Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bia Hoi

I recently had nearly 5 days off in between two tours to get to know Hanoi a little better, and was able to explore some of the wonderful tree-lined streets of colonial architecture; local restaurants; and parks filled everyone from small children to elderly grandparents strolling, playing badminton, or reading.

On one particularly sunny day, I joined two other tour leaders who also had the day off to head to a large public pool out in the embassy district (ie the area of the city where foreigners on extremely comfortable expat salary packages live) where we could pay a few dollars to swim and spend the afternoon there. We packed a picnic of some baguettes and brie (thank you, remnants of French colonization), hopped in a cab, and headed out. Upon arrival, we found a large deck area encompassing a 50 meter pool....which had apparently closed about 20 days earlier and had been sitting in neglect ever since; the walls and surface were now an emerald shade of green as algae took over.

Non-plussed, we walked back out to the main highway, and spontaneously hopped on a city bus that happened to be pulling up to a random bus stop as we were walking past. We rode for about 20 minutes before finally hopping off, resigned to the likelihood that we would just return to the tour leader house and spend the remainder of the afternoon on the couch. Until I spotted a Bia Hoi and suggested a picnic there.

What is "Bia Hoi," you may ask.
A: A beer drinker's heaven.

"Bia hoi," are the ubiquitous local restaurants that serve fresh cold glasses of local beer for 2,000 VND/glass ($1 = 16,000 VND, so you're looking at about 8 glasses of draught beer for a measley dollar). Because the beer is brewed without preservatives, the kegs are delivered daily to local restaurants around the city, and must be consumed that day. Cold, light, and incredibly cheap, we figured a few rounds at the bia hoi wasn't a bad runner-up to a day spent lounging at the pool.

As the locals patrons derived amusement from our very beginner Vietnamese skills and snack of brie and baguettes, I whipped an ad hoc tablecloth (aka bath towel) out of my bag, and three icy, frothy beers appeared on the table. The amused waitress even brought over a knife for the cheese, before we could even think to ask, as the two men sitting next to us laughed and gave us a thumbs up. A vietnamese twist on our picnic, the bia hoi pit-stop made for a great afternoon.

"Mot, hai, ba, YO!"

Chad, Ross, and I enjoy our picnic, complemented by Bia Hoi (and a slew of amused onlookers)

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