Old Quarter - Hanoi's Most Popular Areas
Hanoi Old Quarter is located on the northeast of Hanoi, belonged to Hoan Kiem district. The location of the old town was purposely in between the imperial citadel and the red river which is considered the advantageous area for trading development.
Monday, 17/02/2020, 04:56
Old Quarter’s history was dated back to the 11th century when King Ly Thai To decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Hanoi. From 13thcentury, the place began to attract craftsmen from all over the neighbor areas, through the time organized themselves into craft cooperatives and guilds. Inhabitants from the same villages flocked together and operated on the same street, making the streets to have a homogenous look.
In the 15th century, there were at least 36 crafts guilds in the quarter which doesn’t equal to 36 streets but double that number – 76 streets. Streets that belonged to a craft guild will be name “Hang” (wares) following by the name of the product the guild was specialized in. For example, Hang Tre street indicated that the street where bamboo (tre) wares were being sold.
Storekeepers back in the time were taxed according to the width of their storefront, so the storage and living space moved to the rear of the buildings. Consequently, the long and narrow buildings called tube houses became a familiar image in the Old Quarter. A typical measurement for such houses is 3m wide by 60m long.
In the 19th century, the area had been developed into a market network system. On the east was the busy residence together with the markets and crafts guilds. The business was constantly blooming ever since. On the north and the west sides lied the crafts villages and agricultural village.
With the French influence in the 50s, western-styled architecture prevailed against the traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architecture styles. Fusion blends between East and West not only in architecture but also in culture became trending.
Nowadays there aren’t a prominent style to Hanoi Old Quarter but the French architecture can still be seen in many landmarks of which the famous one must be mentioned is Hanoi Opera House. Due to globalization, the crafts guilds and cooperatives are mostly gone, except for some streets like Hang Gai (Street of Hemp/Silk) and Hang Bac (Silver Wares street)… where original crafts products still exist. On the other hand, come to Hanoi Old Quarter today, you can find a whole range of new products which have originality from all over the world. The old town has had its reputation as the busiest and most developed travel hub for travelers to Hanoi where you can enjoy attractions, foods, tourist services, and entertainments.
Hanoi Old Quarter Street Names
The Old Quarter’s street names date back five centuries to when the area was divided among 36 artisans’ guilds, each gathered around a temple or a dinh (communal house) dedicated to the guild’s patron spirit. Even today many streets specialise to some degree, and a few are still dedicated to the original craft or its modern equivalent. The most colourful examples are Hang Quat, full of bright-red banners and lacquerware for funerals and festivals, and Hang Ma, where paper products have been made for at least five hundred years. Nowadays gaudy tinsel dances in the breeze above brightly coloured votive objects, which include model TVs, dollars and cars to be offered to the ancestors. A selection of the more interesting streets with an element of specialisation is listed below. Note that hang means “merchandise”, not “street”.
Street name / Meaning / Modern speciality
Hang Trong / Drum skin / Bag menders, upholsterers
Hang Bo / Bamboo baskets / Haberdashers
Hang Buom / Sails / Imported foods and alcohol, confectionery
Hang Chieu / Sedge mats / Mats, ropes, bamboo blinds
Hang Dau / Oil / Shoes
Hang Dieu / Pipes / Cushions, mattresses
Hang Duong / Sugar / Clothes, general goods
Hang Gai / Hemp goods / Silks, tailors, souvenirs
Hang Hom / Wooden chests / Glue, paint, varnish
Hang Ma / Paper votive objects / Paper goods
Hang Quat / Ceremonial fans / Religious accessories
Hang Thiec / Tin goods / Tin goods, mirrors
Hang Vai / Fabrics / Bamboo ladders
What to do & see in Hanoi Old Quarter
I’ve always been surprised at the fact that I never ran out of things to do at Hanoi Old Quarter even if I did not plan in advance. Hanoi Old Quarter is a maze of small alleys where you can find all the things that you never knew that you need. From all kinds of street foods, restaurants, sidewalk cafés to scared pagodas, grandeur opera house and rustic Long Bien Bridge. You’ll walk through dozens and dozens amaze.
Hanoi Bach Ma Temple
The Bach Ma Temple, built during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th Century, is the oldest of its kind and an important structure to Vietnamese religion. Visiting the temple is possible, appropriate clothing is required to offer respect to the monks residing in the temple.
Hanoi Tube Houses
Hanoi’s aptly named tube-houses evolved from market stalls into narrow single-storey shops, windows no higher than a passing royal palanquin, under gently curving, red-tiled roofs. Some are just two metres wide, the result of taxes levied on street frontages and of subdivision for inheritance, while behind stretches a succession of storerooms and living quarters up to 60m in length, interspersed with open courtyards to give them light and air.
Heritage House Hanoi
To get a better idea of the layout of tube-houses, pop into the beautifully restored Heritage House (sometimes called “Memorial House”). There’s usually a volunteer on hand to show you through the various rooms and courtyards, who will point out the elegant carvings on the doors and balustrades, as well as examples of traditional fine arts and handicrafts such as ceramics and silk paintings on display. You might also see a calligrapher practising his art in a corner or a seamstress working on an embroidered painting. Some items are on sale, and might make a distinctive souvenir.
Night Market Hanoi Old Quarter
From around 7pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Hang Dao and its northerly continuation as far as Dong Xuan Market is closed to traffic, and vendors set up stalls selling all kinds of trinkets at the Weekend Night Market. Though it’s a fun place to experience modern Hanoi, there’s not much on sale that would interest Western visitors – most shoppers are Vietnamese youngsters snapping up fashion accessories like mobile phone covers. It can get very crowded at times (so watch out for pickpockets), but winds down after 11pm. Sections of Ha Tien, Hang Buom and Ma May are also technically closed to traffic on weekend evenings, though many motorbikes ignore this.
Best Food In Hanoi Old Quarter
There are some great places to try authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Here are four of the best places:
This place has everything – classic tube-house architecture, super-friendly and helpful staff, excellent Vietnamese cuisine, traditional musicians and cooking classes. Try the steamed fish in banana leaf and fried morning glory.
Hotel restaurants can sometimes be rather bland, but the one in Essence Hanoi offers some of the best gourmet food in Hanoi – both Vietnamese and Western – at reasonable prices. Go for the delicious beef in bamboo or the duck in coconut.
On the ground floor of La Siesta Hotel, this place welcomes diners with plenty of comfortable seating. Dishes like grapefruit salad and beef in coconut are elegantly presented and well prepared, and the service is flawless.
This is a rather difficult place to find, despite being almost next door to Heritage House – though it’s well worth the effort. Head down the twisting alley and up the stairs, and you’ll find a variety of cosy, high-ceilinged rooms with retro decor, cool music (Louis Armstrong, vintage Dylan), interesting snacks and cheap beers.