The 50 Things You Must Do in Asia

By Hanya Yanagihara - 2013-07-23T16:27:10Z

Photograph by Greg Elms/Getty Images

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Revel in the Cafe Culture of Hanoi: Vietnam

As you drive through the streets, you’ll see all the little tableaux that, in between the omnipresent neon-lit shops selling cheap clothes and cell phones, make Hanoi the place it is: dozens of pho stands, with their big cauldrons of simmering broth; vendors selling mountains of fruit; bicyclists pedaling by with basketfuls of fresh-baked bread; and, especially, those little street restaurants with their low tables and domino-shaped stools on which men while away the afternoon, eating, smoking, and chatting. This casual café culture can, of course, be partly attributed to the French influence, but it’s not all their doing: Hanoi is an ancient city and the seat of Vietnam’s university, court culture, and poetry. There is a very long tradition here of sitting around with some tea and gabbing, quoting lines of poetry, and arguing politics.

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