bia hoi ha noi

Bia Hoi is a unique cultural experience in Vietnam that I thoroughly enjoyed. Fresh draft beer is delivered daily to bia hois and stored in a HUGE container. It’s served by the glass and each glass only costs VND 6,000 (RM 0.90). It’s icy cold and has a low alcohol content (reported to be around 3%), which makes it perfect for prolonged drinking sessions.

bia hoi draft beer

I was lucky to find an real bia hoi where all the locals in the Old Quarter go to just a street down from the place I was staying at. The best thing about the place is that they’re not used to foreigners – I got a lot of puzzled looks when I sat down and people started asking me where I was from.

bia hoi fresh beer

One other interesting aspect is that office workers would drop by during lunch and grab a quick glass of beer before departing again. I think this has something to do with the American occupation and the cultural vestiges left after that but I’m no sociologist so take this with a pinch of salt.

bia hoi ambience

Anyway, they were very surprised at the amount of beer that I can drink and on the second visit on my first day, the owner sat down with me and bought me a beer. This is a friendship that would last throughout the trip, sometimes I just sat down and he waved my money away. He was interested in me and I guess they don’t get a lot of tourists coz he was asking me a lot of questions.

bia hoi owner

He also had two peculiar traits – a fondness of working ladies (which he claims he can get for VND 30,000 but I never verified since I didn’t take him up on his offer) and an equal enthusiasm for photos (he kept wanting me to take photos of him) but he’s a really nice guy. He actually saved me from being pick pocketed – someone on a bike pulled up and discreetly opened by my backpack and he shouted at the dude in Vietnamese before I realized what happened.

bia hoi cigarette

Bia hois in Vietnam is places where the locals congregate to drink and shoot the shit. I managed to meet a lot of the locals there – from dodgy people of dubious career paths to real deal old communists complete with Viet Cong tattoos.

I also learned a method of smoking which is like the Tim Tam Slam. Basically you dip the filter of your cigarette into the glass of cold beer and suck up the amber fluid through the other side. I was surprised that it would light at all but it did and the end result was a cigarette that tastes cold and you get a sip of beer with every puff.

I cannot stress the importance of visiting a bia hoi when you’re in Vietnam. It is where you meet the locals and talk to them. Communication barriers abound but after a few glasses you’ll be using a mixture of gestures and basically speak the same language. smirk

The bia hois are usually adorned with the stools and tables common in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and it’s a great place to hang out before and after you’re done with the day. The fresh beer comes in right in the morning so be sure to catch that batch – it’s a refreshing breakfast to start your day!

bia hoi pipe

I also learned how to smoke their tobacco pipes in the local bia hoi. I was sitting with this bunch of people passing around a communal pipe and one of them offered me the pipe. It’s not like smoking a bong at all – the trick is to inhale and sorta blow out the excess burnt tobacco and inhale again.

bia hoi local pipe

The tobacco pipes is filled with…you guessed it, fresh beer and it’s guaranteed to make your head spin after a couple of hits if you’re not a heavy smoker. Heh!

bia hoi me

If you’ll ask me to name a place where I felt most at home while on vacation in Hanoi, Vietnam – it would be hands down the local bia hoi. No contest.

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32 Responses to “Bia Hoi in Hanoi, Vietnam”

  1. I was told that dipping cigarette filter in water before smoking is actually filtering the nicotine, hence less damaging to lungs. Not sure if it’s true though.

  2. Yvonne: Hmm…doubt it is true since the filters are meant to filter out tar and other carcinogens (which is damaging). Nicotine is just a substance, the thing that makes you enjoy smoking. :)
    Filtering the nicotine would be counter productive. :)

  3. It’s got a real “down home” feel about this place. :-) I think they love you.

  4. i like the way u travel! did the beer come with a very diluted feel for the price?

  5. You’re going to turn into one of them if you stay there any longer!

  6. Jeff: Yeah, this place is a haunt for the regulars – their neighbourhood pub, so to speak. :)
    It was fun hanging out there.
    BY: Thanks! It’s the only way to travel! :)
    Hanging out with the locals, absorbing their culture and all that. :)
    Michelle Chin: HAHAHA! I might pop by for a drink after work but I won’t be sitting there for hours on end. ;)

  7. In the second picture, there’s a keg in the background????
    What can I do to make 6k a month according to CHAT. Gigolo????

