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Posted By Robert On September 24, 2007 @ 3:30 pm In Uncategorized | Comments Disabled

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‘36 Streets’ Walking Tour

What would Vietnamese poetry, folk music and art be without Hanoi’s famed Old Quarter of quaint, tube-like houses on crooked lanes named for their trade? Probably nothing, as most seem to trace back to the ’36 streets and guilds’ established here 600 years ago on cramped, block-long lanes that spread north of Hoan Kiem Lake. After Vietnam defeated the French in 1954, there was talk of razing the area, but the country was simply too poor to afford to. It’s hard to imagine that now, as the bulk of visitors stay in budget hotels here, and there is no end to commerce on congested streets still carrying their 15th-century names (eg Hemp Street, Fried Fish Street, Silk Street, Bamboo Basket Street, Tin Good Street etc). To walk around the Old Quarter is a dizzying experience, and some visitors take offers from cyclo drivers to get around. That’s fine, just be sure to see it.

Before you go print out the 36 Streets Walking Tour map.

The following walking tour is, more or less, a three-hour walk around the area, taking in a number of sites.

Start earlyish – 7.30am or so – at Hang Gai St (Silk St), with a coffee and a breezy view of Hoan Kiem Lake at the ‘secret café’ at [1] CAFÉ PHO CO (11 Hang Gai St), reached from a passageway behind a souvenir stand. Exiting, go to the busy intersection to the left and cross to reach the tiny [2] TO TICH ST (by the traditional music instrument shop on Hang Gai); this street’s known for its juices and fruit shakes. A block north, turn left on [3] HANG QUAT ST, one of the area’s nicest – lined with Buddhist accessories and paper lanterns. At #64 is a small guide temple to peek in. It’s a totally different feel around the corner to the right, on [4] HANG THIEC ST, with tin-box makers and mirror shops.

A block ahead, you reach Bat Dan St; turn left for a couple blocks. Past busy Hang Ga St on the left is Hanoi’s most revered pho (beef noodle shop), the simple [5] PHO GIA TRUYEN (49 Bat Dan St), where you can stop to slurp a bowl.

Retrace your steps east a bit – passing a small local temple just past Hang Ga St – then turn left on the quieter Hang Thiec St. There’s a Trung Nguyen Café a block north if you need another boost. Otherwise continue a block north to [6] HANG VAI ST. ‘Vai’ means fabrics, but the block to your left is lined in bamboo poles and baskets. Back on the east side of Hang Thiec St, Hang Vai becomes [7] LAN ONG ST (named for an 18th-century physician), which is lined with sweet-smelling herb shops. A block ahead, on the corner to the right, [8] THINH BINH is one herb shop home to a couple cuddly long-eared bulldogs (a rare sight in Vietnam). The owners will let you play with them if you ask.

Keep going on Lang Ong St two blocks to busier Hang Ngang St, and turn right half a block to see a small museum at [9] HO CHI MINH’S RESIDENCE (48 Hang Ngang St; admission free; open 8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm Mon-Fri). Upstairs you can see (apparently) Ho’s old typing desk and the conference chairs where General Vo Nguyen Giap slept when power-planning sessions lasted till after curfew.

Turn around and head north on Hang Ngang St. A block north it becomes Hang Duong St (Sugar St), and crosses Hang Chieu St (Mat St) two blocks farther. To the left you’ll see [10] KITE SHOPS and to the right the namesake [11] STRAW MAT SHOPS. But most locals do their buying another quick block north at the historic [12] DONG XUAN MARKET. The area’s a little crustier than the blocks you’ve past (and always has had a poetic allure for its ‘pickpockets’ and seedier feel), but worth it to at least see the original 1889 façade of the market. The building it fronts is a more modern monstrosity, built after a 1994 fire wrecked the inside.

Head back south again and left on Hang Chieu St, past the mat shops. Two blocks ahead you’ll see [13] QUAN CHUONG GATE, the only surviving example of the citadel built in 1749 (and mostly destroyed by the French in the late 1800s). Wander on the curving side lane Dao Duy Tu St south a couple locks to Hang Buom St (Sail St), and turn right a couple blocks to reach [14] BACH MA TEMPLE (‘White Horse’; cnr Hang Buom & Hang Giay Sts), built by King Ly Thai To in the 800s after (legend says) a ‘white horse’ spirit pointed out the best place to build the citadel walls.

Hang Giay St curves south through the heart of the heart of the backpacker zone, passing many budget hotels and travel agencies. It’s hard to miss where it passes skinny Ta Hien St, the so-called [15] BIA HOI CORNER. Starting at 3pm or 4pm daily, these corner spots selling very cheap draft beer (for US$0.12 per mug) fill out with locals and tourists on plastic stools – it’s an irresistible Hanoi-watching spot.

Save your beer-drinking for later if you can (it’s quite a sight after 5pm or so). A block farther east is Ma May St, turn right to glimpse one of Hanoi’s surviving ‘tube houses’ at [16] 87 MA MAY ST (admission US$0.35; open 8.30am-noon & 1-5pm), a restored Chinese-style house from the late 1800s with wood-beam ceilings, mini courtyards. (Too bad that most rooms, including the upstairs bedroom, are filled with souvenir items.)

Afterward, get back to the Bia Hoi corner, or if the time’s right, or eat at 69 BAR/RESTAURANT (69 Ma May St), another tube house turned into eatery.

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