Being an architect (yes, I am one unfortunately), old traditional parts of the city attract me more. Probably that’s why I fell in love with the Old quarters of Hanoi just when I saw the photos of it. By its name you probably would have guessed its significance. It’s the oldest part of the city of Hanoi and possibly the friendliest place in Vietnam. Much like Old Dhaka of my country Bangladesh, it has narrow streets with old buildings on both sides that houses a shop on the ground floor and residences on the upper levels. Also alike our Puran Dhaka, each of the 36 streets is dedicated to a certain product to sell – clothes, leather products, food, utensils, stationary…You name it, they have it.
Strolling in the Old quarters
The old quarters has a certain charm to it and will make you instantly fall in love with it. Cobbled streets, buzzing mopeds, warm toned houses and colorful shops with interesting people sitting on the streets – I am in love. Here is a photo story of my alone time just walking on the streets of Old Quarters one early morning.
I could literally go on forever with the photostream. But while strolling in the Old Quarter I ended up in the 11th century Bach Ma Temple – one of the oldest place’s of worship in Hanoi. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To was trying to build the citadel of Hanoi but it’s walls kept collapsing. Bach Ma, a white horse who was the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi) posed as a builder to help the king. This temple was then dedicated to honor the spirit of the spirit and the statue of a white horse still stands there. It is a serene place and a must visit.
At a walking distance is a 12th century Buddhist shrine Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư
A simple look from the outside will invite you in to see soaring heights and heavy ornamentation.
The morning walk ended at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Oddly resembles the Notre Dame of Paris, this Neo Gothic structure was one of the first ones built by the French during there rule. It is situated close to the Hoan Kiem lake and opens up to plaza in front. I ended up there on a Sunday morning and am lucky to have observed the incredible Sunday Mass. Fun fact: All the material of the cathedral has been imported from France.
This ended my morning walk and I joined my friends to see Hanoi outside the Old Quarters. You can hire a motorbike or get a Grab taxi or call an Uber. We were three people and hence shared an Uber ride to go to the next destinations.
A UNESCO world heritage site and relics of the citadel of Hanoi is now open to public and a must visit. It was the house of the old monarchs. Entrance is 30000k dong and you will need around 1 or 2 hours to roam around the entire premises.
Located on an island like place on the West Lake is the oldest pagoda of Hanoi Tran Quoc Pagoda that dates back to 1500 years. It is famous as a Buddhist pilgrimage site and also attracts a lot of tourist during festivals. You will see the 15m high stupa from the road itself. It has 11 levels each with a centre gemstone. The landscape is stunning, although slightly urbanized. To see pilgrims walking around the Bodhi tree in circles or hearing chants was a treat.
One of the widely visited site of Hanoi is the final resting place of the great leader Ho Chi Minh. It is a giant granite structure with a large square in the front, open to public. Admissions inside the mausoleum is free but make sure you are dressed right. The security is of course tight and bags and cameras are not allowed.
- Opening Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07:30 – 10:30, Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00
- For maintenance the mausoleum is closed usually from October onwards.So its better to check once if you are headed there around that time.
- Location: 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
While the Old Quarter is cozy but it can also be chaotic. To take a break wander around the French Quarter which lies to the south and east of Hoan Kiem Lake. The wider streets, spacious pavements and posh architecture. It is rather sad that the original Vietnamese architecture were taken down and replaced with French inspired buildings that will clearly give you deja vu of Parisian streets.
Take a walk in the Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning as well. I went there the previous night but saw a different side of it in the morning. Don’t forget to try Note Coffee and leave a note.
Other places to check out:
A series of pavilions, halls and courtyards housing the first national university of Vietnam. If you are into architecture, this is one of the rare well preserved Vietnamese structures you must visit.
Behind the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is this unique pagoda standing on one concrete column/pillar. It symbolizes a lotus rising from a pond and is open daily from 08:00-17:00.
Where did I stay?
Name: Rendezvous Hanoi Hostel
Location: Old Qaurters, Hanoi
Cost” $4 per night for a bed in a mixed dorm.
The hostel is right at the heart of the Old Qaurters’ backpackers’ area and at a close proximity to many restaurants and shops. Hanoi Rendezvous is 500 m from Dong Xuan Market, while Old City Gate and St. Joseph Cathedral are 600 m away. Noi Bai International Airport is approximately 21 km away. I used the red Vietjet bus to reach this place from the airport which cost me 40k dong and took 30 minutes.
The staff is very friendly and super helpful. You can trust them blindly for any ticket or tour bookings. Breakfast was not included but is served for $1-$3 every morning.
What else to eat?
Apart from what I have already posted on my previous post on Hanoi food tour, this place was noteworthy and is a must try if you want to try the Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi. The restaurant is called Banh Mi 25 and is widely known for its freshly made sandwiches and coffee. Try going there early morning. One Banh Mi costs 25k dong.
I have greatly relied on Uber and Grab. Please download those apps if you are in Vietnam and while you access to WiFi. You can easily split the fare if you are in a group. Or you could also hire a moped for real cheap rent per day. Please beware of scams and also bear in mind that the traffic is crazy in Hanoi but for the ones of you reading from Dhaka – it’s a piece of cake. 🙂
The people are warm and welcoming. I had read so many articles on getting scammed (I’m sure they are out there) but I felt so safe and taken care of by the people there. Always with a smile on, eager to talk and always welcoming you.
I wish I had more time in just wandering on the streets or sketch more facades and cozy corners (and drink more coffee) for the next nth days in Hanoi. Do I want to go back to Hanoi? Definitely! (and never come back, may be?)
If you link on the names of the places on this post you will be directed to the exact Google map location of the place. Leave me a comment if you have any queries, like always I will surely respond. I know the posts take a long time to come. Please have patience – my life has been continuously taking a toll on me.