Old Quarter, Hanoi - review by Rusty Compass
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Old Quarter, Hanoi

| 16 Nov 2011
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Old Quarter, Hanoi
From the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake

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Our rating
16 Nov 2011

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a warren of bustling lanes that have been the commercial heart of the capital for centuries. The 36 streets were created in the 13th century to serve the needs of the royal palace. Each street represented a specialist guild of artisans and the names of the streets still reflect these today though serving travellers in hotels, restaurants and shops has become the most visible specialty in the modern Old Quarter.

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Review

Don't expect Hanoi's Old Quarter to feel like the ancient streets of Middle Eastern or European cities. There's plenty that's new about the Old Quarter. And while newness increasingly engulfs the old, this maze of packed narrow streets is so far at least, winning a pitched battle to retain its magic.


Photo: Mark BowyerOld Quarter, Hanoi
Also known as the 36 streets, the Old Quarter has been a centre of commerce in Hanoi for more than 500 years. Street names starting with "Hang" such as Hang Bac - Silver St, Hang Gai - Silk St, Hang Buom - Sail St and Hang Da - Leather St describe the produce that the local guild specialised in and sold there. These days most streets have diversified but you'll still find a few streets that have retained their old specialty.

It's worth spending a few hours wandering through the Old Quarter. There's plenty of shopping and loads of wonderful spontaneous scenes - Old Quarter residents still spend their lives eating, drinking and chatting on the streets - which is a big part of its appeal. Make sure you look above the ground floor shopfronts too - that's where you'll get a sense of the historic narrow fronted architecture. The long narrow tube houses are interrupted by centuries old temples and hole in the wall pho and bun cha stalls - many of which also go back decades.


Photo: Mark BowyerOld Quarter, Hanoi
Uncle Ho's former residence at 48 Hang Ngang is the Museum of Independence and has recently been renovated. The traditional house at 87 Ma May has been nicely restored and is open for visitors. It beautifully demonstrates how clever design allowed such long narrow houses to enjoy plenty of air flow and natural light - lessons seemingly lost in many more contemporary Hanoi designs.

The Old Quarter is rich with evocative scenes - from old doors, gates and alleys to Hanoi's ever gracious elderly, to women delicately balancing fruit, flowers and other wares on their shoulders.  You'll more than likely spend lots of time in the Old Quarter during your Hanoi stay. There are many good local and more upscale restaurants to found there. Walking is fun if at times a challenge. A cyclo is a very good way to get some basic orientation of the old quarter.
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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