If you intend to visit Hanoi to have a first hand knowledge of the city and its cultural scene, then the Hanoi Old Quarter should be your base. Set in the middle of a rapidly developing city, the Old Quarter has managed to evade the rampant and unchecked urbanization around it and maintain it’s antique and distinctive style of living. A short walk in the Quarter can provide you with glimpses of what local life was about hundreds of years ago.
History of Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The history of this oldest developing area of Vietnam, dates back to nearly 2000 years, and till today is considered to be the city’s heart and soul. Once a swampy area, said to be infested with alligators and snakes, the Old Quarter, slowly but gradually transformed into a crafts area at the turn of the 11th century, after the country gained its independence.
The rich heritage of the Old Quarter had been maintained by the constant influx of skilled craftsmen who had been continuously migrating here from the outlying villages. They brought with them not only their skill, but their religious practices and beliefs as well. Each tribe had its own temple, shrine or patron saint to honor, with each street having at least one place of worship. While today, most of the temples have been converted into workshops, their distinctive style of architecture can be seen in the walls and roofs.
Why You need to Visit the Old Quarter in Hanoi?
The Old Quarter, locally known as Hoan Kiem District, adjacent to the Hoan Kiem lake, is today the commercial core of the city and a premier tourist destination. Hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping areas have sprung up in this crowded and eternally traffic congested area, inspite of which the abundant architectural wealth is on display.
A short walk from the Hoan Kiem lake, across Cau Go, brings you face to face with the tumultuous region of the Old Quarter.This prominent landmark, has now been made pedestrian friendly, with no sort of motorised vehicle allowed onto the streets in the evening. This is the time when the ‘bia ho’ bars and food stalls spring up, selling an array of local cuisine.
To get a feel of the traditional lifestyle, a walk around the commercial streets surrounding the lake is a must. These streets have been named after their original business roots dating back to thousands of years. The popular weekend night market, which starts from Hang Dao street runs till the edge of Don Xuan market is full of fun and friendly environment.
While most parts of Hanoi shut down after sunset, the legendary nightlife of the Old Quarter rises up. Sit down bars, live bands and DJ’s keep you entertained till late. Family friendly activities, like the traditional water puppet theatre, street shopping and food stalls are there to enjoy. Just sitting at the centre of Bia Hoi junction in itself is regarded as an experience. Hence to truly experience the Old Quarter through the day as well as enjoy the nightlife it is recommended to book one of the many hotels in the area and base your travels from there. It is super easy to find reliable agents to book your trip to Halong Bay as well.
The narrow alleys close to Hoan Kiem Lake is full of retail shops which have been running for generations.There are plenty of art galleries and high end boutiques here as well, catering to all types of budgets. Photographs, sculptures and paintings by renowned artists from across the country can be purchased here. As usual, bargaining is common here as in most Asian countries.
Hanoi would not be what it is today if it was not for the Old Quarter.The continuous din and noise of motor bikes, trucks and cars notwithstanding, the place has always remained a high decibel business area for the Vietnamese. The bustling life of the locals is vividly reflected here in the jam packed streets of this indispensable destination.