City Life in Vietnam

Slowly, slowly I am adapting in daily life here in Hanoi. It needs some time to settle down but it's a work in progress. Today I have been in some bookshops looking for some maps about countryside, towns, roads and so on. There has been one book in french which had its main topic about towns in Vietnam. According to this treaty there have been only very few towns. the whole country was very rural and there have been mostly small villages which where scattered over the plains in the north, especially along the Red River in the valleys and the delta.

Real towns did first emerge in the nineteenth century. Cities have had a pragmatic approach and where build taking account of existing roads, navigable waterways and took in some reasoning concerning security - as like today no one wanted to risk any enemy incursion.

Since economic expansion, heavy industry and building up new quarters a lot of cities have changed their face. The same thing is happening here, at least in my opinion. But nevertheless Hanoi is one of the Asian cities which has still its parts where you can find this old rules.

As ar as my research has got me Hanoi formerly known as Thanh Long has been a fortress surrounded by a grop of villages. In former times there have been different markets like a coconut palm market, fish market, frog market etc.

this trade has continued over the years and can be found today in a quarter known as the Old Quarter and its 36 Guild districts. The streets took their names from the trade which have been held in these times. Examples are: Veil Street, Sugar and Salt Street, Silk Street, Paper Street and so on. In the history of Hanoi these markets and settings have been incorporated in the town which emerged and the strong walls of the fortressvanished in a maze of narrow streets.

The old buildings, the colors of yellow ochre, dark green and jade are the striking features you will find in this area. Even the times the French has been here hasn't changed the mood a lot. There is a successfully combination of oriental and Western styles. Not only the Old Quarter but the whole City Hanoi is a place where people, despite the lack of space in their cramped flats or may be because of the space restrictions are not confined. they enjoy taking their chairs outdoors, they sit on the pavement and they incorporate the street into their houses.

The key to happiness here might be to be a owner of a motor scooter, a mobile phone (Apple is a hit as well) and a multitude of friends. The ringing  and buzzing of phones, the constant sound of car horns, crowded streets and alleys north of Hoan Kiem Lake is the favorite haunt of travelers coming to Hanoi.

One of the busiest places in town is surely this Old Quarter. It is located north of Hoan Kiem Lake. In the past, each street used to be dedicated to one commercial activity. That is why a lot of streets name begin with the word Hang, meaning merchandise, followed by a word indicating a product or profession. 

Well known as the Quarter with 36 streets or lanes, which where formerly separated by walls and gates from each guild. The new tradespeople still cluster along each street by their special trade but this doesn't necessarily match the street name any longer.

there are still some streets which match like all silver jewelry which can be found on Hang Bac (Silver Street) and a lot of the stationery shops can be found in Hang Ma (Paper Votive Objects).

As of lately I did a lot of street photography, which is a lot of fun here. On one hand there are ample opportunities at a new place to discover and on the other the different cultural approaches in daily life. So it will be some time to explore and see how things are turning out.

I can’t speak for everyone but in my opinion what struck each one new to Hanoi is the incredible traffic and how it works – or don’t in rush hour times. As reported in the English written paper Vietnam News there are now plans to turn the Old Quarter more pedestrian friendly. Will see how this might change the feeling of this part of the town.

By the end of this year, according to the authorities, there is planned to have six more streets to be used more or less only by pedestrians. Hang Dao Street for example is already pedestrianised on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Hoan Kiem Lake constitutes the core of Ha Noi. Ist other name, Lake of the restored sword (Ho Guom) was derived from a legend about Emperor Le Thai Ho, in which a turtle came towards him while he was boating on the lake.  This will be another topic in my next posting. But just adjacent in the north starts the Old Quarter.

Most of the tourist arrive as well this way and might be welcomed by a scene like this: