Date: March 13, 2015

Impressions of Hanoi, Part 5

Intersection by Hoan Keim lake

Intersection by Hoan Keim lake

Welome to the fifth and final edition of this American‘s impressions of Vietnam’s second largest city. In no particular order, here are yet more observations of my adopted city for the past two and a half months.

  • Bills are paid in person
    Every now and then a random person will ring the doorbell and ask for money for the water, electricity, or Internet. Apparently this is how bills are paid in Hanoi.
  • There is little separation between indoors and outdoors, public and private
    This was especially noticeable over the Tet holiday (Chinese New Year) when a lot of families were at home. Walking around the streets you could hear the sounds from inside peoples’ homes (TVs, music, people talking) and even look into their living rooms and kitchens from the street as it is common to leave the doors open.
  • It helps to be able-bodied
    This is probably true for travelling and life in general, but having good overall fitness and flexibility makes life here much more enjoyable. Being able to negotiate traffic and roadside obstacles as well as make do with tight spaces is quite useful. Motorbiking can also be physically demanding. Hanoi would be a difficult city for a handicapped person.
  • Lack of religion
    As an officially atheist nation, there is not much open display of religious belief. Since religion is a non-factor in my life, I find his charming.
  • Public urination
    It is an infrequent, yet not uncommon sight to see men standing by a wall to relieve themselves. If this were any more prevalent it would probably be off-putting, but it’s not a rampant occurrence and usually quite discreet.
  • No beggars
    Even though Vietnam is not a rich country, I have yet to encounter a classic “beggar” here. I’m not sure if this is because of the communist system taking care of everyone or if Vietnamese people have too much pride to ask for handouts directly. Or if it’s culturally taboo in some other way. The closest thing to “beggars” are the occasional people offering to shine your shoes for a small fee.
  • It’s easy to get lost
    Google Maps exists here and I use it on my smartphone to get around the city, but often I end up turned around. My sense of direction has improved over time, but navigating the streets can be confusing.
  • Motorbike taxis
    It took me a while to realize that the people waving at me shouting “moto-bike” were not offering to sell me a motorbike. Rather, they were offering me a ride. As far as I can tell, motorbike “taxis” are just regular people offering to drive you from point A to point B on their bike. Kind of like an informal Uber. I have never taken one but I hear they are much cheaper than regular taxis.

20 Things I Look for in a Coffee Shop “Office”

My temporary workstation at a Starbucks in Hanoi

My temporary workstation at a Starbucks in Hanoi

With the Internet and modern-day communications technology, I can work virtually anywhere. This means I have no set work space. My office is wherever there is an Internet connection and preferably coffee. For me, this means coffee shops.

Here are twenty things I look for in an ideal coffee shop “office”.

  1. Reliable, high speed Internet
    The faster the Wi-Fi, the better. I have found that Internet speed has a big effect on my productivity. There is nothing worse than being ready to work and having to wait minutes for a page to load. Or finding out that the wireless connection is not working. A slow or unreliable connection can add up to hours of wasted time over the course or a day or week.
  2. Good coffee
    Americanos and brewed or Vietnamese coffee are my go-to beverages. I usually stay away from lattes and other “fancier” drinks, except to spice things up on occasion.
  3. Standing desk
    Having the option to place my laptop on a bench and work upright is ideal for me. Since I stare at a screen for an inordinate amount of time during the day, I prefer not to be sitting 100% of the time while I do so. Sitting too much tends to make me feel like a hunched over mess. Ideally I would stand for at least an hour or so and then alternate between sitting and standing as needed.
  4. Good tables
    If I am going to be working at a place for an extended period of time, having access to good table is key. This means an appropriate height, ample surface area and plenty of leg room.
  5. Quiet
    I prefer quietter settings without loud music or hordes of conversations. I pretty much always use earplugs or noise cancelling headphones to block out external noise as there is almost always some background noise in Hanoi.
  6. Friendly staff
    Friendly employees can make a big, positive difference in the overall experience.
  7. Smoke-free
    A little smoke in the air is fine, just as long as it’s not too close by or heavy.
  8. A pleasant atmosphere/concept
    I really like Cong Caphe for this. It is a “Viet Cong” themed coffee chain, with various locations in Hanoi. The one in my neighborhood has four floors with lot of plants and old communist literature and posters decorating the walls. The staff also dresses in green fatigues. Very cool place to hang out.
  9. Not too crowded
    Having some people around creates a pleasant atmosphere. Too many people, however, create noisy distractions and a lack of good seating availability.
  10. Ample outlets
    Access to an electrical outlet for my laptop is essential for stays lasting longer than my battery life.
  11. Close by
    Anywhere within 15 minutes is preferred. It can be fun to explore and try new, more far flung places. But as a rule, the closer, the better.
  12. Plenty of room
    My ideal coffee shop would be spacious and roomy, not cramped.
  13. Comfortable chairs
    Some chairs feel designed for a species other than Homo sapiens. I try to avoid these chairs.
  14. Good lighting
    This is especially true for me because my laptop’s screen reflects a lot in bright, sunny conditions.
  15. Good floor layout
    A place that arranges its furniture sensibly and has good overall interior design is a plus.
  16. Good bathroom
    The cleaner, the better. Good sinks and hand drying options are a plus.
  17. Food
    I don’t usually eat much at coffee shops, but I will at places like Joma that have a decent food selection.
  18. Comfortable temperature
    Not too hot or too cold. Just right.
  19. Clean
    I have found that the level of cleanliness usually reflects on the overall quality and service of a coffee shop. The Starbucks by the Opera House is an example of a very clean and pleasant cafe.
  20. Not too expensive
    This is not much of an issue in Vietnam as most everything here, including coffee, is relatively cheap. But due to the relatively high volume of coffee I drink, it’s nice to have an affordable coffee.