  8. with that kinda beer, i sure hope they have toilets nearby. lol

  9. Sounds nice :) I think that the having a quick beer for lunch is more likely to be derived from the French than the Americans – it’s not uncommon in France to have a little ‘pichet’ (small jug) of wine with lunch.
    If it’s not a Vietnamese custom that has nothing to do with foreigners that is.

  10. Man damn awesome, looks like a truly local experience.
    This post really encapsulates the ethos of being a traveler and not a tourist :)

  11. Sounds nice :) I think that the having a quick beer for lunch is more likely to be derived from the French than the Americans – it’s not uncommon in France to have a little ‘pichet’ (small jug) of wine with lunch.
    If it’s not a Vietnamese custom that has nothing to do with foreigners that is.

  12. Wow.. the beer there is so cheap !! O.O

  13. rocket: Yeah but it doesn’t come from that…the beer comes from that huge fridge like thing with a tap at the bottom. :)
    KY: Ya, they do, it’s called the drain. ;)
    julian: Interesting! Thanks for sharing, yeah the French would be a better fit, sociologically speaking. :)
    ShaolinTiger: Cheers bro! :)
    Yeah, thouroughly enjoyed hanging out there – met all sorts of people and man was that pipe lethal.
    ahlost: Yeah, very cheap coz it’s for the locals. It’s not bottled beer (though that is cheap too). It’s only about 3%. It’s like shandy to me. ;)
    Chen Thet Ngian: Hmm…then why do you keep coming back for more? :)

  14. so awesome! that bia hoi owner sounds like quite a character :D

  15. fresh: Heh! Yeah he is. He told me VND 50,000 if it’s the both of us – he speaks limited English so he made this universal sign of fucking and pointed to two reasonably hot girls and said “like that, not like that” while pointing to his poor female worker. HAHAHAHAHA damn funny, he was telling me the hotornot.com quality of the girls. Quite a character. :)

  16. Not trying to give out any spat, but i’ve been following your blog since it started, and you used to say this would never be a food blog. I miss the old sixthseal.com. just sayin.

  17. VND 50,000 if it’s the both of us???? Never orcurred to me that you are into a group thing with a beer vendor, guess it’s one more experience to learn .

  18. killjori: Thanks for the feedback bro! :)
    To put things in context, I’ve been writing about food and alcohol since 2002, and I would never call sixthseal.com a food blog. It’s about everything – travel, stuff I do, etc. :)
    Tommi Chen Thet Ngian: It is tobacco. I would know if it’s weed considering my previous vast experience with cannabis.
    Who smokes weed in public unless it’s Amsterdam? Use the brain the Lord Thy God has given you. ;)
    rocket: HAHAHA! No, he meant a bulk purchase of sorts. VND 50k if it’s two people. :)

  19. Tommi Chen Thet Ngian: Yeah right man, you’re the infamous person who uses other people’s names (including mine). Your English is atrocious.
    Actually from your semantics, you sound like someone I know. HAHAHAHA!

  20. Oh I see. Phew. I thought you liek to do the group with with perfect strangers especially beer vendor.
    What will Mrs Lim think and ask for her ang pow back?

  21. rocket: HAHAAHA! Bro, you need to let go of the Mrs Lim thing. ;)
    Nah, it was kinda like a group discount of sorts, it’s quite funny actually, the way he described the girls.

  22. I like how you can make friends anywhere with no language barriers! I think the secret is – drinking! Lol..

  23. It’s the french that started the first breweries in Annam, just like another Vietnamese daily staple the snail eaters left behind – Banh Mi (Baguettes)

  24. It’s the french that started the first breweries in Annam, just like another Vietnamese daily staple the snail eaters left behind – Banh Mi (Baguettes)

  25. eiling: HAHAHA! Yes, it is. Ethanol, the social lubricant. ;)
    Ah Des: Oh yeah, they have French influences too. Thanks for that bro! :)

  26. Eiling: it is quiet easy actually, men only talk about one thing, drink one thing and smoke one thing

  27. Lol, the troll is hilarious. The sure sign of blogging success is when the trolls come out of hiding.

  28. Pete: Heh! I’ve always had trolls and I still don’t have the time to delete his comments. Crap. ;)

  29. Bye Tommi Chen! ;)

  30. wow loved the tim tam filter beer slam!! great stuff

  31. great post! You make me wanna go again. i miss vietnamese food.. and the people. they have so little but they make you feel so much. best place ever.

  32. ciki: Thanks! =D
    Hey me too, I wanna go to HCM this time and see the difference.
    Yeah, it makes me wonder too. They are unprivilaged, but yet happy.
    I wish I knew their secret. :)

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