When I ask myself about my favorite things in the city I’m living and working at, the over-1000-year-old capital of Vietnam, the first thing that came up in my mind was “Phố Cổ” – Hanoi old quarter . Not many places in Vietnam you can see such rapid, globalized development growth on a rich, conservative cultural background. And certainly, there are not many places in Vietnam that have people who come to find modern entertainments, to simply have a blast and people who come to enjoy the peacefulness and to reminisce the old memories. Hanoi Old Quarter can be so different at different times. Yet there is one thing for sure – the quarter has many things to offer, to everyone.
So if you are seeking for a unique and thorough experience in Hanoi in general and in old quarter in particular, this article might be a window for you to understand the Hanoi life a little better.
HANOI OLD QUARTER – HISTORY AND CULTURE
Hanoi Old Quarter is located on the northeast of Hanoi, belonged to Hoan Kiem district. The location of the old town was purposely in between the imperial citadel and the red river which is considered the advantageous area for trading development.
Old Quarter’s history was dated back to 11th century when King Ly Thai To decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu to Hanoi. From 13th century, the place began to attract craftsmen from all over the neighbor areas, through the time organized themselves into craft cooperatives and guilds. Inhabitants from the same villages flocked together and operated on the same street, making the streets to have a homogenous look.
In 15th century, there were at least 36 crafts guilds in the quarter which doesn’t equal to 36 streets but double that number – 76 streets. Streets that belonged to a craft guild will be name “Hang” (wares) following by the name of the product the guild was specialized in. For example, Hang Tre street indicated that the street where bamboo (tre) wares were being sold.
Storekeepers back in the time were taxed according to the width of their storefront, so the storage and living space moved to rear of the buildings. Consequently, the long and narrow buildings called tube houses became familiar image in Old Quarter. Typical measurement for such houses is 3m wide by 60m long.
In 19th century, the area had been developed into a market network system. On the east were the busy residence together with the markets and crafts guilds. Business was constantly blooming ever since. On the north and the west sides lied the crafts villages and agricultural village.
With the French influence in the 50s, western styled architecture prevailed against the traditional Vietnamese and Chinese architecture styles. Fusion blends between East and West not only in architecture but also in culture became trending.
Nowadays there aren’t a prominent style to Hanoi Old Quarter but the French architecture can still be seen in many landmarks of which the famous one must be mentioned is Hanoi Opera House. Due to the globalization, the crafts guilds and cooperatives are mostly gone, except for some streets like Hang Gai (Street of Hemp/Silk) and Hang Bac (Silver Wares street)… where original crafts products still exist. On the other hand, come to Hanoi Old Quarter today, you can find a whole range of new products which have originality from all over the world. The old town has had its reputation as the busiest and most developed travel hub for travelers to Hanoi where you can enjoy attractions, foods, tourist services and entertainments.
THINGS TO DO
I’ve always been surprised at the fact that I never ran out of things to do at Hanoi Old Quarter even if I did not plan in advance. Hanoi Old Quarter is a maze of small alleys where you can find all the things that you never knew that you need. From all kinds of street foods, restaurants, sidewalk cafés to scared pagodas, grandeur opera house and rustic Long Bien Bridge. You’ll walk through dozens and dozens amazes.
Enjoy sidewalk cafés
Vietnamese coffee has made a name for itself for its strong tastes and fragrant smells. Come to the old quarter of Hanoi, you can find the famous Vietnamese coffee in most amazing places – with just a plastic tool on the humble sidewalk, you can enjoy the very own Vietnamese coffee culture. Sidewalk cafes don’t have that kind of fancy design of a café house such as Starbucks; but it has something else – a sense of being a part of the everyday life of Hanoi.
A sidewalk coffee can be found almost everywhere in Old Quarter. Just take a short walk from Hoan Kiem lake, you can find one in no time. Make enjoying sidewalk cafés a part of you nightlife tour around Hanoi and you won’t be disappointed.
What to order: (iced) black coffee, (iced) brown coffee (black coffee + condensed milk), egg coffee.
Sightseeing from Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge is another heritage left from the days of French Colonialism. The architect that built this bridge was the very one who had constructed the symbolic Eiffel Tower. And just like Eiffel Tower, Long Bien Bridge also become a symbol which represents a specific period of the city’s history. Its rustic, vintage beauty has made Long Bien a wonderful place for photographers.
You can access the bridge from Long Bien Railway Station located on Tran Nhat Duat street.
