Before I go on to introduce more drool-worthy eats in Hanoi, I thought I would take you all to the streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter to discover more about the Vietnamese culture and their way of life.
The Hanoi Old Quarter a.k.a. Hoan Kiem District is the main tourist attraction and commercial hub of Hanoi. You can’t leave Hanoi without exploring this place that is like the heart and soul of the city centre.
There is always something new to see and discover everyday at the Old Quarter which is bustling with people and activities day and night.
One interesting feature about the Hanoi Old Quarter is that the streets are named after the original trades that existed probably >1000 years ago. For example Hang Da -> leather, Hang Dao -> silk, Hang Tre -> bamboo, Hang Bong -> cotton and more. While many of these trades have been replaced with today’s goods and services, there are still several streets that manage to preserve a piece of history.
What I love about this place is how the old and the new, European & Asian influences and traditions could all co-exist in an intriguing way. From French-colonialism architecture, temples & pagodas, hipster cafes & trendy restaurants, old-school provision shops, street food vendors to narrow & tall shop-house style living quarters, conical hats and baguettes – these are some examples of the cultural diversity in Vietnam.
Let’s explore the streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter…
These hanging pictures look like works of photography but they are actually hand-drawn by an old man who’s an amazing artist. The middle picture on the extreme left hand side is what he has drawn of his wife (lady above).
Modern souvenir and toy shops like this are growing in popularity with tourists in Hanoi.
Hand-painted masks using the underside of bamboo sieve baskets – pretty creative.
Plenty of clothing wholesalers and retail shops on Hang Dao street. This is where many local retailers come to stock up on goods too.
Clothes are generally inexpensive but I must say designs are a little out-dated so they may not appeal to the younger or trendier generation.
This is a pharmacy which is more like a traditional medical hall. If you need to buy any medication, it’s best that you search for it online (find the Vietnamese name for it) and show the image to the shopkeeper.
The iconic Vietnamese conical hats in all sizes, suitable for adults and kids. I was so tempted to buy one but I knew it would just be a white elephant at home taking up space and collecting dust so I resisted, haha.
You will notice many of these ‘Made in Vietnam’ shops on almost every street in the Old Quarter. They basically specialise in The North Face apparel and bags. Look exactly like the real stuff so I believe these could be factory rejects or overruns. Prices depending on how new the product is (whether it’s latest model or older).
Also, prices differ from shop to shop. We were quoted 800K VND to 1M VND (SGD51-64) for the Router Transit Backpack (which retails at SGD200+) so before you decide on one shop, you may want to walk around and see others first.
By the way, not every shop owner likes customers who bargain or question too much. I asked if the bag was real (we already knew it wasn’t because the shop wasn’t a licensed retailer for the brand) and the boss insisted the product was authentic. We didn’t really care about the authenticity because the workmanship was better than we expected. When we showed interest and tried to negotiate the price down to 700K VND, the boss started telling us off first in Vietnamese followed by English. Something like “if you don’t buy, there are people who will buy…blah blah blah…”. He abruptly took the bag away from us and chased us out of his shop.
Well, we weren’t even offered the same level of customer service that he had extended to the group of Caucasian tourists in the same shop – who happened to be buying products at their original prices without even trying to bargain. So yes, it totally sucked because that really spoiled the market. Oh well.
Silk fabric and products like scarves and shawls on Hang Dao street.
French-style baguettes and breads being sold by the roadside. Looked fresh and delicious.
One other thing to take note of when on a walking tour here is that the sidewalks (space between shops and roads) which are actually meant for pedestrians are used as parking space for scooters and motorbikes so most of the time, we have to walk on the side of the road instead. You have to be vigilant when walking on the road because traffic tends to be quite busy and scooters/bikes/mobile food vendors/trishaws can come from opposite direction too so always look in front and check behind as you walk. If you need to stop and look at Google Map or something, it’s better to walk up to the sidewalk and stop outside one of the shops rather than stand by the roadside. Beware of snatch thieves on motorbikes.
You can find florists on Cau Go street. Again, another classic example of why there’s no sidewalk space for pedestrians, lol.
Mobile vendors peddling their wares from place to place. You can just stop them by the roadside if you want to buy something.
Toilet paper and tissues are sold like this too which I think is really convenient for the local residents because they will just pass by your house and you can easily get your supplies.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is the place to go for theatrical water puppetry shows. Ticket is priced at 100K VND (SGD6.40) which is very reasonable. I’m not a fan of puppets (find them quite scary) so didn’t go for it but I have heard raving reviews about the show so you might want to check it out if interested.
Ok, I purposely took a picture of this scene just to highlight the shoe repair scam that’s really common in Hanoi. I’m not saying that this guy in the picture is one of such scammers but do beware of these men who tend to sit by the sidewalk with a bag of shoe cleaning accessories. They prey on tourists especially men in shoes.
One day, Hubby and I were walking on the street and one of such shoe repair guys suddenly came from nowhere and pointed furiously to Hubby’s new Adidas trainers. He then tried to slap on some white/yellow substance (like glue in a silver can) onto the front of Hubby’s trainers. Luckily Hubby reacted fast and managed to dodge the ‘attack’. Otherwise, I bet the man’s next move would be to ask Hubby to remove his shoes, pretend to repair it and then extort money from us. Close shave. So yes, things like this do happen. Always be alert!
Hang Da Galleria is one of the very few commercial complexes or shopping malls in the Hanoi Old Quarter. There’s also a Hang Da Market next to it which is like a wet market that the locals go to.
Hang Da Galleria mainly specialises in furniture, home decor and lifestyle products.
Prices are on the high side here.
There are also independent shops selling bags, luggages, accessories and so on. Weird thing is, no one is tending the shops. In fact when we were walking around, we didn’t even see anyone around.
Random night scenes of the area near the Hoan Kiem Lake which I will cover in my next post after this.
If you’re not interested to try out local eats or just need a bit more variety, there are plenty of other food choices that include cafe/restaurant chains, pubs and international cuisines too.
There are also fast food outlets like KFC, Popeye’s and Jollibee – just no McD.
And yes, more ‘Made in Vietnam’ shops that sell North Face stuffs.
I think I’ve briefly mentioned in one of my earlier posts that most of the best eats in Hanoi are concentrated within the Hanoi Old Quarter. That’s why picking a hostel or hotel within this same area will be so much more convenient as you will have access to everything. Also, it’s easy to get around as you can walk everywhere without the need to hire transport.