Speaking of Hanoi, foreigners often think of a small yet hustle city with a variety of cultural highlights, from historical sites to traditional cuisine.
Over thousands of years of civilization, Hanoi has transformed itself from a peaceful region to a bustling city with soaring economic growth. However, some places still breathe in the ancient atmosphere, and the Old Quarter is a typical example.
In the year 1010, King Ly Thai To made the historic decision of moving the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh) to Thang Long (Hanoi). Until the end of the XVI century, Hanoi, also known as “Ke Cho,” is the only city of the entire Vietnam country.
At first, there was no commerce in Hanoi. Only when transportation and economy developed did skilled artisans gathered here to form the traditional village and trading districts. “Hanoi 36 pho phuong” was gradually introduced in that way.
The unique aspect of the Old Quarter lies in the streets named after the specific commodity on sale. These streets demonstrate another aspect of the long-standing culture in Hanoi – traditional handicrafts. The selling items mainly come from famous crafting villages in Vietnam including Bat Trang porcelain village, Van Phuc silk village, to name but a few. These villages with a long-lived history still give significant meaning to the lives of Vietnamese in general.
Another incredibly attractive aspect to tourists is the typical architecture. The most common construction is shop-houses designed in long and narrow styles with slanted tile roofs. Shop-houses refers to a house built for two purposes, selling at the front and living, usually on the upper floor.
The Old Quarter has undergone many changes during the French colonization years. The French developed the infrastructure, constructed pavements, and added the lighting system. A range of Western-style buildings was built at the same time.
In the past, the Old Quarter covered a wide area with Hang Dau bordered in the North, Phung Hung in the West, Tran Nhat Duat and Tran Quang Khai in the East, and Hang Bong, Hang Go, Hang Gai, Hang Thung in the South. There were numerous ponds and lakes in the area, contributing to the picturesque beauty of the district.
In 1986, as the Government enforced the market economy policies, parts of the trading district turned into a residential area. The Old Quarter now lies at the heart of Hanoi, near the Hoan Kiem Lake.
The name remains the same, but many things changed in the Old Quarter. For the time being, the area is not only a living place for local artisans but also a popular tourist destination for both locals and foreign tourists alike. It would not be a complete Vietnam tour if you visited Hanoi without wandering around the Old Quarter, said foreigners.
Most of the businesses on the streets have changed to adapt to the fast-paced modern lifestyle of Hanoi. However, some streets still preserve the original trading items. You can find and purchase a high quality bamboo mat on Hang Chieu street, for example. Similarly, Hang Duong street is always known for selling sugar, jams, prunes, etc. Buy your family a sweet souvenir here from your Vietnam package tour here!
Strolling on tiny streets, visitors can catch sight of various ancient constructions including temples, pagodas, or relics of traditional villages. On special occasions, you have a chance to witness religious activities and folk music festivals taking place there. This is a cultural highlight of Vietnam that foreigners cannot afford to miss.
Life at the Old Quarter is perhaps most bustling after sunset. When the night falls, people gather here to meet up new friends and socialize over atop tiny plastic stools. Some count on the chilling feeling of “Bia Hoi,” a local beer, to cool off the scorching heat in the day, while some just want to observe the bustling nightlife in the Old Quarter. Whatever the reasons, these people give and maintain a cultural meaning to Hanoi in particular and Vietnam in general.
The Bottom Line
The Old Quarter is undoubtedly the commercial heart of Hanoi. It is a harmonious blend of ancient and modern life, and you can feel this fusion immediately once you take a stroll on the tiny trading streets. It is no doubt you will extremely enjoy the unique atmosphere of the Old Quarter.