One of the reasons that Hanoi – the capital city of Vietnam, has attracted so many tourists over the years is its Old Quarter (36 old streets and guilds). It is an area well-known for the history, the architecture, the enormous amount and diversity of products and even the everyday life of its residents.
The Old Quarter marked its appearance in the 11th century, when King Ly Thai To decided to build his palace. By 2010, Hanoi as well as the 36 old streets turns 1000 years old. Originally a group of workshop villages surrounding the royal palace, the Old Quarter then evolved into craft cooperatives, or guilds and soon gained its reputation.
Skilled craftsmen migrated to the Quarter to live and work together in the same guilds, which were made specialized for artisans performing similar services. The new allocation of production and service helped to create a cooperative system for merchandise transportation to designated streets. Soon under French colony, the Old quarter increasingly became a marketplace for trade between the local and businessmen from China, India and France.
Despite the damages that Vietnam War left in Hanoi, the Old Quarter still retained much of the original traits that interests tourists, especially those with architectural passion. These houses are neither tall buildings as people normally see in cities nor stilt houses on lines of poles, which were popular in Vietnams’ mountainous regions these days.
They are also called “tubular houses” which are short and narrow but have great length. In the past, the king stipulated that “citizens’ houses could not be built higher than the height of the king’s palanquin”. And because of the dense population in a limited area, people needed to spend the front room for stores; the inside room is widened to its length in order to divide places for manufacturing, eating and living of each family.
The house is sometimes too narrow that only one person can pass by at a time. Standing close together, these tubular houses make up the ward along the soil streets; some streets were paved with stone or brick. Only until the later time, they were asphalted.
Visitors will certainly be eager to wander along the old streets to drop by stores and buy specialties. Here is an essential guide for tourists who would like to explore the Old Quarter, with some names of specialized streets: China bowls (Bát Sứ), roasted fish (Cha Ca), silver or jewelries (Hàng Bạc), women accessories (Cau Go), shoes and sandals (Hang Dau), silk (Hang Gai), mixed fruits (Tô Tịch), combs (Hàng Lược), jars (Hàng Chĩnh), tour services (Ma May), candies and dry apricot (Hang Duong), fried/roasted sour pork hash (Tạm Thương lane on Hang Bong Street), bamboo products (Hang Buom), etc.
In addition, visitors as well as city dwellers can go to the night market taking place along 4 walking old streets: Hang Dao – Hang Ngang – Hàng Đường – Đồng Xuân in the evening from Friday to Sunday with products on great sale.