Jan 05 2012
Hang Vai, which runs off Phung Hung, was traditionally Hanoi’s main textiles street. Nowadays its main attractions are twofold: firstly, it’s got a pleasant vibe about it, with few tourists and little traffic but plenty of onstreet action such as sugar cane juice spots, pho restaurants, tea stands and street vendors; secondly, it’s home to bamboo shops, which sit at the junction with Thuoc Bac. Perhaps they’re not of interest to many people, but I’ve always found them quite attractive.
At the western end of the street you’ll find a few pho shops and also places selling mia da (sugar cane juice). There’s also a greetings card shop and a pharmacy — both can come in handy. At number 9 is One More Time, a tiny bar which is a good place for an afternoon beer stop and is gay-friendly. Further along is a bia hoi stall, if that’s more your style.
Hang Vai turns into Lan Ong, a great street to walk along and certainly worth a visit: it is the home of traditional herbal medicines and stays more true to its history than many of the other 36 streets — with a few modern additions thrown in.
Coming from Hang Vai you’re immediately introduced to this tradition, with a corner shop proudly displaying bold Chinese writing next to a range of liquids, powders and other healing unguents. OK, so someone clever may translate and tell me they’re microwave meals … but I’ll stick to thinking they’re fascinating lotions and potions.
I can’t recommend any specific shops along Lan Ong as I’ve never bought traditional medicines, but I do like to wander and observe and smell… there’s no disguising the aroma of traditional medicine, which seems to overpower all other street smells. One other thing I find interesting is that many of the signs on the shops look just like the signs on more modern pharmacies. Which came first I wonder?
At the eastern end of Lan Ong, where it meets Hang Buom, traditional medicines turn into towels and other bathroom related linens. I’m not too sure of the connection there. It’s a practical spot anyway — who doesn’t need towels?
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