A walk around Hà Nội Old Quarter – pieces of the past come alive in the present

Stella Ciorra, Vice Chairwoman of Friends of Vietnam Heritage (FVH) was incredibly surprised to learn that out of all the activities in Vietnam Festival of Creativity & Design (VFCD) 2021, only FVH’s two exploration tours are in-person events.

She excitedly told the tour participants about this “special detail” before went on to guide the festival’s first city walk on Sunday morning (November 7). The location this time was Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Stella Ciorra and the tour participants in Hanoi City Walk: From Hàng Bạc to Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street on November 7, 2021.

The trip started from Đinh Liệt, Hàng Bạc, to Hàng Mắm, taking a turn to hàng Bè, Gia Ngư, before coming back to Đinh Liệt, then Cầu Gỗ, and ended at Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street

Strolling through the old streets of Đinh Liệt, Hàng Bạc, qua Hàng Bè, Gia Ngư and then Cầu Gỗ, Nguyễn Hữu Huân, interesting stories on Hanoi’s culture, heritage, architecture gradually unfolded, with a detailed introduction and diverse images that Stella had prepared for the trip. 

From the tale of the thousand-year-old capital’s 36 streets, the old villas from the French colonial rule, the establishment of Thăng Long Water Puppertry Theatre, to the development of the local traditional puppertry art, the “legendary” cafés on Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street…, every pieces of the past vividly come alive, allowing a glimpse to an ancient Hanoi – with its ups and downs, and the overlapping vestiges of various cultural layers. 

The group stopped by Kim Ngân Communal House, once a place for traditional jewelry trading.

Passing through Gia Ngư Street, Stella said that this area used to be the lakebed of Thái Cực Lake. The street name came from an ancient village once situated next to Thái Cực Lake, whose people make a living by fishing. 

Nguyễn Hữu Huân Street is filled with coffee shops, among which are famous established cafés like Cafe Lâm, Cafe Giảng.

“It’s very interesting to see these architectures still survive after decades”, said Justin Smith (age 36), an American who have been living in Hanoi for more than two years. He was very happy to join this trip. “I loved looking at the pictures from the past (that Stella brought to the trip) and comparing it with what is look like now and just imagining everything that happened since then.” 

Images that Stella printed in advance for illustration during the walk.

Another participant in the walk, Nguyễn Minh (age 26, Hanoi) said that he really liked the way Stella expressively and vibrantly told the stories. “It’s not unexciting and monotonous like in the textbooks”. “Her storytelling makes it seem like I could touch the past, images and people seem to unfold before my eyes like I was living in the old days when we walk past these houses and alleyways.”

The narrow alleyway leading to No. 6 Đinh Liệt, a garden house nestling deep within Hanoi’s Old Quarter made the guests exclaim in amazement upon seeing its ancient beauty and unchanging architecture.

At the final stop – Café Giảng and its famous specialty “egg coffee”, the group received a surprise from Stella: a 10-question fun quiz about the knowledge and stories shared in the walk. The one with the most correct answers would receive a lovely Vietnamese-style coffee filter set. This is a new idea that Stella recently came up with for FVH’s tours. Everyone enjoyed it so much that next time she would also include this activity in the walk to make it even more exciting, she said

The gift for the quiz winner is a lovely Vietnamese-style coffee filter set.

Despite having spent weeks to research, plan the routes and prepare the information, Stella said she was still a little nervous, as this is the first FVH’s tour after months of halting in-person activities due to the pandemic. “I’m glad that we’ve had a smooth, successful walk”, Stella smiled as she said goodbye to everyone, closing a tour full of joy and memorable experiences.


Written by Hải An

Photos by Đan

Translated into English by Đinh Vũ Nhật Hồng


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