Hanoi is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, and what a great welcome or farewell it is! If you have been to Hanoi or still at the initial stage of planning your Vietnam Customized Holidays, you can easily see Hanoi Old Quarter in all the top lists of where to go or what to do in Vietnam. So, Hanoi Old Quarter is really attractive, lively and dynamic, which is reflected in the busy life of local people, the sound in the small streets and the tastes of local food. Tours of Old Quarter are truly Hanoi’s specialty and many foreign travelers take interest in the Old Quarter’s history and the traditional lifestyle of Hanoians. However, have you ever been curious about how people in Hanoi Old Quarter can live and enjoy their life in such a cramped places?
Hanoi Old Quarter
Living is sharing
This may be nowhere truer than in Hanoi Old Quarter. The house at 51 Hang Dao, for instance, was built in 1930 for one family, its ancestral altar and the family silk business. Although built later than the “tube houses” era, that architectural tradition influenced its structure. The ground floor contains a shop, common room, sleeping room, inner yard, kitchen, backyard and toilet. The upstairs has a small room, a courtyard linking the roofs of the house, a room for ancestral worship and a large yard for silk drying. The house is three meters wide and fifty meters long. Sunlight enters through open yards and courts, creating a pleasant atmosphere.
Then in 1954, after defeat of the French, a second family of eight moved into the house, living in the outer room of the upper floor while the former owners occupied the rest of the house. Since the house is narrow, the second family had to pass through the first family’s space to reach its own quarters. Both families shared the inner yard, kitchen and the back garden. Now, the house is a portrait-drawing business operated by three artists. The shop itself is in the room facing the street, while the room behind serves as the drawing workshop. Three generations live in the house. The grandfather helps two of his children run the shop in the evening. Others in the household earn their living outside the Old Quarter.
Close living quarters still play an important role in the life of the Old Quarter. Ideally, the community recognizes each individual’s needs, reducing potential conflicts that could breed from living closely together. People tend to help each other in small matters such as shopping, cooking, and looking after each other’s houses and children. Important events such as weddings, funerals, and death anniversaries become major opportunities for community involvement.
Most Old Quarter’s inhabitants run businesses. They open their shops at 8:00 every morning and do not close until late in the evening. During the long workdays, merchants also engage in many other activities: eating, chatting with fellow traders and neighbors, watching TV, and taking care of children.
One of the most pervasive and enticing aspects of the Old Quarter is its variety of food. Ready-to-eat meals constitute a large sector of economic activity. At times it seems as if half the Old Quarter’s residents are preparing food for the other half. Some street vendors have sold food in the Old Quarter for decades, following the same itinerary every day at exactly the same hour.
Foods commonly served in the morning include Bún Ốc (round rice noodles with snails), Bánh Cuốn (steamed sticky rice, rice crepes), Phở and Bún Ngan (round rice noodles with duck meat). Around noon, light meals predominate, including Giò (ground pork pate) and Chả (grilled chopped meat). In the afternoon, vendors offer cakes, steamed sticky rice and sweet puddings. For generations, these foods and activities, which change throughout the day, have produced a comfortable life rhythm.
The Old Quarter does not have rows of huge trees typical of other parts of Hanoi. Nevertheless, the residents make room for nature by growing ornamental plants on narrow sun-roofs, balconies, kitchens and in the rare small yards that are highly valued refuges from the street noise. Dogs, cats, and ornamental birds share the cramped Old Quarter with their owners.
Although life in the Old Quarter is cramped, residents choose to stay, they don’t want to exchange the small houses in which their families have lived and done business for generations for larger places away from the district.
By: Nadova Tours
View tour: Vietnam Heritage Tour 15 days