Hanoi has an old quarter of 36 streets, each being closely attached to a traditional trade that is clearly shown by its name, such as Hang Duong (sugar) Street selling sugar, Hang Bac (silver) Street selling silver jewellery, Hang Thiec (tin) selling tin etc.
Mentioning the old streets of Hanoi, the essay “Notes taken on rainy days” by Pham Dinh Ho writes: “Dien Hung ward (present-day Hang Ngang) and Dong Lac ward (present-day Hang Dao) are places where many cloths and silk products are sold.” According to Hanoi researcher Nguyen Vinh Phuc, all kinds of papers, such as Giay ban (tissue paper), Giay moi (inferior tissue paper), Giay boi (coarse paper) and other popular papers made by people in Buoi and Cot Villages were sold on Hang Giay Street in the past.
Some streets were named after a legend or special ana, such as Hang Chao (rice porridge) Street which was the place selling rice porridge to candidates who came to the capital to attend “Thi Hoi” (National Examination) and “Thi Dinh” (Court Examination) or Trang Tien Street near Hoan Kiem Lake where once existed a coin casting workshop of the Nguyen Dynasty (the 19th century).
At present, the number of old streets in Hanoi is a matter of controversy because someone said that 36 is only a symbolic number. However, it is correct to say that people on each old street engaged in a trade. In the past, people from all parts of the country flocked to the capital to set themselves up in business. Following the trade motto “It needs friends when trading and it needs to establish guilds when selling”, they lived together in one place and gradually established guilds specializing in trades and products.
Due to this unique feature, Hanoians usually think of one street where they can buy what they want. For example, the locals usually venture to Hang Manh Street to buy bamboo curtains, Thuoc Bac Street to buy medicinal herbs, Hang Chieu Street to buy mats, etc.
Hanoi is undergoing drastic changes daily and the old quarter with “Hang” streets are also affected by the process of development. Hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., have mushroomed on these streets, so only a few streets with the traditional trades remain, such as Hang Bac, Hang Ma, Hang Manh, Hang Chieu, Hang Dong, etc.
The others have engaged in other trades, for example, Hang Than Street now sells Banh com (green rice flake cakes), teas and cigarettes in service of wedding ceremonies; Hang Vai Street sells bamboo products; Hang Chao sells mechanical and electric products to meet the demand of customers in the modern life. In addition, many new streets with new trades have been established in Hanoi, such as Hai Ba Trung Street selling electronic products, Ly Nam De Street selling computers, Luong Van Can Street selling children toys, Hoang Hoa Tham Street selling ornamental trees and Dang Dung Street selling second-hand mobile telephones.
Strolling through the old quarter or “36 streets” of Hanoi one can perceive the beauty as well as typical feature of these streets which should be preserved by not only the authorities but also the locals.