Exploring the Old Quarters in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it’s centre of political administration. Since the country opened it’s doors to an open economy, business has boomed in the city; and with it high rise buildings amidst old world streets, which are in danger of being swallowed by development.

We spent our evening wandering the charming Old Quarters near Hoan Kiem Lake. Situated in the middle of the city, the place is a popular spot among tourists and locals alike. There’s never a lonely moment in this bustling capital of 7mil people.

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Immediately after getting off the bus, we were greeted by the noisy rumble of hundreds of motorcycles and the honking of cars. Crossing the street at the Old Quarters is an adventure on it’s own, as there are no traffic lights and the vehicles keep going in a constant, unending flow. And I thought traffic in Kuala Lumpur was mad!

The 36 streets of the Old Quarters have existed since the 1000s, and were home to specialised merchants selling silk, silver, gold and jewelry. These days, they house chic looking cafes, clothing and souvenir shops to fresh fruit and noodle stalls manned by loud, sweaty middle aged women. Most shops were just turning on their lights for the night.

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I accompanied JQ to go ao-dai hunting. Came across these souvenirs instead (no, they’re not real. phew!)

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Low tables and stools line the five-foot walkway, which locals squeeze themselves into, sitting shoulder to shoulder over steaming hot bowls of pho topped with herbs, or groundnuts.Since it was summer and the weather can reach up to 40 degrees, some men had their shirts rolled up over their bellies while others simply went topless. Everyone chatted over their meals in good cheer.

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A back alley selling cheap summer dresses and tee shirts.

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There is definitely no shortage of sights, sounds and smells while walking in the Old Quarters. A resourceful peddler overturns a couple of plastic chairs to serve as a table for her fruit and pickle stall.

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This lady must have been toting her lychees in two wicker baskets for the whole day, putting my very unfit self to shame.

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Women selling French baguette, a legacy left behind by their once colonial masters. We managed to try the one stuffed with meat and vegetables, dubbed banh mi by the locals. It was spicy and juicy and delicious, with a hard outer crust and warm, soft gooey meat and veges on the inside.

Makeshift stalls are really just boxes made into tables, propped up by plastic chairs.

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Cheap shoes and pirated Nikes galore.

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Just opposite the Old Quarters is the tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake, or ‘Lake of the returned sword’. On an island in the middle sits Turtle Tower and Bridge of the Rising Sun. Unfortunately it was closed at this time. There were lots of locals taking a stroll on the outer edges of the lake, munching on candy and snacks.

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Then we had a fancy dinner at a French/Vietnamese restaurant. There was seafood and corn soup…

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Salad…

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Stir fried shrimp

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And deep fried rice cakes. These were insanely addictive, with a crispy outer crust and chewy insides.

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Thick slices of beef topped with chopped nuts. These were pretty good albeit a little tough.

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Fried rice

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Veggies.

The Old Quarters are definitely worth a visit for travelers to Hanoi for their great shopping deals. Even though prices can be jacked up at times, one can always negotiate and they are still cheaper than anywhere else.

Getting There

Hanoi Train station is 10 minutes by car or 20 minutes walk from anywhere in the Old Quarter.

Taxi costs $2 or if you have time, walk down Hang Bong street until you reach Tran Quy Cap station.

 

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