Everyone has their own way in being besotted with Hanoi, and I am no exception. However, I honestly cannot love this noisy and gaudy urban neighborhood more, as it is my birthplace. I devote love to my serene coastal haven in central Vietnam, and yet I own another extraordinary kind of love for my current-living city, which is Hanoi.
It’s relatively hard to narrow down what specific feelings of mine with this vibrant city are, but I know that it’s big enough for me to consider it as my second hometown. Hanoi witnessed many of my life’s turning points, life lessons, and my maturity. Especially, this dear place stored my enthusiastic youth, which is more precious than anything else.
Hanoi delivered a sense of alienation the first time I kicked-started one of the Hanoi old quarter tours. It features a maze of shops, stalls, restaurants, etc. that I rarely saw in my hometown. The first impression lasts forever, which is why I still vividly remembered my amazement of its fast pace of life. I was overwhelmed with the endlessly hectic stream of vehicles, relatively small alleys, and the countless streets’ names beginning with “Hang”. Perhaps you are also curious why they were named like that. “Hang” means goods in Vietnamese, and each guild specialized in plying their trade with a certain type of product in the past, but now very few streets remain with their original craft.
Antique window in one of my favorite cafés
Adapting to a new place is never easy at first, as we have to learn everything new in an urban area, from the routines, the peculiarities, to the customs. Moving to Hanoi is definitely life changing, perhaps because everything was all so new compared to my life before. The memories of getting lost or receiving traffic tickets, because I was not familiar with the roads yet, will never fade. A place once so alien made me feel I belonged little by little, after many times of doing Hanoi old quarter tours by strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake, drinking beer at Ta Hien street, or enjoying lemon tea at Nha Chung street. A familiar feeling pours into my soul day by day and makes me love this city more and more.
Hanoi in twilight
Everyone settles into a new urban home with their own purposes, some for earning a living, some for the curiosity of a life in dazzling metropolis, and some for seeking a restful place in their soul. I, a countryman who has just set his very first steps into the entirely new city, am not any type among these. Hanoi in my mind comes with a bit of admiration, a bit of avidity, mixed with the feeling of being transported to another world.
The ancient “Venice” citadel
The old quarter neighborhood of Hanoi used to be praised as the ancient Venice-like citadel by international fellows and has been as yet the most astonishing old quarter in Vietnam. This area is also known by another name of “36 streets”, centered in the downtown of the capital. It belongs to Hoan Kiem district with the acreage of roughly 100 ha, bordered by Hang Dau street to the North, Hang Bong street to the South, Tran Nhat Duat – Tran Quang Khai to the East, and the West is Phung Hung street.
Similar to the streets’ names, the name of each ward also starts with “Hang” such as Hang Dao, Hang Bac, Hang Thiec, Hang Giay, etc. (10 wards in total)
A house on Phung Hung street
I usually tack on a few hours in my hectic schedule to wander around this neighborhood to take Hanoi old quarter tours during the weekends with my friends, or sometimes by myself with my film camera. Hanoi old quarter, at dawn or dusk, is usually characterized by a fairly subdued mood in my photos. Perhaps the antique-looking terraced houses give me a sense of nostalgia, or maybe it is simply due to another external factor, which is the natural dim light. A hard-to-describe feeling pours into my soul as Hanoi pops up in my mind with a taciturn image.
When it switches completely into darkness, this is also the time the old quarter converting into an entirely different appearance. Hanoi, at this time, becomes a vibrant neighborhood with loud music pouring out from bars and pubs, dazzling light coming from coffee shops and restaurants, and the ear-splitting sound of vehicles’ horns. This zone seemingly has no time to take a rest as the stream of people (including locals, expats, and backpackers) continuously congregate here. I usually don’t take time for myself anymore in this kind of atmosphere, instead I choose to hang out with my friends and soak up this lively and animated vibe in my Hanoi old quarter tours.
Hanoi old quarter proudly retains the rich traditional architecture of Vietnam as well as Asia, creating an extraordinary architectural complex with the interlacing of traditional Vietnamese houses with various constructions of culture and history.
Adapting to the development of society, Hanoi old quarter is confronting the threat of losing its original appearance of plenty of ancient houses. Concrete buildings and shopping malls are little by little replacing their existence. However, the antique look of adorable tube houses complete with a moss-covered roof is still appealing to tourists, local folks, and even tube dwellers. Its allure is truly exceptional and nowhere else looks quite like it.
Tranquil morning in Hanoi old quarter
Hence, Hanoi old quarter has become a well-trodden tourist destination enchanting not only domestic travelers but also international fellows. Its draw is also a wonderful inspiration to many artist’s souls to compose plenty of superb works of art. Hanoi conjures up the image of a gorgeous but tender city in the immortal verses in “Ha Noi Pho” (Hanoi city) of poet Phan Vu, or in the haunting lyrics from the nation’s most-loved songs. This is why Hanoians usually say that they proudly own a rich culture and a literacy legacy from their ancestors dating back to thousands of years ago.
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