Far from the tourist area of Hoan Kiem or the easy-going breeze of West Lake, My Dinh is the thumping heart of Hanoi’s west and one of the city’s fastest developing communes.
A concrete jungle of high-rise apartment buildings, multi-lane roads choked with traffic and construction sites on every corner, you could be forgiven if your initial impression was to get out as fast as you came in. But under the dirt settling from the bulldozers is buried the promise of a brighter future.
My Dinh is Hanoi’s answer to the country’s rapidly booming middle class. It might not be the most aesthetically pleasing area in the city, but there are hidden gems in a ‘looking at the skyline through the undergrowth’ sort of way.
Most people know the area for its bus station and imposing stadium, both of which are worthy of note — the bus station will take you to pretty much anywhere within a 150km radius of Hanoi for pennies, and the 40,000-seat modern stadium hosts a number of high-profile sporting events including, last year, a friendly match between the Vietnamese national football team and Manchester City.
But for your average person on a Friday night, an empty stadium and a bus station aren’t going to make the cut — surely there must be more to do in this seemingly wild-west dustbowl beyond ‘the High Road’. Someone mentioned they have a wild karaoke scene out that way.
A False Start
My photographer and I pull up on our bikes ready to take on the rush-hour traffic. We meet at the Lotte Tower on Dao Tan and devise a route to avoid the evening rush before heading west.
I quickly realise that I don’t really know much about the area save for The Garden shopping centre and the Korean influence surrounding it. I also remember having once been to a bia hoi in My Dinh. I got lost.
“There’s a couple of places down this way,” I say, attempting to sound convincing. The only landmark I can think of is Landmark 72, so that’s the way we head.
After a quick navigation via Google maps we make our way into My Dinh proper, ending up outside an open-air café on Nguyen Hoang called Corner Bar. The staff are putting up a big projection screen to show the football; every time they put it up, the wind blows it over, and they put it up again. We sit down and get a plate of chips, discuss Donald Trump, and ponder where would be the best places to check out in town as the sun creeps below the concrete horizon. With daylight no longer on our side we decide to call it quits.
It hardly feels worth the trip. This place doesn’t seem to have much going for it, so I decide to head back another day, this time armed with some advice from a friend who knows the area.
That advice was to visit a particular cha ca restaurant and my friend promised to meet us later to show us some good spots to party.
We pull up outside Cha Ca Ngon on Nguyen Co Thach. The restaurant overlooks a busy road and some apartment buildings, not the countryside setting I’m partial to, but we decide to give it a go all the same.
Walking inside we are ushered to a table in a cosy room with fancy tables standing on a slate floor; colourful artwork hangs from the walls.
Our cha ca arrives — one of the best I’ve had in Hanoi. The waitress eagerly puts together her best broken English to ask if we need anything else. My housemate — a seasoned veteran of late-night Vietnamese conversations at xoi vendors uses his best Vietnamese to order a selection of side dishes. A routine mistake; the amount of food is enough to feed a small army and we leave feeling conquered by it.
Beyond the Cover
Turning through the pages of My Dinh, we gradually uncover the story of a commune ready to make its mark on the map. Cafes line the road in front of the stadium, and beer houses and karaoke joints are littered between car showrooms and furniture warehouses.
I decide that having spent a couple of afternoons passing through the area, the best way I am going to get a feel for the place is to get a group together and come back in the evening to hit some of the more lively spots.
The first place on the list is a Czech beer restaurant called GoldMalt (2 Le Duc Tho, Tu Liem, Hanoi). The restaurant prides itself on being the only place in town to serve malt beer from the Czech Republic. The beer goes down a treat, especially alongside a German sausage off the menu, and to add spice to the mix, it’s brewed locally — meaning literally in the restaurant itself. We ask if we can have a tour of where the beer is made, but unfortunately the brewers aren’t there that day.
GoldMalt brews three different malt beers on site, and when we are ready to leave, they hand us all free membership cards giving us a 10 percent discount in all of their establishments; it’s certainly somewhere worth checking out for a cold beer in a friendly atmosphere.
With a little Dutch courage we end our night at Karaoke A99 (28 Le Duc Tho, Tu Liem, Hanoi). We are led to a bright neon-lit room looking like a cross over between Alice in Wonderland and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Flicking through the list of available songs I try and find an English song that I recognise, and coming up short of options, I opt for Hey Jude by The Beatles.
Our local friends sing their hearts out to some Vietnamese classics and we follow them up with the Spice Girls. Like many a karaoke joint in Hanoi, the choice of English music is lacking; I am also surprised to find a whole sub-scene of American country music that has made its way to this neck of the woods. Willie Nelson would be over the moon.
After a day of great food, Czech-style craft beer and attempts to sing Vietnamese power ballads, we say our farewells and part ways. The drive home takes me past the stadium where some kids are leaning on their motorbikes, trying to impress their girlfriends.
I turn the corner on to My Tri and get a fantastic view of Landmark 72 lit up against the night sky, and in the distance behind it, the Lotte Tower.
My Dinh is still a work in progress, but if you find yourself drifting towards Hanoi’s west side, you’d be missing out if you didn’t give it a go.
The easiest route to take to My Dinh from the centre of town is to follow Kim Ma west into Cau Giay. From there keep going west under ‘The High Road’ and turn left onto Le Duc Tho