There’s an old Vietnamese saying, “Hanoi has thirty-six streets and guilds – Jam Street, Sugar Street, Salt Street…”. Inside a modern and dynamic city, there appears an antique quarter, the Hanoi’s Old Quarter – the represented eternal soul of the city. These days, most Vietnamese and Westerners are familiar with the phrase “Hà Nội - Ba mươi sáu phố phường” (translated as “Ha Noi - 36 districts” or “Hanoi – 36 Old Streets”), or “Phố cổ Hà Nội” (translated as “Hanoi’s Old Quarter”), the top special historical vestige and sight-seeing of the capital, luring international visitors thanks to their mostly original state.
PEOPLE & THE OLD QUARTER IN HANOI
For people who truly want to experience a vibrant and multicultural community, the Old Quarter is a must-see destination. Here you can explore everything that you expect to see in Hanoi, from the French-styled architecture, distinguished Vietnamese cuisine to the genuine landscapes and people’s activities on the street. The hectic open streets combined with small and narrow alleys and local houses will give you the most intricate illustration of the atmosphere and life of the people in this area.
Where is the Old Quarter?
The Old Quarter lies in the center of Hoan Kiem District, right near the Hoan Kiem Lake.
History of establishment
During the French colony, the Quarters was renovated and extended and became a busy marketplace of local people and foreigners from countries like India and France. Skilled craftsmen moved from their home villages of Red River Delta to the Quarter to live and work along with others in the same street. This might be why each street in the Quarter was reproduced especially for artisans of the same services.
Things to do and see?
1. Specialized craft streets
Anyone in Vietnam and maybe most of the foreigners has at least once heard of the phrase “Ha Noi - 36 districts”. This demonstrates the distinctive feature of the Old Quarter, that most of the streets here were named after the traditional goods or service sold on that specific street.
Now some of them still maintain the business of the original goods so you will be a bit surprised when coming across streets with most or all stores selling similar things. There are streets named for combs (Hang Luoc), silver (Hang Bac), shoes (Hang Giay), poultry (Hang Ga), paper products (Hang Ma) etc.
The architecture in the Old Quarter is one of the main factors that draw thousands of visitors every year. As many other places in Hanoi, the French style embodied every corner of the Old Quarter, with the doors and windows painted green on the yellow wall.
But this is also the most crowded and prosperous trading area of the city. Therefore, most of the house’s first floor is used for selling goods or other services like café, restaurants, etc. You might have to… look up to the higher floor to actually see the original French architecture dated back to the colonial period.
Another signature architecture here is “tunnel houses”. The houses are usually narrow but very long, with the front is less than about 3 to 5 meters but the length might be over ten meters.
You can check out The Hanoi Ancient House at 87 Ma May Street which is a typical example. Now it is open for tourists to have a look at the life of Hanoi in the past, as well as enjoy and purchase some Vietnamese traditional decoration items and souvenir.
2. Historical and cultural monuments
There are many historical and cultural landmarks in the Old Quarter for you to learn more about the thousand-year-old history of Hanoi and Vietnam, such as:
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Ngoc Son Temple
- Ly Quoc Su Pagoda
3. Food tour
The Old Quarter has been long renowned as the Culinary Paradise in Hanoi. You can take a walking trip through the local vendors of the Old Quarter to enjoy the food. Most people will be overwhelmed by how many varieties of foods are available here. Here are some ideas for you to start.
- Pho: there are in total 5 famous places selling Pho in the Quarter, such as Pho at 10 Ly Quoc Su Street, Pho at 49 Bat Dan Street. Here you can have true and original Pho of Hanoi with deep flavor, thin-sliced rice noodle, high-quality beef and crispy hollow fried breadstick.
- Culinary tour at Dong Xuan Valley: there is a wide range of dishes available such as bún ốc (rice noodles with snails), bún riêu (noodles in crab chowder), miến vịt ngan (vermicelli with duck meat), etc, all for average 15.000 to 30.000 VND.
- “Bún chả” - Kebab rice noodle at Hàng Buồm Street, Hàng Mành Street.
- Have Vietnamese coffee and enjoy the view like a Hanoian on Nguyen Huu Huan Street or Nha Tho Street
- Chatting with your friends while having lemon iced tea: there are so many places to drink lemon iced tea in the Old Quarter, but the most popular places are around Nha Tho Street and Cho GaoStreet.
- Beer on Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien Street: You can enjoy the street life while cooling off with some fresh beer at unbelievably cheap price.
The Quarter is a hotspot for nightlife entertainment. You don’t have to plan anything, just walk around the street and enjoy bar-hopping, sitting on small stools to enjoy street snacks with the friendly crowds from all countries around the world.
People of the Old Quarter
It’s a common thing for tourists to say: “There are people everywhere in the Old Quarter!” In this busy place, you'll find ordinary Vietnamese people going about their daily life, tourists wandering around to find some interesting souvenirs, and street vendors selling their goods, etc.
People living in the Old Quarter have witnessed the history of the development of Hanoi for three to four generations. They live in small ancient houses of about 6 meters square, mostly in the alleys. These deep and narrow alleys just keep going on and on, and the houses are built so close together that there is not enough space for everyone, some households even share the same bathroom.
Despite such inconvenient living conditions, people here still maintain their sophisticated traits and especially a strong awareness of preserving traditional values of ancient Hanoi. Generations of the locals here dedicate their lives developed guilds or craft cooperatives of traditional products, such as jasmine tea, lotus tea, etc., inside the ancient houses. The locals are very friendly and helpful, they are willing to help you anytime with the complicated streets and advice on good places for delicacies.
Being not only home for Hanoian, the Old Quarter has also been a favorite spot of entertainment for both Vietnamese and foreign tourists. The streets are always packed with people coming here to shop, enjoy street food or have fun at pubs and bars. Here becomes particularly vivid during nights at the weekend.
- Located in the heart of the city, Hanoi Old Quarter is accessible by various types of transportation. You can take a look at the Quarter from many ways: windows of your tour bus, on a bike or motorbike. But it’s best to see and explore the Old Quarter by walking.
- There are so many cheap hostels inside the Old Quarter with very affordable price for tourists from other areas and countries.
- The pedestrian way in the Old Quarter has now been extended and last from Friday to Sunday, so you should research for the parking lot in advance when coming here during weekends. The parking price is usually from 10,000 – 20,000 VNĐ.