Hanoi Old Quarter Walking Tour
Just get a map of Hanoi and you are good to go on a tour around the old quarter. A large number of libraries, bookstores, art galleries are located just a street away from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Starting from the fountain on Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square, go deep into the network of alleys and streets, you’ll be a part of a hectic kind of traffic only to be found in the city of Hanoi. Here and there, you might catch a glimpse of the old styled houses – the evidence of the glorious days of the busiest, most prosperous trading area of Vietnam. Streets that worth visiting:
Hang Gai: silk, tailor-made clothing
Hang Ma: traditional votive papers, the whole street became so colorful during Mid-Autumn festival
Hang Bac: stores of silverware, jewelry and all kinds of accessory
Hang Duong: stores of sugar, sweets and O mai (sweetened and spiced dried fruits)
Ta Hien: sidewalk cafés, beers and street foods – literally a travel hub for all nationals
Street foods are available in both daytime and nighttime. During weekends, motorbikes and four-wheeled vehicles are prohibited in the old quarter, you can enjoy street performances quite leisurely.
Shopping at Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is a place worth visiting yet at the same time it can be a challenge for tourists for Dong Xuan market is the oldest traditional local market of Hanoi. It can be said as a paradise for shopping where you can find all the things you can imagine there. However, shopping at Dong Xuan market is only cheap for those who know how to bargain. Even if you’re not confident with your bargaining skill, Dong Xuan market is still the best place to buy food, clothing and souvenirs.
- When shopping at Dong Xuan Market, keep your eyes on your belongings. Dong Xuan market is not really famous for pickpocketing but it’s so busy and crowded at times so you can never be too cautious.
- When bargaining, it’s really effective to use some Vietnamese sentences with a lot of smiles. You can start offer at half of the price shop owners announced then raise your price gradually until the shop owner agrees.
- Location: Dong Xuan Street
Visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of Jade Mountain) are the classic bits of Hanoi tourism. Located just next to the Old Quarter, the lake brings a fresh breath to the busy and crowded streets. Indeed, after the exhausting walking tour to the quarter where you have to weave through the ever-busy traffic flow of motorbikes and taxis, take a short rest on the bank of the lake would be refreshing.
Ngoc Son Temple should be the one of the best places in Hanoi to learn more about Vietnam worshipping culture. Ngoc Son Temple is dedicated to Van Xuong De Quan – the star of literature, and Tran Hung Dao – a national hero. The red The Huc Bridge is a site you should not miss when come to Old Quarter.
- Ngoc son Temple’s admission fee: 20,000VND per person for foreigners.
- Opening hours: daily, 7:30am – 5:00pm
- Dress code: no miniskirts or shorts.
- Other: do not make loud noise, no smoking, no arm cross, only record video when allowed.
Or in Vietnamese, “Big Church”, is a historical and religious landmark worth visiting in Hanoi. This is a Roman Catholic cathedral with neo-gothic style resembling Notre Dame de Paris, which was built over 100 years ago by the French. St.Joseph’s Cathedral is an important historical evidence of the French Colonialism and religious venue for Catholics in Hanoi today.
- Location: 40 Nha Chung, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
- Opening hours:
For Outside visit: all time
For Inside visit: visitors can only enter the Cathedral in Hanoi in the opening time of ceremonial practice as the following schedule:
Weekday: 5:30 am and 6:15 pm
Saturday: 6:00 pm
Sunday: 5:00 am, 7:00 am, 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 4:00 pm, 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Special ceremony is on 19th March every year.
Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House is the star of the French Quarter. Your French Quarter tour can’t be complete if you miss Hanoi Opera House.
- Location: No.01 Trang Tien Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
- For visiting inside:
Ticket Price: visiting tour no more than 20 individuals for 70 minutes costs 120,000VND per person. Performance tour no more than 250 individuals for 90 minutes (performance for 30 minutes) costs 400,000VND per person.
Opening Time: performance tour – Mon and Thu, 10:30AM – 12:00PM; visiting tour – Tue, Wed, Sat, Sun
For Opera House’s Show Schedule: http://hanoioperahouse.org.vn/en, average show tickets: from 300,000VND to 1,000,000VND.
Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison is a much heavier dose than the other two landmarks of the French Quarter. Hoa Lo Prison is not only a national historical landmark but also a war-crime evidence during French Colonial Period.
- Location: 1 Hoa Lo, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
- Opening Hours: daily from 8:00 -17:00
- Admission fee: 30.000VND/Adult
AROUND HANOI OLD QUARTER
Temple of Literature
Come to Temple of Literature to learn more about Vietnam under the influence of Chinese Confucianism. The Temple of Literature, besides its historical and cultural significance, shows a light on how Vietnamese people appreciate education and enlightenment of the mind. You can also learn more about some of the brightest minds and literature talents throughout Vietnamese history.
