The Old Quarter is the very pulse of Hanoi and it depicts a great story that has endured the challenge of time. Its 36 streets of trade and market has shaped traditions and defined history for this part of Vietnam. Along these streets are French colonial architecture and a culture which is one of the richest in the world. Explore the vastness of this tourist magnet, indulge in its timeless beauty and get to know it better through seeing these 13 spots found only within Hanoi’s most popular district.
1. Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake means “The Lake Of The Restored Sword” in Vietnamese derived from the legend involving a Kim Qi, “A Golden Turtle God” and the Heaven’s Will, “The Magic Sword” which the Emperor Le Loi used on his revolt against the Ming Dynasty. It was previously called Luc Thuy, “Green Water” but was changed to honor the legend. Within the Hoan Kiem Lake stood The Turtle Tower and Ngoc Son Temple. A walk in Hoan Kiem Lake will open you to a myriad of interesting sights and the locals’ way of living.
2. The Huc Bridge
Also means the “Morning Sunlight”, The Huc Bridge connects the lakeshore to Jade Island where Ngoc Son Temple stands. It is a beautifully contructed bridge of elegant Buddhist architecture painted in bright red. At night. The Huc Bridge is one of the most gorgeous sights in Hoan Kiem Lake with its bright red color reflected by the lake’s water.
3. Ngoc Son Temple
Ngoc Son Temple or “The Temple Of Jade Mountain” stands in Jade Island, the little island in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake and is connected only by the iconic Huc bridge to the lake banks. It was built in the 18th century to honor a Vietnamese military leader, Tran Hung Dao for his gallantry in the battle against the Yuan Dynasty. Within the temple are large bronze bust and statues of deities. It also houses the remains of the turtoise creature who lived in the lake for a very long time.
Entrance Fee: VND 25.000
4. The Turtle Tower And Island
The Turtle Island is a man made island in the center of Hoan Kiem Lake where the Turtle Tower stands. It served as the home of the turtoise creature endemic to the lake. Although the last known turtoise creature has since died, the Vietnamese still revere to it very deeply.
5. Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is arguably the heart of the Old Quarter and one of its original streets where you will find all the amazing and cheap buys ranging from exotic herbs, fresh fruits and veggies, sweet scented flowers to wooden crafts and decor. This is also where you can sample some of the most delicious street foods in Hanoi.
6. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Water Puppet Show is a theatrical water puppetry tradition in Vietnam which dates as far back to the 11th century and originated in the Red River Delta area in the north. Back in the day, the villagers would play water puppets in the flooded rice fields but nowadays water puppetry is being done in a 4 meter pool of water accompanied by traditional Vietnamese orchestra as the background. In Hanoi, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is renowned for its great performace of the ancient Vietnamese art.
Entrance Fee: VND 150.000
7. Cau Go Street
Cau Go Street or “The Wooden Bridge Street” is one of the original streets of the Old Quarter. Along this street are restaurants which showcase the flavors of Hanoi and range of hotels tourists would find really amazing.
8. Bach Ma Temple
Bach Ma Temple is one of the most important historical temples of Hanoi. Situated at the heart of the Old Quarter, it is said the be the oldest temple in the city. It was built in the order of Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honor the white horse believed to be a river god who aided in the construction of a great citadel.
9. One Pillar Pagoda
Another historical Buddhist structure built upon the order of Ly Thai To to show gratitude to Buddha for granting him a son. It was said that Ly Thai To was childless but he was gifted with a son after he dreamed of meeting a Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara who handed him a son while seated at a lotus flower in the middle of a lake.
For reference: Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara refers to a compassionate Buddha.
10. The Museum Of History
The Museum Of History houses all the important pieces of history of Hanoi consisting of books and artifacts. It was first founded to display Western pieces of history but in 1958, the Vietnamese Government replaced it with national history pieces, finally opening it to the public that same year.
Entrance Fee: VND 50.000
11. St. Joseph Cathedral
The only monumental evidence of Chatholicism you would get to see Hoan Kiem District is the St. Joseph Cathedral. Inspired and built after Neo-Gothic architecture, this was the very first structure constructed by the French Colonial Government. Now this gorgeous piece serves as a house of worship for roughly 4 million Catholics in Vietnam.
12. The Women’s Museum
The Women’s Museum houses important pieces that serve as evidence to the significant role of women in the history of Vietnam. It showcases the evolution of women in Vietnam from being a lowly part of the society to established personalities who helped shape the country as it is now.
Entrance Fee: VND 35.000
13. Ly Thai To Park
Ly Thai To was once a mighty emperor of the Ly Dynasty and one of the most important figures of the country’s history. He established Hanoi as the capital upon his ascension to the throne transferring the seed of power from Hoa Lu. To commemorate the great emperor, a statue was built for him in the Ghandi Park facing Hoan Kiem Lake in 2004.
A walk in the Old Quarter and in the bustling streets of Hoan Kiem district is as captivating as the scene in a fairytale, even better. Every street is like another page of a bestselling novel. Experience it and learn Hanoi’s culture in its truest form. And to make your walking tour easier, our good friend Alex Huynh of Inspitrip.com created a simple map of the Old Quarter highlighting the best spots to visit in the area. Check it out.
Don’t forget to check our my Hanoi Travel Guide post for more useful travel info.
Ayt. There you go lovelies. Stay tuned for more posts about Hanoi. See yah. 🙂