Hang Vai, which runs off Phung Hung, was traditionally Hanoi’s main textiles street. Nowadays its main attractions are twofold: a pleasant vibe, with few tourists and little traffic, but plenty of on-street 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.
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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