Hanoi, Vietnam: Walking Down Streets in Old Quarter
With over 1000 years of history, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam holds enough reasons to lure international tourists for a visit. Old Quarter, which is located in the heart of the city, is one of the best places to dive into the nostalgic moments of Hanoi, embracing the rich culture that you may not be able to see from the other side of this progressively modernized city.
Old Quarter used to be a snake and alligator-infested swamp. In the 11th century, when many artisans started moving in, they formed guilds and systems to manage the business quarter better. Hence, they had specific products sold in designated streets. That is how the famous “36 streets of Old Quarter” got their names, such as Hang Gai Street (Silk Road), Hang Bac Street (Silver Road) and Hang Ma Street (Paper Road).
During our trip to Vietnam, we had a 2D1N stay in Hanoi before departing to Halong Bay. We spent a day walking down the streets of Old Quarter, discovering century-old buildings, local food, confusing streets and blending into the daily life of people there.
ATTRACTIONS IN OLD QUARTER
First stop was St. Joseph Cathedral, an over 100-year-old Catholic church in neo-gothic design, built during the French colonial period. In fact, many iconic landmarks in Old Quarter showcase influence from the French and Chinese. We also came across several Chinese pagodas and temples like Quan Su Temple, Ba Da Pagoda and Bach Ma Temple while strolling in the area.
We then walked down Silk Road and reached Hoen Kiem Lake, more well-known as Lake of the Returned Sword. A peaceful lake with plenty of tree shade. We crossed the charming red Huc Bridge to reach the Temple of Jade Mountain, enjoying the scenic view from the centre of the lake.
UNIQUE SCENE IN OLD QUARTER
Along the way, we saw a mix of old and new architecture. While many of the shops in Old Quarter have been refurnished with a modern design, there are still long and narrow style shop houses clustered next to each other. It is said that these century-old shop houses are purposely built this way to avoid high taxes in the past.
Messy wires and cables, tangled together. Seems so dangerous, forming a more chaotic scene to the already bustling streets.
Low tables and mini plastic stools are seen in almost every eatery, stretched out to the sidewalk. We realized the locals love to sit facing the road, snacking on sunflower seeds while sipping on their drinks. The perfect combo for their teatime we guess?
Shopping opportunities in Hanoi can be in the form of proper shops to street vendors on foot, on bicycle or by the roadside. It is common to see some of them having bamboo poles slung over their shoulder, with two goods-filled baskets suspended from the poles. Inside the baskets can be fruits, pho noodles, flowers, vegetables, hats, plates, bowls, anything.
Crossing the road was really difficult for us thanks to the crazy traffic with swarming scooters, cars and bicycles plus the never ending honking. Still fine for small lanes but for bigger streets near Hoen Kiem Lake, we literally had no idea how to cross over. Ended up running over to the other side of the road as fast as we could, praying hard we wouldn’t get knocked down by never-seem-to-stop vehicles. Scary but exhilarating!
DINING OPTIONS IN OLD QUARTER
Every street looked the same to us, so we ended up lost in the maze-like Old Quarter. Luckily we had mobile data with us, bought at Hoi An Airport. Traced down Xoi Yen at Nguyen Huu Huan Street, a well-known Xoi stall. Xoi is a type of staple food in Vietnam. A bowl of sticky rice with shaved mung beans, topped with your choice of sides dishes including meat floss, fried egg, bean curd, roasted peanuts, and so forth. Interesting comfort meal, just not our cup of tea.
We spent some time looking for Cafe Giang, as a trip to Old Quarter is incomplete without a taste of their legendary egg coffee. There are a few cafes serving egg coffee but the best version comes from Cafe Giang. Make sure you are at the right address, which is No.39,Nguyen Huu Huan Street. You’ll have to pass through a long and dark alley, and you’ll be welcomed with this bright and lively hidden cafe by the end of the walkway. To be honest, we were skeptical in the beginning, thinking how can a coffee taste good with egg. We were wrong. This beverage, which was concocted from frothed egg, condensed milk and coffee surprised our palate! Very thick and creamy, extra sweet but we loved it.
Food hunting continued with beef pho, banhmi, grilled meat and spring rolls! All this street food is awesome, cheap in price too! How we wish we could have a bigger stomach to try them all.
Heat up swirls of oil in a skillet, pan sear turmeric-marinated fish chunks, heaped with fresh herbs. Take a few pieces of cooked fish, garnish with toasted peanuts, fish sauce, chilli, more onions, dill and cilantro and you are ready to tuck in. Here goes the most expensive, yet the most satisfying meal during our Hanoi trip.
Locals name this as Cha Ca, a type of grilled fish dish. If we were to choose only one food in Hanoi, Cha Ca will definitely be at the top of the list. Moist, buttery fish, bursting with the aroma of herbs and tangy, sweet, savoury, spicy concoction from various condiments. A must-try when in Hanoi.
Stopped by Cafe Pho Co, a cozy coffee place which has many positive reviews on their yogurt coffee.
Happy face because the yogurt coffee was another mesmerizing drink after egg coffee!
NIGHT LIFE IN HANOI
We were lucky enough to join Hanoi Weekend Night Market, which held only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This market stretches from Dong Xuan Market to Hang Giay Street, with stalls selling clothes, household items, souvenirs, kitchen utensils, bags, etc.. For food, we saw both local delights and gimmicky Korean, Japanese and Western street snacks but we hardly had interest in any of them.
The day ended with more coffee at Trung Nguyen, Vietnam’s leading coffee distributor. Back to basics with the most traditional drip coffee. Full-bodied, intense-flavoured coffee to end our one day trip in Hanoi on a beautiful note.