Most cities have train tracks which cut through them; it's nothing too special. But there aren't many cities in which the tracks are basically just another street, with houses and businesses lined up right along the side. Hanoi doesn't have time for your conventions or common sense! If there's a place in the old town where someone can live and work, someone will be living and working there.
Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, the temple of Bạch Mã, alternatively known as the White Horse Temple, is among the oldest in the city. It was originally constructed in 1010, at the time of Hanoi's founding by Lý Thái Tổ, though the current structure dates from the early 1800s.
Ca Trù is a form of royal court music which dates back to the 11th century. The style almost died out completely after the reunification of Vietnam, but it's been making a comeback, led by musical scholars and organizations like UNESCO, who have named Ca Trù an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage. We went to see a performance by the Ca Trù Club at the Kim Ngân Temple in the Old Quarter. Though it got its start…
The grid of streets found just north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake is Hanoi's Old Quarter. Once home to merchants and craft guilds, this section of town is now firmly in the hands of tourism. But if you can block out the thousands of travel agencies advertising Sapa Tours, and ignore the constant sales pitches of the cyclo drivers, it's possible to get a sense of how the Old Quarter must have felt in... well... the old days.
Consecrated in 1886, St. Joseph's Cathedral was one of the first buildings constructed by the French after the conquest of Hanoi. With a prime location just to the west of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the church is among the most impressive pieces of colonial architecture in the city.
A distinctive facade of three wide arches welcomes shoppers to Hanoi's largest covered market, the Chợ Đồng Xuân. With mostly clothes and bulk foods on sale, this isn't a place for souvenir-hunting tourists. But if you're in the market for a fascinating slice of local life, it might be just what you're looking for.
Because the Old Quarter of Hanoi has given itself over so completely to tourism, it can be hard to get a sense of its history. But if you'd like to see how families lived in the 19th century, head to the Heritage House, in the heart of the backpacker district at 87 Ma May.