Sitting on the edges of Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District, Ngon Villa is able to embrace all of the ancient architecture and history of this magnificent location, while avoiding its touristy center. Hoan Kiem is rife with temples and pagodas that date back to the very beginning of the city, as well as markets and shopping streets that are teeming with local life.
Tong Duy Tan
The beauty of Tong Duy Tan, also known as 24-hour walking street, is a delicate balance of vibrant culture and sedate atmosphere. While it is always busy with street food vendors, locals, and tourists, it never quite reaches the hustle and bustle of central Hoan Kiem, always remaining safe and fun.
The area is made up of two roads that intersect like a ‘T’. It’s a hive of local activity throughout the night, where people eat and drink and enjoy each other’s company. Don’t imagine anything like ‘Beer Street’ in the heart of the Old Quarter though. The reason it’s called walking street, if you haven’t guessed, is due to its lack of cars or bikes, making it an ideal place for a short, safe walk.
Every day at 4 and 7pm, shops, restaurants and houses take a deep breath as Hanoi’s railway line comes to life. In what, to many, would seem like a radical disregard for health and safety regulations, is just a way of life to those living by the tracks.
One-minute, old women selling tea will have their stools set up for customers, children will scurry around and people will be walking their dogs. The next minute the whole line has been cleared and made ready for the slow plod of the train. This oddity has become a go-to attraction for many tourists looking for a novel photo-shoot. Ask at the restaurant for tips on how to get there.
Also known as ‘Gold Street’, Ha Trung is also where you’ll get the best rates for changing money. While the seedy underbelly of Hanoi’s black market may leave something to be desired in way of activity, its history is nonetheless fascinating.
During the French colonial period, Ha Trung was the epicentre of leather tanning. In the 1920s the street became bombarded with workshops making and selling saddles for the French army. This eventually led to shopkeepers selling ammunition and travel bags for soldiers.
These days, while, saddles for horses have turned to motorbike seats and the army supplies, while still in existence, are lacking in any sort of ammunition, the prominent trade has turned to gold and currency. As a point of history and unique interest, however, Ha Trung is still a must-visit.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Moving on a little further towards Hoan Kiem Lake, St Joseph’s Cathedral is another slice of Hanoi’s stunning architectural heritage. Built in 1886, this building is a hub for Vietnam’s 4 million Catholics, as well as a tourist hotspot. Visitors are allowed to take pictures of the church, both inside and out, but are advised to dress conservatively.
Located just a short walk in the opposite direction to Hoan Kiem Lake, if you’re heading this way you may want to continue to the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum for a full communist figurehead tour. While it is on the small side when it comes to parks, Lenin Park is a great place to relax and get away from the traffic. Along with this imposing statue of Lenin himself, the park is full of lush green grass and plenty of space for games and activities.