Have you been to a place where if you want to purchase a certain item, say shoes, all you have to do is go to Shoe Street and you will find an array of shops selling only shoes? Sounds convenient, isn’t it. We found such a place in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
The Old Quarter is the historic soul of Hanoi and is defined by fascinating labyrinth of ancient streets buzzing with commerce. The street names literally translate into the name of trade it specializes in such as Silk Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Blacksmith Street, Bamboo Street, Sugar Street, Dried Fish Street, etc. These streets have long history.
In the 13th century, the skilled craftsmen who migrated to Hanoi from outlying villages formed cooperatives or guilds among artisans specializing in the same trade. Each of the guild had a designated street in the Old Quarter where its members could live, build workshops and sell their trades. Today, the original layout of the streets still exists. Many of them still specialized in the original crafts they were named after and some now specialized in more modern merchandise.
Sandals spilling on the sidewalk of the shoe lane.
Follow your nose and you will find your way to Lang Ong, the herbal street where the exotic aroma emanating from the herbal products will delight your senses.
A vendor on Pho Hang Bun, the vermicelli street.
A fruit vendor at a local street market.
The streets of Old Quarter are also filled with roaming vendors like this fruit vendor who ply her trade by bike.
A vendor in Pho Cau Go, the colorful flower street.
One of the stores that lined the street specializing in ropes and straw mats. It must be a slow day.
At one of the stores on the aluminum street, we found the adorable daughter of the shopowner peacefully sleeping on a cashier’s desk.
A man working on his craft on Pho Hang Thiec, the tin-maker street.
Finished tin products for sale at one of the stores on the tin-maker street.
We found Lo Ren, the blacksmith street, the noisiest street in the quarter.
Hang Ma street specializes in paper products used for wedding celebration.
The most popular street in Old Quarter for tourist is Hang Gai, the silk street, where one can buy ready-made or tailored silk clothing, beddings, scarfs, etc. The street is lined by tiny storefronts to large high-end silk shops.
This is one of the shops in Pho Hang Quat, the feather fan street. However, feather fans are no longer made and sold here. The street now specializes in religious altars and statues.
These are the classic examples of “tubular houses” in the Old Quarter. They are long and very narrow. The front of the house normally functions as a shop and the family lives in the back portion of the house. They were designed as such because the properties in the Old Quarter were and still are taxed based on the width of the frontage.
When the craftsmen from the villages moved to the area, they brought with them their religious practices, hence, the Old Quarter is steeped with rich religious heritage. Each guild built a temple or two on their designated street.
Some of the temples have been converted into living quarters or shops but their exteriors still look like a religious structure.
The Market Sreet.
Live crabs for sale on Market Street.
Locals come to the Old Quarter not only to shop but also to eat!
In the Old Quarter, the street is your restaurant.
A cafe spills on a pavement.
Even pets love to dine on the streets of Old Quarter, literally.
We joked that if you give locals a portable stove and few plastic chairs, they can create an eatery out of any space. Locals love their food and they’ll have it anywhere.
If you’re not into street food, you can head to Po Tha Hien, a street lined with restaurants popular with tourist. It is also popular for after-dark bars and lounges.
Yes, the streets of Old Quarter are tight and congested but the more you explore them more you find their charm.
We ended our exploration of the Old Quarter on the quiet street in front of St. Joseph Cathedral, one of the landmarks in the Old Quarter and the oldest Roman Catholic church in Hanoi. We were overwhelmed by the streets of the Old Quarter but we were charmed as well. Yes, it’s commercialized, touristy in many parts, but it’s still very exotic for a city and somehow endearing.
- We followed the walking tour in Lonely Planet Vietnam with modifications.
- We stayed at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and we highly recommend it. It is located in beautiful, peaceful, and convenient area. The rooms are beautiful and spacious and the level of service is topnotch.