- HANOI OLD QUARTER TOUR
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1. Hoan Kiem Lake
Start with a visit to the Ngoc Son pagoda on the north end of the lake. Cross the red Bridge of the Rising Sun
to reach the temple. From this most prominent point in the city, follow
the northern edge of the lake heading west and cross over the busy
traffic circle. This busy square is known as the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square (The Tonkin Free School Movement Sq.), named for the early-20th-century nationalist movement that would eventually spawn grassroots Communism in Vietnam.
West from the square is:
2. Hang Gai Street (Hemp St.)
busy avenue marks the southern boundary of the Old Quarter. Hang Gai no
longer supports hemp outlets as in days of old (the street would also
host print shops and bookstores in the 19th c.) but is lined with
boutique shopping, galleries, and silk tailors. Just a few hundred
meters west of the traffic circle (on the left) you’ll find a large banyan tree
out in front of what was once a prominent communal house at no. 85 Hang
Gai. The tree is one of the finest specimens of an old banyan in the
city, a perfect example of nature’s adaptability as heavy roots cleave
large stones and masons have built around the old tree for centuries.
The sight is like a small temple, with sticks of incense wedged between
knobs of the tree and offerings of rice whiskey lining the base of the
Turn right off of Hang Gai and look for a small street sign pointing to:
3. Tam Thuong Alley
Follow a few crooks in this quiet little alley and you come to the Yen Thai Communal House,
a classic low tile roof over a wooden entry that gives way to a quiet
courtyard. Just across the street are a few guesthouses popular with
French backpackers. Tam Thuong terminates at Yen Thai Street where you’ll make a left and, in the morning, walk through a small open-air market with great morning light for photography.
Turn right at the end of Yen Thai Street onto Hang Da Street:
4. Hang Da Market and Hang Dieu Street
At the intersection of Yen Thai and Hang Da is the Hang Da Market, which is a large, local dry-goods and clothing market. After a quick look, head north on Hang Da — don’t miss the large bird shop with a wall of bamboo cages on the northern corner of the Hang Da Market.
north, Hang Da becomes Hang Dieu Street. Hang Dieu was traditionally
the area for tobacco and pipe sellers; keep an eye out for the
filigreed colonial edifices at no. 66 and no. 77 Hang Dieu (you’ll have
to look up to distinguish these from the concrete clutter).
5. Take a Break—Bun Bo Nam Bo, at 67 Hang Dieu St. (tel. 04/923-0701), serves one of Hanoi’s most popular one-dish noodle specialties.
Turn right off of Hang Dieu onto:
6. Bat Dan Street
street once housed sellers of clay bowls that were brought to the city
from riverside workshops along the Red River. No. 33 Bat Dan is a very
ornate and colorful communal house.
Turn left (go north) on Thuoc Bac Street, once an area for traditional medicines. Then turn left (west) on:
7. Hang Phen Street
At the corner of Hang Phen and Bat Su, look for a preserved traditional house, characterized by its low tile roofline, at no. 52 Bat Su (also note the cozy little coffee shop on the corner, good for a rest and to watch the busy street life).
Carry on along Hang Phen until it becomes Cua Dong Street,
which brings you to the eastern edge and wall of the Hanoi Citadel
built by the Nguyen dynasty in the 1800s. Cua Dong Street terminates at
the wall of the Hanoi Citadel.
Turn right off of Cua Dong onto:
8. Phung Hung Street
along the wall of the city’s old citadel, what marks the western edge
of the Old Quarter, Phung Hung Street is a notable sight among
Vietnamese tourists for the publication offices of an important
Communist paper at no. 105 Phung Hung. There’s a
plaque that notes this spot as a historical vestige, but if you spend
too much time studying the shuttered colonial edifice, local folks
might get edgy, thinking you’re a spy of sorts.
Turn right off of Phung Hung onto:
9. Hang Vai
Translated as "Cloth Street," Hang Vai is the bamboo district.
The busy exteriors of small warehouses are lined with stands of cut
bamboo poles, some more than two stories in height. This is the raw
material for those wonderful Doctor Seuss scaffoldings you see on
construction sites. The shops also sell bamboo tobacco pipes of the
"bong" variety, some quite elaborate. At the corner of Hang Vai and
north-south Hang Ga, keep an eye out for the communal house
at no. 44 Hang Ga St.: A corner door cut into the white plaster and
flanked by Chinese script ushers you into a small courtyard area with
banyan trees and a small temple to Bach Ma, the White Horse, a god
associated with Hanoi. Carrying on east on Hang Vai, look for the
entrance to the communal house at no. 7 Hang Vai.
Heading east, Hang Vai becomes:
10. Lan Ong Street
of the most interesting parts of the Old Quarter, Lan Ong Street is
still home to a large enclave of ethnic Chinese who sell the herbs and
medicines of old from small storefronts that date back to the origins
of the quarter. The best shops are on the right side as you head east.
Here you’ll find picturesque little interiors with walls lined in
massive dark wood cabinets with tiny drawers and buckets and bins all
around with the most curious assortment of dried goods you’ll ever see.
This is the kind of place where, sadly, you might be able to buy a
bear’s gall bladder or a monkey’s paw. The buildings all along this
short stretch are originals dating back as far as the 17th century.
Look for the busy elementary school at no. 42 Lan Ong, which was once the communal house
of the area’s Chinese population. Just across from the converted
communal house and all along the length of the street, look for low
roofs and narrow entries, especially those with tile roofs covered in
moss, as these are original Chinese homes.
A quick left (north) turn brings you to:11. Cha Ca Street
Following Lan Ong Street, heading east, cross the famous Cha Ca Street (Fish St.). Make a left (north) and look for the Cha Ca La Vong restaurant, which serves one of Hanoi’s most famed dishes.
