Hanoi is an enchanting city, and nowhere do you experience this enchantment more than the old quarter. Located a stone’s throw away from Hoan Kiem Lake, the old quarter is a living and working area. In the past, each street had shops specialised in one particular trade, e.g. ceramic, jewelry, herb, etc. so much so that the streets are named by the trade found in each. (A tip: For the best exchange rate, go to the jewelry stores on Hang Bac.) In recent years youth hotels, pubs, cafes and tour agencies have mushroomed exponentially in this crowded area.
The best way to tackle the old quarter is to get lost it in. Throw away your map, leave your guidebook in your bag and just wander. The street is full of life, there are interesting businesses to satisfy your curiosity, restaurants to fill your empty stomach, and hundreds of makeshift tea/coffee stalls on the five foot ways (sidewalks) to quench your thirst. One of my favourite past time was sitting in one of these makeshift stalls order a trà đá (ice tea) and watched the activities around me.
Hanoi’s biggest night market runs through the heart of the old quarter every Saturday and Sunday. It’s where locals come to shop and spend the night with friends and family. It doesn’t really cater to tourists hunting for sourveniors. However, it’s worth a wander and absorb the atmosphere, and try a barbecue squid.