The Old Quarter of Hanoi
Hanoi Travel Blog› entry 3 of 23 › view all entries
Strolling through the noisy and busy Old Quarter of Hanoi was a lovely introduction to Hanoi, and Vietnam. Our hotel, the Hanoi Continental hotel, was located in a colonial building with beautiful classical furniture and atmospheric rooms and was quite close to Hang Ma Street, one of the central streets of the Old Quarter.
This colourful Hang Ma Street is where we started our walking tour. Several shops display countless paper lanterns, fake paper money, paper flowers and other products that can be offered to deceased ancestors. It was a first clue that Vietnam has many links to the Chinese culture, many would follow during our trip through the rest of the country.
Our next stop was Dong Xuanmarket at Cau Dong Street. This is the oldest market of Hanoi, and the covered building of three stories bursts with stalls that sell clothing, food and household articles. After we’ve taken a look at the market (here you can buy all sorts of fashionable mouth caps worn by just about every Vietnamese person on a scooter!), we followed Hang Chiew Street, into Nguyen Sieu Street, to Hang Buom Street.
At first I thought the word ‘Hang’ must mean street or something, but after a closer look in my travel guide I found out that ‘Hang’ actually means trade. Most streets in the Old Quarter are named after craft guilds that used to be located there. The second part of the street name stands for the kind of product that was made there. Hang Gai means silk street, Hang Tre means bamboo street and Hang Bac was silver street.
We had a drink and bite to eat at the nice restaurant and café called Bay. It’s located at 36 Ma May Street, in the heart of the Old Quarter and it has lovely, soft couches that make you want to spend the rest of the day there. Here we just relaxed and watched life on the streets from behind the window. We kept amazing ourselves that Vietnamese people sit and eat at the sidewalks. First of all, all streets of the city are infested by hundreds of scooters, and their exhaust pipes make spending time on the full sidewalks an uncomfortable ordeal, but the local people don’t seem to mind. They squat or sit on ridiculously low stools and eat in a cloud of pollution, hardly being able to understand each other because of the constant honking horns. When I am travelling I like to do the same things as local people, but I prefer the soft couch of café Bay to a sore squat on the crowded sidewalks any time.
Right down the street from café Bay we visited the Memorial House, one of the Old Quarters best restored traditional merchants houses. This beautifully decorated property is build around two courtyards and is filled with fine furniture. It’s a bit commercial because of the dozens of trinkets that can be bought here and the numerous salesgirls that quietly follow you around to see if you need anything, but this place was definitely a nice addition to our tour through the Old Quarter.
When we were finished at the Memorial House, we took a wrong turn and ended up at Hang Mam Street, where we found numerous shops selling made to order tombstones. Right on the sidewalks several examples of marble tombstones were on display, including names and pictures, and craftsmen engrave ordered stones right in front of you. It was an unusual sight, but nonetheless interesting.