Hanoi Old Quarter or Hanoi 36 Streets

Hanoi Old Quarter

Hanoi old quarter or Hanoi 36 streets is indeed an earea covering the north-east Hoan Kiem lake. There were 36 streets, each being closely attached to a traditional trade that is clearly shown by its name, such as Hang Muoi (salt) Street selling salt, Hang Manh (curtain) Street selling bamboo curtains, Hang Bac (silver) Street selling silver jewellery, etc.

Hanoi Old Quarter Map

Mentioning the old streets of Hanoi, the essay “Notes taken on rainy days” by Pham Dinh Ho writes: “Dien Hung ward (present-day Hang Ngang) and Dong Lac ward (present-day Hang Dao) are places where many cloths and silk products are sold.” According to Hanoi researcher Nguyen Vinh Phuc, all kinds of papers, such as Giay ban (tissue paper), Giay moi (inferior tissue paper), Giay boi (coarse paper) and other popular papers made by people in Buoi and Cot Villages were sold on Hang Giay Street in the past.

Some streets were named after a legend or special ana, such as Hang Chao (rice porridge) Street which was the place selling rice porridge to candidates who came to the capital to attend “Thi Hoi” (National Examination) and “Thi Dinh” (Court Examination) or Trang Tien Street near Hoan Kiem Lake where once existed a coin casting workshop of the Nguyen Dynasty (the 19th century).

At present, the number of old streets in Hanoi is a matter of controversy because someone said that 36 is only a symbolic number. However, it is correct to say that people on each old street engaged in a trade. In the past, people from all parts of the country flocked to the capital to set themselves up in business. Following the trade motto “It needs friends when trading and it needs to establish guilds when selling”, they lived together in one place and gradually established guilds specializing in trades and products.

Due to this unique feature, Hanoians usually think of one street where they can buy what they want. For example, the locals usually venture to Hang Manh Street to buy bamboo curtains, Thuoc Bac Street to buy medicinal herbs, Hang Chieu Street to buy mats, etc.

Hanoi is undergoing drastic changes daily and the old quarter with “Hang” streets are also affected by the process of development. Hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., have mushroomed on these streets, so only a few streets with the traditional trades remain, such as Hang Bac, Hang Ma, Hang Manh, Hang Chieu, Hang Dong, etc.

The others have engaged in other trades, for example, Hang Than Street now sells Banh com (green rice flake cakes), teas and cigarettes in service of wedding ceremonies; Hang Vai Street sells bamboo products; Hang Chao sells mechanical and electric products to meet the demand of customers in the modern life. In addition, many new streets with new trades have been established in Hanoi, such as Hai Ba Trung Street selling electronic products, Ly Nam De Street selling computers, Luong Van Can Street selling children toys, Hoang Hoa Tham Street selling ornamental trees and Dang Dung Street selling second-hand mobile telephones.

Strolling through the old quarter or “36 streets” of Hanoi one can perceive the beauty as well as typical feature of these streets which should be preserved by not only the authorities but also the locals.

Hang Thiec Street Hanoi

Hang Thiec Street Hanoi

Hang Thiec Street Hanoi is a craft street of tinsmiths which has existed for a long time in the Old Quarter. In the past it was in Yen Noi Village, Tien Tuc Commune of Tho Xuong District (present-day Hang Gai Ward of Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi).

Hang Thiec street map

Most of the houses in this street are old and have small garrets which make the house look like “overlapping match boxes”. Hang Thiec Street is 136m long, stretching from Thuoc Bac Street to Hang Non Street. It is the place where tinsmiths make different items, such as oil lamps, candle stands, incense burners, tea pots, tea-set trays and tips of conical hats.

After a period of development the craft also turned out other products from sheet metal, hence the street was called Rue des Ferblanties by the French.

Over the years Hang Thiec Street has virtually remained unchanged, with the craft of making tin products still being kept, turning out various kinds of utensils for daily use.

On the occasion of Mid-Autumn Festival the Street is busier because the craftsmen begin to use pieces of tin to make children’s toys, such as cars, trains, ships, planes, peach-shaped lanterns with a fairy inside, butterfly-shaped lanterns and a rabbit beating a drum.

We visited the family of Nguyen Phu Dinh, one of the families still following the craft of their forefathers, on Hang Thiec Street. His two sons have inherited their father’s skills and become artisans with golden hands.

Dinh said that payment for making tin products is low, so people who open shops on Hang Thiec Street are only engaged in trading. They receive orders for the products and have the orders filled by the tinsmiths in the rural areas.

When plastic utensils developed, Dinh and other craftsmen on Hang Thiec Street were concerned that the craft could be lost. Through many ups and downs now there are demands for tin products on the market. We saw many pails, buckets, basins and sinks made of corrugated steel piled in the shops and were told that these products would be supplied to different cities and provinces throughout the country.In the book “Old Streets of Hanoi”, American writer Lady Borton described the sound on Hang Thiec Street: “…

The roaring sounds of hammers striking against the metal resound from early morning to late at night. Vietnamese craftsmen have preserved their traditional craft until today…”

Today coming to Hang Thiec Street, we clearly see that the essential needs and useful household utensils have a good impact on the preservation and development of the long-lasting traditional craft.

Although the number of people who follow their forefathers’ crafts have become fewer and fewer, they have helped maintain the vitality of the craft streets in Hanoi and preserve its old cultural features, creating the typical characteristics of the thousand-year-old Thang Long.