Old Quarter in Hanoi, also known as the Hoan Kiem District or simply 36 Streets, is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Hanoi. It is home to the most popular hotels, historical attractions, tourist shops and cafes in Hanoi. The Old Quarter is the city's business and cultural hub and still retains the characteristic culture of Vietnam.
In existence since Imperial times, the Old Quarter of Hanoi has historical charm and is one of the must-visit places in Vietnam. The streets are teeming with local craftsmen selling traditional handicrafts, divided into guilds that specialise in different artefacts, and street vendors supplying mounds of delicious Vietnamese cuisine.
In addition to interesting historical architecture and markets, the Old Quarter is also known for its active nightlife - thus making it a melting pot of the best that Hanoi has to offer!
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Shopping in the Old Quarter
The alleys and roads of the Old Quarter are popular havens, offering a dizzying variety of choices such as clothes, paintings, souvenirs, shoes, jewellery, handicrafts, stationery, silk etc. The two must-visit shopping markets are the Dong Xuan Market and the Hanoi Night Market.
1. Dong Xuan Market
The Dong Xuan Market is an indoor market, and one of the largest in Hanoi. Hanoi. Located inside an ancient Soviet style building, the market has a variety of items for sale ranging from fresh vegetables, meat and fish to local souvenirs and handicrafts, clothes, luggage and other goods. It is also an ideal place to try some exciting Vietnamese cuisine.
Timings: 6:00 AM - 7:00 PM
2. Hanoi Night Market
The Hanoi Night Market is a weekend market that takes place from Friday to Sunday. It offers a range of Vietnamese clothes, jewellery and other accessories at bargainable prices, as well as its tempting array of choicest Vietnamese street food. There are also local performances including traditional Vietnamese dances and music shows that gives a very lively vibe to the market.
Timings: Friday to Sunday: 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Be careful of your belongings while out shopping in the Old Quarter, especially in the night markets - there are pickpockets and thieves around!
It is best to do the Hanoi Walking Tours in the morning, as the afternoon Vietnamese summer heat can be quite testing.
Most of Hanoi’s night clubs and bars close by midnight, so make sure to plan your little night rendezvous accordingly.
Taxi drivers tend to try and charge exorbitant rates, particularly for travel from the airport to the Old Quarter, so be careful and use only trusted official airline operators!
What to Shop For
Tourists often look for Vietnamese silk. The Hang Gai Street, or the Silk Street is popular in the Old Quarter for its array of colorful, fine silk items. They have both little boutiques, as well as local tailors - who can stitch up your choice of fabric into an item of clothing for you. Some of the best boutiques here include Khai Silk, Kenly Silk and Tan My Design.
Timings: 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Some other famous silk stores are the Royal Silk Hanoi at Hang Trong in the Old Quarter where a choice variety of clothes are available in both silk and cotton. The other one is the widely popular Khaisilk Botique, Vietnam’s largest silk retailer. Here you can find a wide variety of silk clothing and accessories like ties, shoes, belts and bags. Tailors are also available to stitch your outfit within 24 hours.
Hang Dao Street is a street that is famed for its hundreds and hundreds of varieties of just one thing - shoes. This is an ideal place to pick up branded items, rejected from Vietnamese factories usually because of small and minor imperfections. Collections of bags are also available.
Timings: 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Hang Bac Street, with Bac meaning silver, is an old and famous street renowned for its collection of jewellery and fashion items. You can pick up both traditional and modern items of jewellery like rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets etc.
Timings: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Hang Gai Street is popular for its collection of local Vietnamese art and paintings. The street is also known for art that propagates material from the Red media and communism.
Timings: 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Thang Local Art Gallery is must visit for all art lovers, with its beautiful collection of paintings and propaganda art depicting the Vietnamese war and life from the 1970s. It is located on Hang Gai Street.
Timings: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Another popular art hub is the Art Vietnam Gallery, located on Yen Lac Street. It houses a collection of contemporary art and paintings by established talent. It is open only by appointment, and you get a personal tour by its lovely owner herself, Suzanne Lecht.
Some other places to visit include - Asiga Hanoi for some wonderful Vietnamese handicrafts and souvenirs, Hang Can for stationery items, Cau Go for women’s accessories, Thouc Bac for tools, Hang Buom for some delicious sweets and wine, and Hang Hom for bamboo items.
