “Close Encounters”.

Upon arrival there was no music but after a few hours as more people turned up so did the music with “Get Free” by Major Laser playing as I departed.

Conclusion:
Being located by the West Lake is probably a blessing as I’m sure the prices would be even more expensive it this spot was central. You’re still dealing with a high end hotel but one that comes with quality service and a comprehensive wine, spirits, cocktail and food menu.

And the view is simply incredible.

View from the Sofitel


Conclusion:

If your budget can accommodate the costs then this place is a must.

9/10

Before I walked into the Sofitel there was only one winner and that was Betta given the atmosphere, lack of tourists and central location. But everything at the Sofitel, from the Service, Drinks and Menu list and obviously the view absolutely wowed me. Sure the bar was the second most expensive of those reviewed but if can afford the extra VND the Sofitel is a must on your visit to Hanoi.

So we have a dead heat with the cheaper, more local orientated Betta and the upmarket Sofitel with a view to die for.

If you can swing it then I’d suggest visiting both places as you’ll get the best of both worlds 🙂

Related Links:

Ho Chi Minh Conclusion

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