A teachers view of Hanoi

ESL Teaching in Hanoi - Life inside the Major Cities - An interview with APAX teachers living in Hanoi.

What’s your favorite thing about the city?

The energy. Regardless of the time of year, day or week, Hanoi is up and ready. It is a fierce and fiery city that has deep pockets of diversity, with something always on offer and something always ready to feed you. The deep buzz of five million motorbikes leaves the air shaking after dark, always ready to start a new day.

How busy is the city and how the quality of life?

To say the city is busy would be a gross understatement. Everything in the city collides and pours and thuds. There is not an empty street corner or still skyline in sight. Everything moves all the time, bar 3am when only the dancers and drinkers are still beating on and recklessly swaying to the beat in their own head and cheering each other on to the dawn.

There is always something to do, and always a morning to sleep through. Quality of life is adversely proportional to the quality of air. Hanoi is a fairytale for those who believe that sleeping Beauty was definitely hung-over and Prince Charming got his name after a few too many beers.

Where is good to eat and drink?

Pizza 4P’s – Not the best Pizza in Hanoi but the best Pizza this side of Italy. Roasted Eggplant pizza with a Burratta on top is probably the greatest thing you will ever eat.

Thom’s Café (Corner Café) – Hardly unknown, this little pavement shop is a favourite. Less for the food, and more for the great company, there will always be someone to bring the beer, banter and good ol’ time. The Egg and Avo Banh Mi is the way to go, or the fruit bowl for a less carby option.  Lake views dependent on the AQI. 

Your local Bun Cha lady. Everyone claims they know the best Bun Cha lady in town, coincidentally its usually the one 10 steps from your front door and the one that greets you with a wrinkled smile and “Chao Em!”. Everyone has their favourite, and with thousands in every neighborhood there’s no reasonable way to find the best. So walk down the road, pull up a plastic chair and get that noodly deliciousness in your face.

Any nice cafes around? What’s the nightlife like?

Everywhere. The only thing rivaling the number of coffee shops is the number of motorbikes. If you’re looking for more than your run of the mill Ca Phe sua da or Coconut coffee at Cong, try out Santorini Vibes at 181 Nhật Chiêu or o’Douceurs on To Ngoc Van.

As for the nightlife, there is a very thin line between night and day, and I think we’ve all lost sight of where one ends and the other begins. There are plenty of places to dance away the night between the Old Quarter and Tay Ho. But luckily Expats are people of habit, and you will likely see the same faces in the same places night after night. Music Pub, Sidewalk, Beer Corner, Naboo, Bia Tay and HRC are just a few vibey spots.

Hanoi has a curfew of midnight, when most clubs are meant to shut down and send their patrons sleeping. But few do, they sound proof their establishments, pay off the PoPo and keeping popping the bottles till the early hours.

What do you like to do and where do you go in your free time?

There is plenty to do in your free time if you look for it. People here are creative and collaborative meaning there’s always a creative workshop to attend, a language to learn or performance to watch. I personally attend Vietnamese lessons with LSV – a great way to meet people, learn about the local culture and impress a few locals with your poor attempt at the language. I dabble in painting in my free time and spend the rest of it drinking coffees, getting my nails down and sleeping late.

Many people also pick up extra work during the day. As we work relatively few hours in the week there is plenty of opportunity for private classes, public schools classes and other center work.

Are there any places that is a must see, any major tourist attractions?

Hanoi’s tourist hotspots run dry in a few days. Not designed for tourism - the city is  too practical. However a stroll around the Old Quarter never disappoints and a few of the “crafty” villages on the outskirts make for a good day trip. Bat Trang (ceramics) and Van Phuc (silk) are two goodies.

The best attractions lie a few hours outside of the city. The surrounding towns and villages offer a great opportunity to get out of the clogged city. Ninh Binh, Vin Phuc, Tam Dao, Mai Chau are a few lekker little getaways.

 Where is the center located in the city (e.g. near residential area, near business area, easy to get to etc.)?

The center of the city is considered the Old Quarter, the area surrounding Hoan Kiem lake. You can find every kind of trinket possible in the maze of streets, which I swear change every time I go there, like the moving staircases in Harry Potter, its an endless puzzle of unrecognizable alleys and streets.

However, the social center for us would be Tay Ho as most of the teachers and foreigners live in a kilometer of one another. We socialize here and congregate on the same plastic stools every night for dinner.

What is it like driving in your town / city?

Terrifying, stressful and liberating. It took me 9 months to get on a bike, and while it is a constant juggle of luck out there, it’s definitely worth getting mobile. Once you shift from thinking of streets as streets, and more of an unorganized river in which everyone moves along the space however they want. The traffic flows constantly in a shambles of cars, buses, motorbikes and bicycles but it somehow works.

What’s your center like?

I’ve been at Lang Ha right from the start of my time with Apax, I’ve seen many faces come and go, but it still feels like home. Lots of chaos (thanks, Kids), lots of banter and a whole lot of fun.

It’s located very centrally and is a great help that FMD is upstairs and BIDV downstairs. We have one Banh Mi place up the road and a great coconut coffee spot round the corner. Everything you need on one frenetic road.

What’s the Vietnamese population like; do you have any Vietnamese friends, ever hang out with them or socialize?

Vietnamese people, in my experience, are feisty and tenacious with the biggest hearts. Hospitality is huge and the locals will always go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable, even if they don’t understand you.

In English we say “How are you?” in Vietnamese you say “Have you eaten?”. I love that sentiment so much, and it reflects so poignantly on their history, care and community spirit. They are humble, hardworking and understand how to hustle.

Tell us anything you like about life in Hanoi

 In summary, life is Hanoi is ridiculous and it’s temporary. Embracing the Carpe Diem life to the fullest, Hanoi offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to do very little for way too much cash. We dance on a giant pause button of life, and forget about the problems we had home. Friends become family, family visits are the best time of year and there is an abundance of fun everywhere you look. Just watch out for the potholes.

Written by Sarah


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