Before pubs and clubs became a thing, bia hoi or beer corner Hanoi, was the original choice for locals looking for a cheap, tasty beer.
Travelers suckling on bottles of Saigon or Bia Hanoi soon got wind of an even more affordable tipple and so began a tradition. Beer corner is almost like a traveler’s rite of passage in Vietnam.
The old beer corner has become so popular that it has lost its uniqueness. Like most things in Vietnam, popularity has all but destroyed the experience.
All is not lost though! Much to our delight, some entrepreneurial locals have revived the institution. They simply took the original concept and started it around the corner. Let us tell you about it and why it’s a must-visit when exploring Old Quarter in Hanoi.
What is Bia Hoi?
Bia hoi is the Vietnamese phrase for ‘fresh beer’.
This light, refreshing Vietnamese beer or rather, rice lager is made from, you guessed it, rice. It’s easy to make, can be done in big batches and takes no time to mature.
That convenience translates into bulk supplies and cheap prices for the thirsty masses.
At VND 5,000 (~USD 0.21 / ~AUD0.30) to VND 8,000 (~USD 0.34 / ~AUD 0.50) for a glass we can see why it’s a winner with locals and visitors alike.
How to find Beer Corner Hanoi
Finding Hanoi’s bargain beer is easy.
Simply look for people sitting on tiny tables and chairs surrounding a keg with a sign that says ‘Bia Hoi’ and a cheap price.
The trick is to find the experience you would enjoy most.
Old Beer Corner Hanoi
You can actually type ‘beer corner Hanoi’ into Google maps and it will pin point a location for you.
Now, this is where you will need to make a decision.
Do you want the original beer corner Hanoi (also known as bia hoi junction), with large crowds and overpriced glasses of beer? Great, then head to the pinpoint on the map, at Ta Hien Street.
It literally is a street, not corner, crammed with small bars out to convince you they have the cheapest beer on the street.
To be honest, it didn’t look like a good option for a quiet drink. It’s narrow and noisy and it can be hard to have a decent conversation.
What surprised us most was the price of the beers. It certainly wasn’t the spot to get a cheap beer. Some of the prices were higher than most of the bars and clubs in Old Quarter.
New (unofficial) Beer Corner Hanoi
If like us, you want to have the authentic experience of a traditional beer corner, then head to the unofficial new spot on Pho Ma May street.
The best way to find it is to head to the Medallion Hanoi hotel and look across the road.
Travel Tip!: There is a toilet available in the hotel reception. You know, for when you eventually break that seal and make room for ‘more’. (Cue tipsy laughter!)
What to expect
Simplicity is key for the perfect beer corner experience.
Pick your spot
You will have a pick of spots. They are easy to identify as they consisting of no more than one to three tiny tables per spot. Each spot will have one to two large pressurized beer kegs with a server eager to get you to join the fray.
Once you’ve picked where you want to have your beer, you simply grab a seat and plant yourself. While you do that, the server pours your beer with efficient precision straight from the keg into a 8 oz (250 ml) glass.
We can almost guarantee your beer will hit the table, the same time your bum hits the seat. There’s no mucking around here!
The beer servers are some of the savviest we’ve ever come across. A fresh beer was in front of us mere seconds after the last mouthful of the old glass, without even having to ask. It’s great, but can lead to sore head and empty pockets the next day. LOL!
At the end of your visit, your server will let you know what you owe and you are free to go.
Things they don’t tell you
The popularity of the original beer corner has caused new ones to sprout up through Old Quarter.
Daytime businesses are turning their sidewalk space into beer corners at night. All in the hopes of cashing in on extra income.
But it is a gamble and why there are usually only one to three tables. It’s all about available space and staying out of ‘trouble’.
Uh-oh, it’s the police
Thing is, it’s not entirely legal. It’s also the reason you’ll see the local police roll round in a small truck patrolling the streets. They confiscate offending tables and chairs that are not cleared quick enough from places they shouldn’t be.
This is why the server will suddenly tell you to stand up and start clearing the tables and chairs, leaving you and your beer, hanging in the breeze.
There is no need to panic. As long as you’re on the sidewalk looking inconspicuous, you’ll be fine.
Give the five-oh a few minutes to roll past and watch as all the chairs and tables come rolling back out.
Before you know it, you’ll be back to having a beer ball on the sidewalk. It’s all part of the adventure, right?
Our beer corner sat right next to a door to an apartment building.
We were constantly having to stand up or move our chairs for motorbikes zipping past.
It was clear they weren’t too happy about the arrangement but never made a fuss about it.
In some instances, your table might be hugging the curb, so it’s best to keep an eye out for traffic.
Again, it’s all part of the experience because where else can you do this?
So which is the best beer corner Hanoi, old or new ?
We’d say try both and decide for yourself.
We loved the new beer corner for many reasons but the main ones are,
- It’s a legit cheap beer
- It’s not overcrowded
- You can make friends easier because you can have a decent conversation, and
- There is a bit of fun involved regarding local law enforcement.
Want to see what Beer Corner Hanoi is about? Then head on over to our vlog;
So, if you’re looking for things to do in Hanoi, make sure to add a visit to the beer corner as part of your Hanoi nightlife itinerary.
Keen to see what other adventures we’ve been up to? Head on over to our Two Cents Page where we tell you more!
Thanks for coming on our beer corner experience and see you in the next one…