The Old Quarter of Hanoi: A Guide to the Legendary 36 Streets | A Mixture of History and Modernity

Hanoi's Old Quarter | Introduction

The Old Quarter is one of the oldest areas of Hanoi. As the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hanoi's significant development began in 1010 AD during the Ly Dynasty, boasting a history of over a thousand years. Centered around the "36 Old Streets" by the Red River, the Old Quarter is a well-preserved part of the old city. Stepping into this area, one is immediately captivated by its unique atmosphere. The streets here are narrow and maze-like, flanked by a continuous row of traditional shops and residential houses, with modern skyscrapers occasionally situated amongst them.

Hanoi Old Street Tour

36 Ancient Street

The 36 Old Streets are at the heart of the Old Quarter. This area began to take shape in the 13th century as a center of handicraft and commerce. A distinctive feature is that each street specializes in selling specific goods, a tradition that continues to this day. The names of the streets in the 36 Old Streets directly relate to the commercial activities conducted there. For example, Silver Street (Hàng Bạc) traditionally specializes in silver ornaments and jewelry, Silk Street (Hàng Gai) sells high-quality silk and embroidered products, and Medicine Street (Lãn Ông) offers a variety of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. There are also streets dedicated to toys, paper bags, locksmiths, and many other unexpected specialties. When visiting, you can witness various trades in action, like the tin smiths on Tin Street always busy welding and hammering. Although there may be occasional changes over time, such as Paper Money Street turning into New Year Goods Street during the New Year, the characteristic specialization of each district remains constant.

The 36 Old Streets pulsate with the rhythm of daily life and are always bustling during the day. The traffic in the old streets, much like the rest of Hanoi, is filled with the sound of honking horns, and pedestrians must be cautious while walking. For a more relaxed experience, foreign tourists might prefer to take a leisurely old street tour in the electric carts or rickshaws commonly available at the roadside.

Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market is a large indoor market and one of the biggest wholesale markets in Hanoi, located adjacent to the 36 Old Streets. Originally built by the French in 1889, it has undergone several renovations and expansions over the years. Inside Dong Xuan Market, there are numerous small stalls selling a variety of goods, including clothing, handicrafts, dry food, and everyday household items. The area around the market is also bustling and offers a chance to taste authentic local snacks and street food. It is a great place for shopping and for getting a glimpse into the everyday life of Hanoi's local residents.

The night market at Dong Xuan Market is also very famous. In the evening, the surrounding streets transform into a lively night market.

Old East Gate

Cửa Đông, the Old East Gate, is a part of the ancient city walls of Hanoi and one of the few remaining ancient city gates still preserved today. Its architectural style reflects Vietnamese traditions. Despite the erosion of time and the modernization of the city, the Old East Gate has managed to retain its original appearance amidst the bustling crowds and traffic, becoming one of the cultural symbols of the Old Quarter.

Chùa Bạch Mã

Bạch Mã Temple (Chùa Bạch Mã) is one of the famous historical sites in Hanoi, built in the 11th century and is the oldest existing Buddhist temple in the city. The name Bạch Mã, meaning "White Horse," comes from a legend during the reign of Emperor Lý Thái Tổ of the Lý Dynasty. When establishing Hanoi as the capital, he prayed to the heavens for guidance in choosing a location to construct the city walls. Subsequently, a white horse appeared and indicated the direction for the walls, leading to the establishment of this temple. Inside the temple, you can still see the statue of the white horse. The architecture of Bạch Mã Temple is also a typical example of traditional Vietnamese style, featuring intricate wood carvings and vibrant decorations.

Old House 102

Old House 102, also known as Đền Hàng Bạc, is actually a temple located within a residential house. Interestingly, it is situated atop an apartment building. The entrance might be hard to find, but after navigating through the narrow corridors of the apartment and turning a corner upstairs, a temple surprisingly appears. This has become a unique sight among foreign tourists.

Experience | Hanoi Night Market

The Hanoi Night Market is quite extensive, but it does not operate every night. It is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings starting at 7 PM, spanning Hang Ngang Street, Hang Dao Street, and Hang Giay Street. The night market is filled with a variety of stalls, where you can find handicrafts and clothing items suitable for souvenirs, as well as a wide range of Vietnamese snacks. Once the night market starts, the surrounding traffic is controlled, making it one of the few areas in Hanoi where you can walk around easily. If you happen to be in Hanoi over the weekend, it's definitely worth a visit.

Experience | Beer Corner

Beer Corner, literally translated as "Beer Street Corner," contrasts with the ancient charm of other attractions in the Old Quarter, representing Hanoi's modern urban culture and the lifestyle of the younger generation. Centered around the intersection of Tạ Hiện Street and Lương Ngọc Quyến Street, this area is packed with pubs and has become a popular social hotspot at night, favored by both locals and tourists.

This area is filled with numerous small beer pubs and street food stalls, particularly vibrant at night. The streets are packed with people sitting on outdoor stools, enjoying beer and delicious food, surrounded by lively conversations and laughter. In addition to beer, a variety of traditional Vietnamese snacks are also available, such as fried spring rolls and barbecue skewers. If you're in the mood for beer, don't forget to try a famous local Vietnamese beer called Bia Hơi. This freshly brewed light beer has a refreshing taste, perfectly suited to Hanoi's tropical climate.

Further reading

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