Hang Be and Gia Ngu

Tourist town.

What we say: 3.5 stars

While I often make a case for Hanoi’s Old Quarter having retained its charms and local life despite the influx of tourists, I am willing to admit that some streets have completely given themselves over to tourism. Hang Be is one such example, and despite my best efforts I have struggled to come up with a 36 streets post about it that does anything other than list a number of hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.

Hang Be at a quiet time

Hang Be at a quiet time.

That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit: Le Pub, Blah Blah and Lucky are great places to stop for a drink, Provecho serves up delicious Mexican, burgers and other Western and Vietnamese fare, Tandoor isn’t a bad choice for Indian and Classic Street and Cozy Hotel 2 are highly recommended.

It’s also possible to buy souvenirs, bags, tea, T-shirts and groceries along this relatively short stretch of road. Bamboo rafts, its original wares, are in scant supply, but so you know: cai mang rafts were made of a dozen or so bamboo poles — bought on nearby Hang Tre — lashed together with green bamboo bark and were suited for Hanoi’s shallow waters and to weather the annual typhoons.

A cabbage with your new dress madam?

A cabbage with your new dress madam?

But walk round the corner onto Pho Gia Ngu and a notable change develops. Few tourists venture into this street and there’s very little traffic, so it’s a pleasant street to wander along, full of locals shopping and eating.

Gia Ngu roughly translates as fishery, a name that comes from when there used to be a lake in this part of the city and the people earned their livelihoods from fishing. Until a year or two ago a market ran along Gia Ngu and down towards Cau Go, but that’s now gone. However many of the shops lining the street still sell the dried spices and fruit and vegetables that were prevalent in the market as well as mam tep chung thit — a flavouring made with small shrimps mixed with pork which I have been reliably informed transforms rice into a heavenly delight.

Looking bored

Looking bored.

The section between Dinh Liet and Hang Dao streets is sometimes referred to as “underwear street” as many shops along this stretch sell all manner of undergarments; most are in Vietnamese sizes.

As well as being an interesting street in terms of the shops and for people watching, it’s also a good spot to grab some street food: bun cha, bun bung and che are some of the options. Also, tucked away in a corner on what is actually Ngo Trung Yen not Gia Ngo is Cafe Dung (or Dzung), a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe which doesn’t look big enough to swing a cat in.

Don't take a big bag

Don't take a big bag.

At the western end of the street, where it joins Dinh Liet, is the street’s more upmarket restaurant: Bar Restaurant 96 has a charming, old-world appearance and serves pricey but good Vietnamese cuisine. Next door is a small jewellery shop with a Chinese name, which specialises in semi-precious stones. The few new hotels here suggest that tourist-land is spreading into what until now has remained relatively untouched.

A bit of old world

A bit of old world.

Last updated: 24th October, 2014

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