Nightlife in Old Quarter
The Old Quarter in Hanoi boasts of an exciting, fun nightlife with its many different activities and places to spend the night at. The Water Puppet Show at the Water Puppet theatre is an enthralling performance offering a glimpse into traditional Vietnamese culture and lifestyles. The Hanoi Night Market is another option to spend some time during the late hours, shopping, eating and watching some street dances and other performances by the locals. Apart from these, there are many lively pubs and bars in the Old Quarter that are worth exploring. For sports lovers, there is the modern Le Pub Hanoi with its courtyard and terraced seating area, as well as the less expensive and laid back Polite Pub Hanoi, which screen games and is a good place to enjoy some beers, whiskies and cigars with your buddies while watching the latest matches. The latter also has foosball and pool tables. For those looking to relax after a long day, the Legend Beer Hanoi brewery, with its freshly brewed mugs and view overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake is an ideal spot. For the party lovers wishing to shake a leg and let down their hair, Infinity Club is the place to be, with its huge dance floors and in house DJ playing a fusion of the latest house and techno tracks. Old Quarter also has some fun pubs like the pirates themed King Pirates Pub, famous for its rum-based concoctions and also its Walk the Plank challenge, which involves five shots of spicy Captain Morgan's for all the gallant fighters! For some old school, local chilling, you could always head to the Bia Hoi Junction, for drinking cheap local beers and meeting interesting people.
Places to Visit
1. Water Puppet Theatre
A tradition of North Vietnam, it is a beautiful experience to watch the water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The puppets dance over pools of water, recounting ancient Vietnamese legends and folks, and take the viewers on a journey spinning tales of agricultural harvests, rural lives and myths surrounding the local sites like the Hoan Kiem Lake. The performance is accompanied by a local orchestra playing accompaniments on bamboo flutes, wooden cymbals and other instruments. It is regarded as one of the most popular tourist attractions of North Vietnam, and is not to be missed!
Timings: Evening shows daily starting from 3:00 PM, and last show at 8:00 PM Costs: Approximately VND 100,000
2. Dong Xuan Market
Over a hundred years old, Dong Xuan Market is the largest market in Hanoi. Located inside an ancient Soviet style building, the market has a variety of items for sale ranging from fresh vegetables, meat and fish to local souvenirs and handicrafts, clothes and other goods.Look out for traditional sand paintings, embroiders and Dong Ho drawings. Also, don’t forget to stop by at the grand dining quarters within Dong Xuan and sample some of the interesting local concoctions including Vietnamese coffee,fried frog and even tiet cahn, or duck blood soup!
Timings: 6:00 AM - 7:00 PM Costs: Free entry
3. Ngoc Son Temple
The scenic and quiet Ngoc Son Temple is located next to the Hoan Kiem Lake, and is a peaceful spot sought after by tourists. Built in the 13th century to commemorate the brave fight put up by the military leader Tran Hung Duo against the Yuan Dynasty. The Jade island that houses the temple can be reached by crossing the beautiful scarlet colored Rising Sun Bridge. The pagoda of the temple is built in the traditional Vietnamese design,and the temple posts have carved Chinese writing on them. Another popular site is the giant turtle specimen, weighing over 250 kgs, that is visible in the lake. People often come here to relax, walk around and and enjoy the view of this iconic location in Hanoi.
Timings: 7:30 AM - 5:30 PM Costs: VND 20,000 for entry to temple
4. Hoa Lo Prison
The Maison Central Prison in Hanoi, also called the Hoa Lo Prison is a standing relic bearing testimony to the horrors of the Vietnam war. It has had both Vietnam revolutionaries and prisoners of war from America housed crammed within its walls over the years of the war. The shackles that still hang on the wall, as well as the guillotine speak of the torture that was an infamous part of prison life in Maison Central. The prison was also given a sarcastic nickname by the American prisoners - Hanoi Hilton, because life here was as far removed from luxury as one can imagine. Walking through its premises gives you a glimpse into the war crimes and one of the most troubled periods in Vietnam’s history.
Timings: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM Costs: VND 30,000
5. St Joseph Cathedral
The neo-gothic Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi, dating back to the late 19th century is a popular tourist attraction. Its architecture is inspired by the Notre Dame in Paris with its imported stained glass windows, bell towers, paintings and beautifully carved ceiling and altar. Large crowds gather for mass, even spilling out into the streets, and the church stands as a strong symbol of Roman Catholic faith in Vietnam.
