By Hanoi Local Guide
As the oldest continuously developed area of Vietnam, Hanoi's Old Quarter has a history that spans 2,000 years and represents the eternal soul of the city. Located between the Lake of the Restored Sword, the Long Bien Bridge, a former city rampart, and a citadel wall, the Old Quarter 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.
The Old Quarter began to acquire its reputation as a crafts area when the Vietnamese attained independence in the 11th century and King Ly Thai To built his palace there. In the early 13th century, the collection of tiny workshop villages which clustered around the palace walls evolved into craft cooperatives, or guilds. Skilled craftsmen migrated to the Quarter, and artisan guilds were formed by craftsmen originating from the same village and performing similar services. Members of the guilds worked and lived together, creating a cooperative system for transporting merchandise to the designated streets in the business quarter.
Because inhabitants of each street came from the same village, streets developed a homogeneous look. Commoners' homes evolved out of market stalls, before streets were formed. Because storekeepers were taxed according to the width of their storefront, storage and living space moved to the rear of the buildings. Consequently, the long and narrow buildings were called "tube houses." Typical measurements for such houses are 3 meters wide by 60 meters long.
The Old Quarter has a rich religious heritage. When the craftsmen moved from outlying villages into the capital, they brought with them their religious practices. They transferred their temples, pagodas and communal houses to their new location. Each guild has one or two religious structures and honors its own patron saint or founder. Therefore, on each street in the Old Quarter there is at least one temple. Now, many of the old temples in the Old Quarter have been transformed into shops and living quarters, but some of the old buildings' religious roots can still be recognized by the architecture of their roofs.
Although the old section of Hanoi is often called the "36 Old Streets," there are more than 36 actual streets. Some researchers believe that the number 36 came from the 15th century when there might have been 36 guild locations, which were workshop areas, not streets. When streets were later developed, the guild names were applied to the streets. Others attribute the 36 to a more abstract concept. The number nine in Asia represents the concept of "plenty." Nine times the four directions makes 36, which simply means "many." There are now more than 70 streets in the area.
Some streets have achieved fame by their inclusion in popular guidebooks. Han 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 Thinh 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.
Let us turn now to nine of the lesser known streets in the Old Quarter that possess a unique character worth exploring.
11 Reviews of Old Quarter
The old Quarter still has many of the original French style to it. There are many many places to shop for clothes to souvenirs. The clothing is Asian sized. A large in Vietnam belongs to a small or medium in the EU...
We used a walking guide from Frommer's and spent about half a day just walking through the various streets of the Old Quarter. Charming and quaint but watch out for the bikes at ALL times. take the seat at a...
You can walk and see all good things of hanoi. Lots of great restaurants serving great food all types catered for.
I had high expectations of the Old Quarter but was disappointed. It is just like the Chinatown here in Bangkok where I live but a few times bigger. Bit chaotic and I didn't like the fumes from the traffic. If...
Hanoi 's Old Quarter is has great shops. Good place to purchace gifts and you could bargain. The lake is within walking distance.
Don't miss the experience of these crowded streets with electrical wires in great bunches strung around faded but beautiful old buildings many of which are badly deteriorating. There are lots of excellent cafes...
Shopping is fantastic but so is just wandering the streets looking at the buildings and street life, I planned on staying a week but after a weekend in Halong Bay went back for another week and still could have...
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is busy as hell with motorbikes, bikes & cars going in every direction on one street. There are shops after shops, markets everywhere & althought the bargaining is not as much fun...
Narrow bustling streets with vietnemese going about there business and the smell of food are the mood of these strees at night. Small art shops in and around bars, cafe's & restaurants, intermingled with...
We stay in Golden Wings 2 Hotel at Ma May, Str, what to do and what not do do. You can buy, see and eat what you want; all within walking distance. Very interesting suburbs; at one road it is like this.
Be prepared to spend time looking for bargains and expect to barter for the best price. The range of items is endless. Just be carfull of the motor bikes when crossing the roads just slowly walk and they will miss...
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