12. Take a Break–Just across from Cha Ca La Vong restaurant, you’ll find the Hoa Sua Cafe (11B Cha Ca St.; tel. 04/923-1500),
a combination school and restaurant (they now have a number of
locations throughout the city), where young students serve good coffee
Returning to eastbound Lan Ong, turn left (north) onto Hang Duong.
13. Hang Duong Street
Hang Duong Street (Sugar St.) is lined with traditional constructions, foremost of which is the communal house on the left as you go north at no. 38 Hang Duong St. It has a stunning banyan tree in the courtyard and a dark, alluring charm to its smoky interior. Note: Hang Duong is a pedestrian area on weekend nights and becomes a busy little market for tourist trinkets and local goods.
A short detour off of Hang Duong is the 13th-century Thanh Ha Communal House, just a short walk east on Ngo Gach Street (Brick St.).
Continue north on Hang Duong, then turn right on:
14. Hang Chieu
Follow Hang Chieu east across the northern end of the Old Quarter to Quan Chuong Gate, the only remaining gate of the city’s once-formidable fortifications. From here, go right (south) onto Dao Duy Tu Street and look for the small entrance to the Huong Nghia Communal House
on the left side near the corner of Cho Gao Street. The communal house
has an entrance open to visitors who bring offerings and light incense.
15. Take Break–Tired? Thirsty? On the corner adjacent to the communal house on Hang Chieu is a popular bia hoi stand and restaurant where you can get a mug of local brew and get out of the heat for just 1,500 VND (10¢).
Turn right onto Nguyen Sieu.
16. Nguyen Sieu Street
a street named for a noted 18th-century scholar and lined with colonial
buildings (your architecture-spotting muscles must be strong by now).
On the right, keep an eye out for the small alley entrance to the Co Luong Communal House,
a colorful temple surrounded by modern relief sculptures, some of quite
fanciful Alice in Wonderland mushrooms and frightening demons.
Turn left (south) on Hang Giay Street. Go straight 1 block. Then turn left on Hang Buom Street. Immediately on your left is the important:
17. Bach Ma Temple (The White Horse Temple)
at no. 76 Hang Buom St., the Bach Ma Temple is open from 7:30 to
11:30am and 1:30 to 6pm daily (until 9pm on holidays). Built in A.D.
1010, the temple is dedicated to the White Horse of legend, which, it
is said, helped the early king of the Viet people, Ly, decide where and
how to defend his city. The temple interior is a grand courtyard of
massive red pillars and large Buddhist statuary and altars. Although
the temple remains open, at press time it was under construction; for
the time being, plan on tip-toeing around construction crews.
Continue east along:
18. Hang Buom Street
the Bach Ma Temple, continue east on Hang Buom (Sail St.). Once
adjacent to a small tributary of the To Lich River, which brought goods
to the city, Hang Buom was where local merchant vessels came to refit
their ships. Look for the many colonial buildings and traditional
Vietnamese houses, as well as a communal house at no. 22 Hang Buom.
As Hang Buom curves to the right (south), it becomes:
19. Ma May Street
May is the beginning of the busiest budget tourist areas of the Old
Quarter. In and among Internet cafes and tourist restaurants (often one
and the same), you’ll find good examples of traditional and colonial
buildings. The Huong Tuong Communal House is at no. 64 Ma May, and one of the most interesting sights in the city can be found at no. 87 Ma May,
a refurbished and restored traditional house. Here, for a fee of just
20,000 VND ($1.30), a young docent dressed in a traditional flowing ao dai
gown will take you on an informative tour of the building and can
explain important details about life in the Old Quarter in centuries
past. With the careful renovations done by a UNESCO-funded, French- and
Canadian-backed organization, this classic home offers a unique
opportunity to have a close look at the interior detail of a
traditional Old Quarter home. Also see the similarly renovated property
at no. 38 Hang Dao St.
Ma May also houses some
fine services, such as Tamarind Café, where you can grab something to
eat, check your e-mail, and shop for trinkets.
Heading south on Ma May, turn right at its terminus with:
20. Hang Bac Street
west on Hang Bac, you’re in the heart of the backpacker area. Here
you’re sure to be assailed on all sides by touts and hucksters and have
your pick of budget tours from the many storefronts that line this busy
street. Hang Bac means Silver Street and the silver these days is
mostly the stuff coming from your pocket and falling into tour
operators’ hands, though you still can find some silver (and gold)
jewelry makers and sellers.
As you approach the intersection of Dinh Liet Street, look right and you’ll see the large Chuong Vang Theater at no. 72 Hang Bac, which was the stronghold of troops who laid siege to the French after the August Revolution in 1945.
find good shopping and lots of goods and services in this area. You can
finish the tour here, or check out one more sight worth seeing.
Head west on Hang Bac. Turn left (south) on:
21. Hang Dao
Immediately on your right, don’t miss another fine example of a restored traditional Old Quarter house, much like the one on Ma May (and run by the same folks). No. 38 Hang Dao
is a two-story home that was once owned by silk merchants. Quite
spacious and elaborate (silk merchants were wealthy), you’ll see how an
Old Quarter house was set up, including where the worship area was set
(now an office), as well as where the family lived, cooked, and worked.
Helpful docents guide you through for a fee of 20,000 VND ($1.30) (or
for free if you’ve got your ticket from Ma May St.).
Hang Dao continues south and ends at Hang Gai and the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square (The Tonkin Free School Movement Sq.). Look for the large ocean-liner-shaped building that overlooks the square and Hoan Kiem Lake to the south.
22. Take a Break–On the fourth floor of the most prominent building on Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, find the popular Highland’s Coffee, a good place to meet up after your walk or to rest your bones after completing the circle.