Hanoi's Old Quarter
Hoan Kiem district and around, Hanoi, VietnamMore information Prices
Located between the Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake), the Long Bien Bridge, a former city rampart, and a citadel wall, the Old Quarter (consisting of 36 old streets inside) started as a snake and alligator-infested swamp. It later evolved into a cluster of villages made up of houses on stilts, and was unified by Chinese administrators who built ramparts around their headquarters. The area was named "Dominated Annam" or "Protected South" by the Chinese.
Walk north from Hoan Kiem Lake, across Cau Go, and suddenly you’re in the tumultuous streets of the Old Quarter, a congested square kilometre that was closed behind massive ramparts and heavy wooden gates until well into the nineteenth century. Apart from one gate, at the east end of Hang Chieu, the walls have been dismantled, and there are few individual sights in the quarter; the best approach is simply to dive into the back lanes and explore. Alternatively, you might like to see it first from the seat of a cyclo or one of the new electric cars that zig-zag through its streets to help you pinpoint places you’d like to come back to.
Once a bustling area where merchants and artisans gathered to sell their products, Hanoi Old Quarter consists of many small, meandering streets, each bears the name of the goods that was specifically traded there such as Hang Bac (Silver Product), Hang Ma (Paper Product), Hang Go (Wood Product), just to name a few.
Visiting this unique historical vestige comfortably lying around Hoan Kiem Lake, tourists get lost in a totally different world from the rest of the city and have the chance to explore the modest but energetic life of the local a hundred years ago, where there were no high-rise buildings, too much traffic or fancy stores; things will get a little bit smaller, as visitors may have used to those skyscrapers and shopping centers in other parts of the city, but not at all less lively and vigorous.
Everything spills out onto pavements which double as workshops for stone-carvers, furniture-makers and tinsmiths, and as display space for merchandise ranging from pungent therapeutic herbs and fluttering prayer flags to ranks of Remy Martin and shiny-wrapped chocolates. With so much to attract your attention at ground level it’s easy to miss the architecture, which reveals fascinating glimpses of the quarter’s history, starting with the fifteenth-century merchants’ houses otherwise found only in Hoi An. As you explore the quarter you’ll come across a great many sacred sites – temples, pagodas, dinh and venerable banyan trees – hidden among the houses.
How old are the streets ?
It would be a big surprise should you know that Hanoi's Old Quarter came into being at the time King Ly Thai To selected Thang Long as the country’s capital in 1010, that is, the streets have a nearly 1,000-year old history and became crowded & lively in 15th century. What makes them unique is that many of them remain in their very ancient architecture of the 15th century. Up to now, it has been the oldest continuously developed area of Vietnam.
What are their names’ origins ?
Due to their long-lasting age, they are called “Old Quarter” or “36 Old Streets” (as consisting of 36 member streets). Similarly to the Guilded age of Europe, “Hanoi's 36 districts” is Vietnam's version of the guild concept. In the past, as artisans moved to the capital city to do business, they gathered together in this area to share the resources. As a result, many of the streets were named after the crafts sold at that individual street. Pho Hang Bun (Vermicelli), Pho Hang Ma (Paper Product), Pho Hang Bac (Silver), etc. are examples of the streets carrying the name of the products sold there.
The phrase “36 pho phuong” often causes much confusion for most people; “Phố” means a street or a place for merchants to gather to do business, while “Phường”, a district or a guild of artisans specializing in a particular trade (phuong cheo, phuong tho, etc.). Yet, in any case, both are right to some extent.
Specialized craft streets and guilds: Most tourists are eager for exploring the old streets well-known for each one’s specialized industry. Hang Gai Street offers silk clothing ready-made and tailored, embroidery, and silver products. Hang Quat, the street that formerly sold silk and feather fans, now stuns the visitor by its brilliantly colored funeral and festival flags and religious objects and clothing. To Tich Street connects the above two and is still the wood turner's street. Hang Ma glimmers with shiny paper products, such as gift wrappings, wedding decorations and miniature paper objects to burn for the dead. Lan Ong Street is a sensual delight of textures and smells emanating from the sacks of herbal medicinal products: leaves, roots, barks, and powders, etc. Coming here, you may feel as if you were in a classical-styled area in terms of both architecture and product types!
To fully explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi, prepare your feet for a day of walking street to street and taking in the locals' daily life, the old-style narrow streets and houses, the colorful souvenir shops, and of course trying some of the most tasty traditional foods of Hanoians. Many agree that joining a Hanoi walking tour or food tour offered by travel agencies will give foreign visitors a full experience of Hanoi Old Quarter, including the daily lifestyle, the history lesson and the feast for their tummies. Those who would like to walk around the area might want to check out this Hanoi Old Quarter walking tour, while those who look to explore the tasty traditional food in the area are recommended to take a look at this.