Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bia hoi lesson - How not to be tricked

As I mentioned previously, Vietnam makes a special beer, bia hoi, that's enjoyed very fresh every day by many.  I realize that identifying a bia hoi location may not be always obvious to many visitors so I'd like to provide a quick guide.

The trick is to look for people drinking beer from glasses such as this:

However, you may still mistakenly identify some tea sippers as bia hoi aficionados since their respective liquids can look similar.  Another key thing to look for is nearby beer kegs (although my understanding is that bia hoi is sometimes served from a big plastic jug).  This, for example, is most certainly a place for bia hoi:

However,  if so many kegs turns you off, Hanoi has an answer - the single-keg bia hoi establishment:

As you can see, this photo was taken when the night was ending and the bia hoi was beginning to run dry.

Now that your eyes are readily spotting kegs so that you don't miss a critical bia hoi opportunity, you may find that you start making too many "false-positive" identifications.  For example, as much as one could hope, this is not a bia hoi keg:

That is just too big.  So, once you've trained yourself to filter out overly large objects as potential bia hoi kegs you may fall for the next trap:

The size is closer but again that is not a bia hoi keg.  It's a big pot of "pho" -- a delicious beef soup very popular in Vietnam.  How can you know this is pho?  Well, if you lack pho pot identification skills or a sense of smell you can look at the prominent sign.  Which leads to the next tip.  Typically bia hoi places also have signs saying... you guessed it, "bia hoi".  Here is one example in a tourist area meant to capture the attention of even those who haven't yet learned the key Vietnamese word "bia hoi":

"OK" you say, "We're ready for setting out, right?"  Well, one more word of caution...  Sometimes you can be tricked by signs, especially if you don't pay attention to the marks above and below the letters in Vietnamese.  Here is a sign that initially raised my hopes I would soon be enjoying a bowl of pho:

I suppose this sign may be brilliant for capturing my attention...  Anyways, it isn't for anything you can eat or drink.

So, look for the glasses, the kegs, and the signs.  Don't let any of them trick you, even though bia hoi is great with a bowl of pho.  And with that, I think you're more than prepared for your own adventure.


  1. hahaha, thanks for sharing a such funny view of my hometown. Everything you mentioned is true! Great job ;)!

  2. Thanks and glad you enjoyed the post. As you can probably tell, I had a great time writing the post and conducting the "research" for it.