Timings: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM Costs: No Entry Fee
6. Bach Ma Temple
The Bach Ma Temple is a beautiful Buddhist temple built in honor of Bach Ma by the 9th century King Ly Thai To. Believed to be the oldest temple in Vietnam, it was shifted to its present location around the 18th century from the Long Do Mountain. Bach Ma translates to White Horse, and is in honor of the legend of the white horse who, with its hooves marked out the area for the temple's construction and assisted the king. A shrine for the white horse, as well as one for Confucius can be found within the temple. It is a popular attraction in Hanoi, thronged by both the locals and the tourists, to revel at its ornate beauty and pay homage.
Timings: 7:00 AM - 5:00 PM Costs: Entry free
Walking Tour of the Old Quarter
The best way to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi is on foot. Walking tours are organized by the locals, with many student guides, who take you across the town and show you the best places around, while also giving you anecdotes of the town’s history, tradition and culture. Since the tour guides speak English, it is the perfect way to soak up the local history and learn about life in Vietnamese. These walking tours are mostly free, and begin both in the morning and afternoon slots, and take typically around 3 to 4 hours. The earliest tours begin at around 9 AM, with the afternoon ones ending not later than 5 PM.
The tour guides cover most of the major attractions in the Old Quarter - including the Hong Kiem Lake and the famous temples, including the Ngoc Son Temple and the Bach Ma Temple. It takes you across different winding streets in the city, each with its own alleyway of historical stories and traditional artefacts, like Cha Ca Street, the Hang Duong Street and others. You also get to explore the famous bustling market of Dong Xuan, and have a little shopping spree picking up some Vietnamese souvenirs at bargain prices. The tour guides also ensure that you have your fair share of choice Vietnamese delicacies on the tour - going to popular street food places like Luong Ngoc Quyen Street or Hang Chieu for some local brews, to name a few!
Food at Old Quarter
Hanoi's Old Quarter boasts of a rich and varied variety of local cuisine to satisfy your tastebuds and craving for authentic and delicious Vietnamese food. There are many local restaurants, cafes as well as street vendors known for specific delicacies. The Cha Ca Street, is named after its famous Cha Ca, a sumptuously seasoned portion of white fillet fish, served with noodles and traditional sauces. At the Dong Xuan Market, there are some exotic offerings for the more daring ones willing to experiment - including fried frog, duck blood soup or tieh canh! The market also has its offerings of regular Vietnamese street food found all over the Old Quarter, including pork-stuffed buns or bun cha, crabmeat rolls or nem chua beh and rolled rice cakes or banh cuon.
There are also some popular cafes in the Old Quarter. The Highway4Restaurant Hoan Kiem is known for its menu divided into different sections of cooking - like wood-based, fire-based, metal or water. Some of the exotic dishes here include fried scorpion, cricket and frog - all served with freshly picked herbs. The rustic and beautiful Green Tangerine Restaurant serves delicious portions of pork, duck, eggplants and stuffed pigeon. The Xuan Xuan Hanoi is one of the most popular local food joints, with its servings of Vietnamese style barbeques. For those looking for some local brews, the Beer Hoi on Ta Hien Street, gives some nice homemade Vietnamese beer.
History of Hanoi Old Quarter
Visiting the Old Quarter in Hanoi often gives one a feeling of travelling back in time. Popular since the imperial times, the Old Quarter used to be a residential and commercial area, divided into gilds or streets based upon the type of trade they were engaged in. It was during the French rule that much of the trading and infrastructure developed in the region.
Prior to the imperialist tide, the Le and Tran dynasties ruled over Old Quarter. At this time the area was surrounded by many rivers and lakes. It was even then known for trade, becoming one of the densest urban areas of Hanoi, and attracted many Chinese merchants to its growing commercial hubs.
How To Reach Old Quarter
The best way to travel around and within the Hanoi Old Quarter is definitely by foot. From any other location in Vietnam, it is convenient to take a cab, and be dropped near the red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake. If you are travelling from the airport to the Old Quarter (as it is often the case that many hotels are located here), the Hanoi Airport Transport service taxis are a good option, and would cost around VND 315,000. For those looking for cheaper options, there are a number of private and public buses. The private buses cost around VND 40,000. The public buses include the public bus no. 86 for around VND 30,000 which will drop you off at Old Quarter, and the public bus no. 17 for around VND 9000 to the Long Bien Station, from where you can catch a quick tab to your location of choice in Old Quarter.