Of all the places I’ve lived in Vietnam, and I’ve spent nearly 5 years there, the most beautiful and serene time I lived, were the months I spent along the shore of West Lake (Ho Tay).  I rented an apartment on the small island, called Lang Yen Phu, which though it wasn’t far from the center of town, was also not long removed from being a fishing village. Indeed, my neighbors were still fishermen.  I’d enjoy taking breaks from my work, to sip coffee and look off my balcony, and watch them paddle out to the middle of the lake in little boats to cast their nets.

The land of Hồ Xuân Hương

Nature just looks bigger when you’re at the bank of a large lake, with nothing but water and sky looking back at you. Sitting in my room at night during a thunderstorm with the window shades up, you could see lightning crack across the sky.  The sunsets looked redder. Especially when the fog that the poet and national treasure Ho Xuan Huong wrote about hung over the lake. I read her poems when I first learned Vietnamese, and now I was experiencing it for myself.

My body is powdery white and round
I sink and bob like a mountain in a pond
The hand that kneads me is hard and rough
You can’t destroy my true red heart

— Ho Xuan Huong (Chin Translation)


I was productive too.  I could sit with my laptop on the balcony and work undisturbed with lots of light, and was inspired and focused. Though there were times when the Wifi did go out.  First time was because the router was bad.  Then later when a Typhoon knocked out the ISP’s connection to the Transatlantic cable it went out for a few days. That caused me to have to leave my apartment and find places with a different ISP, but that’s a longer discussion.


The swimming was good too! The lake which is probably about 10 miles in circumference has so many cool places to explore.  Among them were two pretty good pools for lap swimming. The one closest to my house was actually the hotel pool for the Thang Loi Hotel.  This pool sits right at the edge of the water, and is often empty.  If you’re not a guest you can buy an inexpensive day pass to swim, while others lounge around and order food.  The only times I couldn’t swim were on one sunny weekend days when it seemed like the whole lot of English teachers would descend on the pool and turn it into a Vegas pool party. Fortunately, around the corner there was a 50 meter pool (still no lane lines), the Sao Mai pool.  It was there that the local guys, challenged me to a series of impromptu 100m breastroke races. I beat the first guy, but the second guy got me.

But wow, how many fun things are there to do on West Lake (Ho Tay).  My buddy Đức would drive over, and we’d head to one of the Bia Hơi on the edge of the lake. Bia Hơi are like traditional beer garderns in Hanoi, and they are everywhere. We could drink beer, eat peanuts, and look out over the lake, and Chem Gio (that’s the Vietnamese word for BS; kind of like shooting the breeze, but in a more grandiose way, from what I gather).


It’s also the area where a lot of Westerners live.  So, there are some quality Hamburgers at SunKats. There is also a nice cafe selling ethically sourced coffee at Oriberry coffee.  Oriberry works with ethnic minorities to produce value-added coffee, and they sell it in their shop. I spent a lot of time in there, working on my computer, setting up Artifactory, and writing my gRPC IDL as I recall.