There has been this famous phrase about Hanoi originated from Nguyen Tuan’s book: ‘Hanoi – 36 streets and guilds’ – ‘Hanoi, 36 pho phuong’, also known as Old Quarter – the top special historical vestige and sight-seeing of the capital. It locates right in the heart of Hanoi Vietnam, between Long Bien bridge and Hoan Kiem Lake. Since the time King Ly Thai To selected Thang Long as the country’s capital in 1010, Old Quarter has come into being and had a nearly 1000-years old history up to now.
The name represents perfectly its origin. In the 15th century, many artisans moved to the capital to do business, they gathered together in this area to sell their products. As a result, many of the streets were named after the crafts well-known for being specialized or sold at that individual street i.e Hang Bun street (vermicelli), Hang Luoc Street (sewing work), Hang Bac street (Silver items),… ‘Phuong’ in Vietnamese means a district or a guild of artisans specializing in a particular trade.
Today Old Quarter has become the symbolic feature of Hanoi and one of the desired tourist destinations. The area somehow has remained all its 15th architecture. The old-style narrow streets and houses, the colorful souvenir shops, bring about not only a taste of a daily lifestyle of Hanoians but aso a breath of Vietnam’s history though some streets are no longer doing business on what they are named after.
Mopeds and traffic are completely crazy, but it works. It lives, it breathes, it is chaotic but always great fun. The streets are narrow. The pavements are over crowed. The trick here is that if you want to cross the road, keep walking and do not run, do not stop and do not turn back, and you will not be run over. It is quite an art to it really, so it must be best to have a tourguide on your first time here. It may take few days to get used to this place, but once you acclimatize it is fascinating. There are lots to see and plenty of good places to eat and drink.
Exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter, there’s one thing you can not pass: traditional street food. It is a sweet surprise for tourists that how tasty those foods sold on the streets can be at that amazingly low price. You can come across them anywhere on any streets. There are some famous places highly recommended such as Pho (10 Ly Quoc Su), beef steak (47 Ma May), ‘xoi yen’ (35 Nguyen Huu Huan). It’s a really different experience to sit and have a beer on Ta Hien street and watch the world go by. Tourists are also recommended to try the egg coffee at famous coffeeshops such as Giang café (39 Nguyen Huu Huan) from 1946 – one of the most famous cafes of Hanoi Nhan’s – Nhi’s – Di’s – Giang’s.
Do not hesitate to take a walk or a food tour when you go on Vietnam tour for the first time.