Hanoi, Vietnams capital, is a diverse and bustling city with much to offer to eager tourists and settled locals alike. Walk north from Hoan Kiem Lake, across Cau Go, and suddenly you’re in the tumultuous streets of the Old Quarter, a congested square kilometre that was closed behind massive ramparts and heavy wooden gates until well into the nineteenth century. As one of the cities hot-spots, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is considered the main business hub and the best tourist spot in the city all in one. This charming part of the city offers an impressing insight into the complex and long history of Hanoi whilst alongside modernisation is rife. Apart from one gate, at the east end of Hang Chieu, the walls have been dismantled, and there are few individual sights in the quarter; the best approach is simply to dive into the back lanes and explore. Alternatively, you might like to see it first from the seat of a cyclo or one of the new electric cars that zig-zag through its streets to help you pinpoint places you’d like to come back to.
Old Quarter, Hanoi © Elena Ermako / Shutterstock
Everything spills out onto pavements which double as workshops for stone-carvers, furniture-makers and tinsmiths, and as display space for merchandise ranging from pungent therapeutic herbs and fluttering prayer flags to ranks of Remy Martin and shiny-wrapped chocolates. With so much to attract your attention at ground level, it’s easy to miss the architecture, which reveals fascinating glimpses of the quarter’s history, starting with the fifteenth-century merchants’ houses otherwise found only in Hoi An. As you explore the quarter you’ll come across a great many sacred sites – temples, pagodas, dinh and venerable banyan trees – hidden among the houses.
Things To Do In Hanoi’s Old Quarter
A dynamic and ancient area full of cafes, food stalls, restaurants and various vendors there is always something interesting to find in the Old Quarter. Apart from one gate, at the east end of Hang Chieu, the walls have been dismantled, and there are few individual sights in the quarter; the best approach is simply to dive into the back lanes and explore. Alternatively, you might like to see it first from the seat of a cyclo or one of the new electric cars that zig-zag through its streets to help you pinpoint places you’d like to come back to.
During the weekends, cars are prohibited in the Old Quarter to make way for the market. Food-stalls and vendors fill the streets and locals flock to buy their weekly produce. The exotic foods are a treat to your taste buds and the atmosphere is alive and buzzing with life. Although the market is tremendous fun, you should keep your valuables safe as the busy streets in Hanoi are a fun-fair for pickpockets.
Saint Joseph Cathedral
Saint Joseph Cathedral is the Oldest Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam and was constructed by the French in 1886. The French destroyed the ancient Bao Thien Temple built during the Ly Dynasty that once in the Cathedrals place to make way for their Notre Dame inspired Church, must to the Vietnamese’s dismay.
St Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi © Hung Nguyen Long / Shutterstock
Bach Ma Temple
The Bach Ma Temple, built during the reign of Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th Century, is the oldest of its kind and an important structure to Vietnamese religion. Visiting the temple is possible, appropriate clothing is required to offer respect to the monks residing in the temple.
Featured Image, Hanoi Old Quarter at Night © TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock