Note: This is a guest post by Ben Colough. Ben first traveled through SE Asia over ten years ago and has been addicted ever since to the food, noise and grace of the region. Ben now travels for a living researching local guides and guest-houses, and pulls together tailor-made tours of Vietnam with local character and charm.
Travelers are spoilt for choice in SE Asia and whilst many opt for the obvious and return to Thailand again and again, I simply fell in love with Vietnam. The country is less geared up to travelers, but there is loads to see, a fascinating heritage, incredible food, and Bia Hoi.
Bia hoi is fresh beer, brewed daily and intended for consumption on the day. Traders take their 100l barrels to the big breweries each morning and fill them up with unadulterated fresh beer. It contains no preservatives so will only last a day. The big appeal is the price, Bia Hoi is sold at various road side establishments at eye wateringly cheap prices (around 15 US cents per 12 Oz glass), but to me Bia hoi is more than that, it is the quintessential Vietnamese experience. Pull up a tiny plastic chair, perch yourself amidst the rushing traffic, order a large glass of beer and some nuts and absorb the insane rush of Vietnamese street-life.
No amount of experience can you prepare for busy Vietnamese Cities, just crossing the road is an experience unlike anywhere else. There are a lot of motorbikes in Vietnam and they tend to take a fairly free-form approach to concepts such as lanes. There are no breaks in traffic, so the only way to cross the road is to take a deep breath, look straight ahead and walk at a very steady pace. Like magic, the traffic parts around you – whatever you do, don’t hesitate!
Bia Hoi tends to be sold from a make-shift stall or a tiny shop unit, big enough only for a large barrel and a stack of plastic chairs. The customers sprawl out onto the pavement and road – so expect to be sat literally within the rush of pedestrian and motorized traffic. Yet despite the noise there is an incredible serenity to sitting down, drinking a refreshing beer and letting the world rush by, magical.