- Location: Quoc Tu Giam Street
- Opening days: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday
- Opening hours: In summer ( From April to October) : 07:30-17:30; In winter (From October to April) : 08:00-17:00
- Admission Fee: Adult: 30,000 VND (~US$ 1.3) for Vietnamese and foreigners; Students: 15,000 VND (~US$ 0.7) (ID, students card required); Children under 15: Free
- Dress code: do not wear these items: hats, shorts, miniskirts and tank-top inside worshipping/sanctuary halls.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex
Ho Chi Minh was proven to be the most influential politician, historical figure and leader of modern time to all Vietnamese people. The country treasures his life, his works and his legacy at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex. The whole complex can also be viewed as one of the largest and most beautiful organic garden of Hanoi.
- Location: 25 Hung Vuong Street, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
- Opening days: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday
- Closing days: Monday, Friday afternoon
- Opening hours: Morning – from 08:00 to 12:00; Afternoon – from 14:00 to 16:30
- Admission fee: 40,000VND per person (HCM Mausoleum, HCM Museum)
- Dress code: shorts, mini-skirts, sleeveless shirts, tank tops and so on are not allowed.
- Camera rules: Cameras, mobile phones and daypacks can’t be taken inside. The guards will collect those things before you enter the mausoleum. No shooting, video recording in restricted areas, especially inside the mausoleum. Putting your hands in your pockets and taking photograph is prohibited.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Located at West Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda with its history line more than 1500 years, is a great place to visit to know more about the religious life of Vietnamese people as well as enjoy beautiful landscape. Tran Quoc Pagoda strikes with its sacred and solemn beauties together with its rich history and important significance.
- Location: Thanh Nien Street
- Free entrance
- Opening hours: 11:00AM – 11:30AM & 1:00PM – 6:00PM (Mon-Sat); 7:00AM – 6:00PM (Sun and holidays)
HOTELS AT HANOI OLD QUARTER
Our own hand-chosen list of best Hanoi Old Quarter hotels. There is no doubt that a large number of hotels and hostels are located in Hanoi Old Quarter. Most of the tourists also choose to stay at Hanoi old town for its convenient location and abundance of services. Below are some of the mid-ranged and upper-ranged boutique hotels we believe to offer quality services in Old Quarter.
Somerset Grand Hanoi
Add: 49 Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Price from: USD 106
Somerset Grand Hanoi has made its name as one of the top hotels in the Old Quarter. With 185 hotel rooms, 3 restaurants, outdoor pool, tennis court, you can rest assured that the services from Somerset are top-notch. The hotel is only 7 minutes walking away from St.Joseph’s Cathedral and 11 minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy
Add: 12 Nguyen Quang Bich, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Price from: USD 76
It takes you only 17 minutes walking from the hotel to Hoan Kiem Lake, only few minutes to the old quarter, Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy offers 42 hotel rooms with modern facilities and decoration. You can expect from their restaurant and spa services.
Oriental Suite Hotel & Spa
Add: 58 Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Price from: USD 70
Just as the hotel’s name suggested, Oriental Suite Hotel & Spa emphasizes on the Asian style with darker color themes and the usage of woods. Bar & lounge, spa, sauna and safe locker are available.
The Light Hotel
Add: 128-130 Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Price from: USD 69
This hotel is a reliable choice for your stay in the old quarter. They have outdoor pool, free buffet breakfast and pool-side restaurant and bar with sophisticated design and decoration. From The Light Hotel, you’ll have to walk only 18 minutes to reach Hoan Kiem Lake.
Little Hanoi Deluxe Hotel
Add: 1 Yen Thai
Price from: USD 52
Little Hanoi Deluxe is praised for its friendly staff and good services. The hotel only has 15 hotel rooms but decoration and facilities are up top. But take in consideration that the hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but only a minibar.
Silk Queen Hotel
Add: 100 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem
Price from: USD 48
The hotel location is very convenient for a short tour to old quarter. All the popular sites are in within walking distance. Breakfast buffet is free of charge as well as the child caretaker services. Room rates are suitable for low-budget travelers.
Helios Legend Hotel
Add: 2D Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Price from: USD 27
Rooms of Helios Legend Hotel are decorated with western styles, golden and silver colors are prominent. Restaurant, free breakfast and safe locker are available while child caretaker services are not available.
There are still a lot of things to do in the old quarter of Hanoi and dozens more unique boutique hotels that not many people know of. It’s almost impossible to cover all of the good things you can find in this very busy area which leave us chances for next visit. However with this article I hope that you can never miss a single popular site on your Hanoi tour.