It’s a Friday night in Qui, Trinh Lai’s latest creation, and the place is pumping. In the ground-floor lounge bar and top-end yet casual restaurant located on the premises that once housed Sin Lounge, the clientele is a mix of young 20- and 30-something Vietnamese, internationally minded foreigners not stuck on their beer, and people who like the nightclub-esque atmosphere of a club in the environs of a beautifully crafted bar.
In Hanoi’s halcyon days after doi moi, the city rose at 5am and went to bed at 9pm. There were few restaurants, no bars beyond the staple bia hoi, and little to occupy the restless soul. By the mid-1990s there was a smattering of international restaurants, the odd bar, and the start of something akin to nightlife. By the turn of the century, this had gone up another notch or two. But beyond the odd band night — the Filipino bands had yet to infiltrate the city — there was little live music and only a few DJs, mainly local.
Behind the antics of District 2’s quirkiest hang-out, Saigon Outcast, is Linh Nguyen, though he is the last person who would ever tell you that. Typically seen cleaning up, helping behind the bar, or making sure the place runs smoothly, Linh is a man who always has time to stop and chat. His accent has a mild southern English lilt and his eyes are constantly wide with excitement at the prospect of another project.
Dan Bi Mong walks into the cafe, energetic and obviously fit, handsome in an exotic, windswept way. He shakes hands and thanks me for coming, a polite gesture for someone who has influenced Saigon’s dance and electronic music scene to the point of reshaping it in just three years.
I find Vo Duc Anh early on a Wednesday night at Hanoi Rock City, the music venue he’s run in Hanoi for almost six years. He’s on the phone, cigarette in hand, lamenting a guitar without strings and asking someone on the other end to bring some. He hangs up and extends a slender tattooed arm to me.
One thing that separates Vietnam from countries elsewhere is what happens after dark. Whether it’s the dead of winter or the heat of a humid summer’s night, after the sun goes down people come out to play. There’s no sitting indoors here, glued to the TV, the latest boxset in hand. This is an outdoors country, where life is lived on the streets, in bars and bia hois, in restaurants and drinking haunts, in parks and public spaces, on motorbikes, under bridges, over rivers, in small tea shops, or in cafes.
Beyond the high-rises and highways, the suburban enclave of District 9 has much to offer anyone looking for a day away from the city. Vu Ha Kim Vy and Bao Zoan tour the most northerly district of Saigon