Anyone who has visited Southeast Asia would tell you that some places look as if they had come straight out of Europe. When the French colonized Vietnam, it imparted some distinctly European flare in the nation’s food, drinks, and perhaps most noticeably in its buildings. At a glance, you could mistake St. Joseph’s Cathedral for the Notre Dame de Paris, and who could blame you, the cathedral was indeed made in the likeness of the world famous place of worship. The oldest of its kind in Hanoi and one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina, it’s one of Hanoi’s largest places to hold mass and one of the city’s most popular tourist spots.
The grand landmark makes for a splendid background for photos, and square in front of the cathedral is a great makeshift ball court for children. To the side of the square is a row of restaurants and cafés that had the best views of the grand cathedral, and La Place in particular was the perfect place to kick back and soak in the sights and sounds.
You would think that because of its location right next to St. Joseph’s that La Place would be an overpriced tourist trap, but you’d be happy to hear that it certainly isn’t. A cozy little French café, La Place a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike, and is well loved for their cakes, warm coffee, and comfortable working atmosphere. Reminiscent of an era long gone, the café’s has authentic French tiles and is painted in a soft pink hue. The shop’s charm lies in its details: on the tables sit Coca Cola bottles that have been given new life as sugar decanters, some drinks are served in old glass cups, while their hot coffee is served with a wafer cigar on the side.
What’s on the second floor balcony is what most people come for: a sweeping view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. During the day the spot makes for a great photo opportunity, but at night it becomes a romantic perch from which to enjoy the cathedral’s twinkling lights.
While you’re bound to get a great view of the square and the cathedral, you might also make a new friend. La Place is where we met a kind stranger who offered to take a picture of my family and I. Friendly and bubbly, Laura is from Spain, but calls Vietnam home after falling in love with it many years ago. Continuously inspired by Vietnam and its people, Laura is the designer of her own clothing brand, Chula Fashion. She told us of how she considers La Place her second office, but sometimes also comes to simply enjoy the splendor of the square.
As my Vietnam excursion drew to a close, it was easy to understand why someone from the other side of the world would chose to make Vietnam their home. The country is ever inspiring and something new always lies around the corner of something old. The people are as vibrant as its art, the cuisine is out of this world, and its coffee scene is thriving. For such a fun and eventful trip, La Place by St. Joseph’s Cathedral was a sweet ending indeed.
Special thanks to Laura for being such a friendly and open person. To see her work, visit https://chulafashion.com/.