On Hanoi’s Dien Bien Phu Street, an unmarked door and a flight of stairs bounded by walls painted green with pink flowers leads to a branch of Cong Coffee. Its low benches and spare tables are lit by oil lamps. Through gaps in the plants growing from its balcony, customers can watch the traffic ease past restaurants and bookshops. The décor – replicated at other Cong Coffee branches across Vietnam – is designed to evoke the atmosphere of its founder’s childhood in the 1980s. Its aesthetic would not be out of place on London’s trendy Brick Lane.
The café, which like other nearby venues caters to a growing number of middle class Vietnamese, is located in Old Hanoi, the historic centre of the city, which boasts well-kept public squares, tree-lined avenues and grand buildings from the French occupation. Many of the latter have since been repurposed as headquarters of national ministries and state businesses. Australian tourist parties pass in and out of the Metropole – an imposing colonial-era hotel – whose bars and cafes now see a large amount of business from local consumers, and restaurants and boutique shops crowd out the numerous street food stalls. A short distance away is the Hoan Kiem lake, where crowds gather every evening to take the air and enjoy the views out over the water.
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