The social scene in Hanoi, Vietnam is slightly different from those you find in other major cities around the world. Instead of microbreweries and craft beers and wine bars, Hanoi has a specialty that, if you love beer, will surely enjoy. Bia hoi refers to Hanoi’s drink of choice—loosely translated, it means “fresh beer.” It is a very light, refreshing and cold draught beer that locals and tourists love equally. In fact, the bia hoi scene is so popular that it makes up 30% of Vietnam’s beer market, which makes a lot of sense because it is dirt cheap. It will be a mere $0.50AUD for each glass of the straw-coloured beverage.
You may be thinking, “Really? That’s all it costs?” Well, there is one catch. The drinks are very cheap, but the alcohol content is equally low—just 2.5-4.2% per glass. That doesn’t make it taste any less delicious though. The beer is lightly carbonated with a clean, crisp taste. Bia hoi may be popular throughout the country, but there is nowhere the beer is more ubiquitous than in Hanoi and more specifically, Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
How do you know you’ve made it to a bia hoi spot? Just keep your eyes peeled for locals sitting on brightly-coloured plastic chairs drinking light beer at any time of the day and you’ll know you’ve arrived. If wandering the streets looking for a spot isn’t your idea of fun, then use our guide to find some of the best bia hoi places around Hanoi.
Depending on how you look at it, this can be counted as one or two bia hoi joints because it occupies both sides of the street. While it may be mere blocks off the tourist’s main drag, it has remained almost entirely local and still offers delicious fresh beer with an authentic crowd.
This joint is located in the Ba Dinh District and generally caters to an upper-class Vietnamese crowd. Tourists are welcome, though, and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon beer and meet some locals after seeing Ho Chi Minh in his casket. After all, Ho Chi Minh’s casket is literally right out back of 19C.
The Bia Hoi Corner is something a little different. Instead of a specific store name, this refers to the area on Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets that acts as a central gathering place. This is the centre of all the Old Quarter’s nightlife and has the best action, restaurants, bars and lively hostels all around.
Keep in mind that many Bia Hoi spots are known simply by their address or the intersection on which they can be found. Also note that if it says “Bia Hoi Ha Noi” or “Bia Hoi Lan Chin” those aren’t the names of the establishments but rather a sign that lets you know they sell fresh beer for the Ha Noi or Lan Chin breweries. If you find a place you like, look for their menu or ask for a business card to find the bar’s real name.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for when scouting out bia hoi spots, you will have the opportunity to taste the “world’s cheapest beer.” Remember, when you have a travel insurance policy for your Vietnamese holiday, having alcohol in your system may result in a denied claim should an event arise, so be sure to review your policy documents before partaking in any drinking activities and as always, drink responsibly.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Thanh Quan Du