Oct 04 2011
The Old Quarter of Hanoi, where most of the tourist hotels and restaurants are located, began to establish itself as a crafts area as long ago as the 11th century. By the 13th century artisan guilds — groups of workers each dedicated to the same craft – started to form and gather in different areas. This ultimately resulted in different streets acquiring different names to reflect their crafts. Although generally referred to as the 36 streets, there are in fact more than 70 streets in the Old Quarter, although few have retained their original character or craft.
One central street that does remain true to its name and is of interest to tourists is Hang Bac. Bac means silver and the street is still lined with silver shops, although some have stretched the definition of silver and expanded their wares to include jade bangles and the like. As well as selling silver, the shops are traditionally known as a good place to change dollars and dong, although with recent crackdowns this might be less easy nowadays.
There’s plenty more on Hang Bac aside from silver though: it’s a good place to pick up other souvenirs such as Hanoi T-shirts, DVDs, CDs, propaganda posters and it’s also home to socially responsible Vietnam Quilts and the recently opened second branch of the “REAL” Kangaroo Café.
If, after all that shopping, you fancy a break, try the nuoc mia da (sugar cane juice) at the junction with Hang Ngang.
As is common in Old Quarter, the street changes name as it travels along. At the junction of Hang Dao, Hang Bac becomes Hang Bo. Traditionally, part of Hang Bo was Hang Dep, which made sandals and later on leather shoes. The other part of the street sold firecrackers and other things imported from China and Hong Kong.
The name Hang Bo came from the very big cylinder-shaped containers made of bamboo used to pack goods into, but they’re not seen in this area anymore. Instead, one block of Hang Bo is lined with haberdashery stores, selling all manner of thread, buttons, zips and so on – a great place to visit if the button’s popped off your favourite shorts thanks to the beer and pho.
In the evening, the threads are cleared away and out come the bamboo mats and the heady smell of muc nuong — grilled cuttlefish. It’s worth a wander, if not a taste, as it’s quite atmospheric.
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