Nov 25 2012
If you need a break from the chaos of Old Quarter, wander down to Hanoi’s French Quarter, where wide open streets, majestic buildings and high-end hotels, restaurants and shops await.
Hanoi’s French Quarter lies to the southeast of Hoan Kiem lake. In the late 19th century, when the French occupied Hanoi, they demolished many of the old Vietnamese buildings and replaced them with imposing French-style villas. As well as the architecture the area is characterised by wide tree-lined streets which, while still busy with traffic, are far easier to navigate than the narrow alleyways of Old Quarter. The area is also home to some of Hanoi’s fanciest restaurants and hotels.
Start at the statue of Ly Thai To, to the east of Hoan Kiem lake. From there walk east along Le Thach Street. Opposite the end of Le Thach Street stands the State Bank of Vietnam building. Turn right onto Ngo Quyen and the government guesthouse, previously the Building of the Governor of Tonkin (North Vietnam) and the Government Building of Vietnam, is on the right. A small park lies opposite and here you will usually find a number of cyclo drivers vying for business. Hop on if you’re not in a walking mood.
Next to the park is the famous Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel, built in 1901. Its recently discovered war-time bomb shelter is now open to visitors — but unfortunately only hotel guests. If you’re feeling flush, stop off for a drink or a spot of shopping at its high-end outlets. The hotel is a popular spot for wedding photos and you can create your own memories with some posing by the classic cars parked out front.
Rather than walking past the front of the hotel, double-back and walk between the park and the hotel. At the end, turn right onto Ly Thai To. If dining at the Metropole isn’t to your taste, try Club Opera, along here on the left, or turn onto Ly Dao Thanh and head to The Press Club; although pricey, the lunchtime set menu is good value.
Turn left at the the end, by the roundabout, and come face to face with the imposing Opera House. Given the amount of traffic that passes here, it’s tricky to get a clear view — or photo — but it’s certainly photogenic. The Opera House puts on regular concerts and plays at reasonable prices, so look out for what’s on when you’re in town. Highlands Coffee has a branch in the garden to the right of the Opera House if you’re ready for a break or there are a number of cafes across the park opposite. If you want street food then head down Ngo Trang Tien.
Walk to the left of the Opera House and 100 metres or so along Trang Tien is the National Museum of Vietnamese History. The Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution is also round the corner from here and the Army Hotel on Pham Ngu Lao has a swimming pool open to the public.
Turn back and continue along Trang Tien, exploring the designer shops and book stores along the way. This street is also home to the main branch of Trang Tien ice cream, Hanoi’s most famous ice cream outlet, which on warm evenings heaves with young people stopping off on motorbikes.
Trang Tien brings you back to the bottom of Hoan Kiem Lake, from where you can continue walking around the lake or relax with a coffee.
This walk takes in the main sights of the area, but plenty else of interest lies down some of the back streets. If you prefer a guided tour, try Hidden Hanoi or look out for tours given by Friends of Vietnam Heritage.
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