Winter is very much upon us, and with it comes the eternal sky of fifty shades of smog, smothering us like the unforgiving, chain-smoking mother we all wish we never had. Just relish the fact that you still have a few sweet, sweet months before summer shows up one day and your transformation into a sweaty, clammy carcass of human flesh is complete. In celebration of the insipidly grey weeks ahead, here’s some places you can hibernate in and write some really sad haikus. Or you know, you can just have a coffee or something.
Maison de Tet Décor Café
Villa 156 Tu Hoa, Nghi Tam, Hà Nội
Maison de Tet Décor is French colonial villa porn, boasting two sprawling floors with impressive views over West lake and a bathroom that makes you feel like a descendant of a rich dynasty. The menu is also excellent, with some of the best locally-grown food around, albeit a little pricey. The chai tea latte tastes like a cup full of rainbows, and is a welcome change if you’re sick of feeling like a crack addict after one too many Vietnamese coffees. Don’t expect to find many locals here, but it’s a good place if you need an open space to get some laptop work done. They get extra brownie points for being plastic free, possibly in a (necessary) attempt to balance out the karma from the now quasi-ritualistic rubbish bonfires on any given street corner.
5 Nguyễn Quang Bích, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
A somewhat confusing notice outside recommends parking next to Banyan tree. Don’t make the disgusting millennial error that we did, which was to naively try and Google the parking spot only to find it was, quite literally, a random tree a few metres down the road. Embarrassing parking ordeals aside, Nguyen Quang Bich street hosts two of the five venues in Hanoi of this understated book café chain. We visited the smaller, more intimate locale at number 8, containing a handful of sofas and a sprinkling of vintage touches. The beverage selection is no-frills uncomplicated, and the modest bookcases dotted around the café offer both Vietnamese and English reads to curl up with. Best to pick another café for skyping your relatives though, as loud activities can, and will, be shushed.
14 Phan Huy Ích, Nguyễn Trung Trực, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
A stylish café-cum-art gallery, Manzi is a pristine, polished spot perfect for the budding artist within. The white walls are attentively adorned with sketches and paintings, and the sleek wooden chairs complement the chic vibe. Owner Ms Tram, herself the daughter of a visual artist and an art curator, encourages young artists, both local and foreign, to use the space to sell their work or display it in the frequently held exhibitions. The Indie acoustics softly playing in the background won’t interfere with your artistic musings and from time to time you may even come across the odd napper catching some shut-eye (but then again, where do you not in Hanoi?) Head upstairs and you’ll find a floor where creativity is flourishing. From book readings to evening concerts, Manzi has it all. Skip the coffee and dive into the Manzi specials, the homemade passion fruit soda in particular is deliciously refreshing.
Mã Mây, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
A hidden gem amongst the riotous Old Quarter, Nola café has been open for nearly ten years, born from owner Lan Hướng‘s desire to offer a tranquil, laid-back alternative to the more excitable, karaoke-filled street life of the neighbouring areas. Don’t sit down too quickly as it is deceptively large, complete with secret stairwells, inner courtyards and multi-levelled terraces that will magically reveal themselves like a real-life marauder’s map.
There is about every seating option you could possibly fathom and then some, proving for exceptional napping opportunities, not to mention a mean place for hide and seek. Don’t seclude yourself too much in one of the many nooks and crannies though. The friendly staff are always up for a smoke and a chat, and will eagerly tell you comical stories of inexplicably coming across what they are convinced were ghosts during their shifts. Haunted history or not, Nola is undoubtedly enchanting and well worth a visit.
Hoa 10 Gio
26 Hàng Vôi, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm
Originally a humble flower shop, Hoa 10 Gio slowly expanded into the tasteful bohemian haven it is today. The bottom floor still sells colourful arrangements of flowers but if you head up the spiral staircase to the café area you’ll feel like you’re walking into a Pinterest wet dream, complete with floor cushions, wooden desks and walls draped with blooming shrubbery, a nod to its botanic beginnings. One of our favourite rooms was the library, where stacks of books tower over comfy armchairs making you feel like you’ve fallen down an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole you don’t want to come out of in a hurry.
Hanoi House Cafe
2 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hà Nội
Located smack bang next to St. Joseph’s Cathedral, don’t let its touristy location fool you. No flashy signs or pointing arrows are to be seen – Hanoi House is one of those places you have to go looking for. Blink and you’ll miss it; we drove right past it a couple of times until we finally saw the modest sign hanging over an unsuspected alleyway. Follow the stairs, duck under the hanging laundry and confidently open what looks like the back door of someone’s house. That’s because that’s exactly what it is. Hanoi house feels like a precious old relic, a place frozen in time. Owner Mr Hương opened it in a bid to keep a forgotten Vietnam alive amongst the flurry of coffee chains opening at lightning speed across the city. From the moment you enter you’ll be transported to what could have been someone’s home fifty years ago, complete with a cubic-patterned floor, an aged fireplace and a tiny balcony to overlook the present-day happenings below. Hương is never without a smile on his face, and while he fixes you up a juice in his humble narrow kitchen, you’ll feel like you are a (very much welcome) guest in an old friend’s house.
Tang Tret Cosmo
10, Khúc Hạo, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
Nestled amongst the greener and more luxurious area of Hanoi, Tang Tret Cosmo is a quaint little café that draws from the city’s French influences, and its modern, airy design matches its surroundings perfectly. With a beautiful outdoor area with an island bar and ample servings of fairy lights (a feature that I am always a sucker for), there is also plenty of neatly painted wooden furniture indoors on which to park your pretty little rear end. Try and look (or hear?) past the slightly annoying pop piano covers and munch your way through the toast and blended teas, its most prided specialities.