Truly Hanoi Old Quarter walking tour

Old Quarter Hanoi

A visit to the Old Quarter in Hanoi should rank number one on any list of “must-do” Vietnam travel activities. Why? The Old Quarter deserves this spot because it’s unique, historical, fascinating, bustling with activity, it has rich aromas and its noisy.

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is over one thousand years old and today retains much of the old flavor that made the area special in earlier times.

In the Old Quarter Hanoi each street was the exclusive domain of one trade (guilds) so there are whole streets of blacksmiths, silver shops, paper shops, headstone makers and more.

Originally there were just 36 streets in the Old Quarter but today there are more than 50 streets. Although many of the streets are short, and the area is rather compact, I recommend visitors allow four or five hours to soak up the atmosphere and sights.

 Old Quarter Streets

Each street begins with the name Hang which means merchandise and the second word represents the product service. In this fascinating area some of the streets are: Hang Gai is silk street, Hang Bac (silversmiths), Hang Bo (baskets), Hang Quat (fans), Hang Thiec (tin), Hang Gaiy (paper or shoes – imagine that ladies!), Hang Huong (incense), Hang Bong (cotton) etc.

These days many of the streets cater to mixed businesses but there is sufficient activity to link one to a time long since gone.

The maze of streets here are narrow and bustling with activity from early in the morning. Although the streets are quieter at night there is still much activity.

The area begins around the well known landmark of Hoan Kiem and extends to the north and west of the lake. A good place to start is at the northern end of the lake by the Visitors Center where you can get a map which is invaluable as its easy to get disorientated in this area.

The Lonely Planet Guide has a suggested walking tour and has a good map with some useful background information on the area. Alternatively just wandering the streets marveling at the activity taking place on the pavements is a joy.

Welders crouch on the pavement welding boxes, hat stands or whatever else the client wants, delivery scooters weave in and out of traffic, stopping awhile here and there to pick up or drop off merchandise.

In the street for locks it’s said that you can get any type of lock your heart desires.

Another street sells mats and that’s all. Merchandise tumbles out onto the pavement right to the gutter in places forcing the casual wanderer out onto the street to compete with the scooter riders and cars – all tooting relentlessly.

Now some of the streets are mixed with other trades or services or they have changed to meet the market (such as toy street) but there are still many streets with exclusive trades to glimpse into a life of a bygone era.

Street Crossing in an art form

Crossing the street here, as in many places in Vietnam is an art form. You need to pick your moment and move slowly into the traffic. Don’t take on the buses or cars! Move slowly forward keeping your eyes on the vehicles coming towards you. NEVER step back. Just edge slowly forwards and somehow the traffic moves around you.

Food in the Old Quarter Hanoi

Today, for the tourist, there are plenty of places to stop for refreshments. And you will need it! Local food places, restaurants markets, bars, juice cafes, the local coffee and tea cafes all compete for a narrow corner of space in this bustling area of Hanoi.

Join with the locals as they shop for their days supplies at the local markets, buy a loaf of French bread and munch it as you wander the shady tree lined streets.

What you won’t find in the Old Quarter Hanoi are the fast food chains so prevalent in many other tourist spots around the world.

Stopping awhile at a local café with tables which spill out onto the street affords travelers the opportunity to sit comfortably and watch the activity happening around you. You certainly see much more when you stop awhile and just observe.

The ambience in the area is captivating and addictive encouraging visitors to return again and again.

It’s so interesting in this small corner of the world that I don’t think you can see everything there is to see in one visit.

However, if your time is limited, take a stroll around the area and eat in one of the cafes with outdoor seating. You will have memories to treasure.

The Old Quarter, Hanoi in my view definitely deserves to be the number one activity

on any travel Vietnam itinerary.

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