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Aug 15, 2023 / 20:57

Hoan Kiem District: The cultural center of Hanoi

Although the smallest of all districts, as the heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem District is often the site of the capital's major cultural and political events.

Sitting in a bar, on the sidewalk or in any corner of Hanoi, watching the world go by, inspires every writer, composer and artist to create vividly.

Hanoi has undergone a dramatic change after years of administrative boundary adjustment. As a writer with strong affectionate ties to Hanoi, writer Nguyen Truong Quy said the city had undergone a huge change, and Hanoi - as we know it - has expanded so much that it surprises people who have been away for a long time.

The heart of Hanoi

Hoan Kiem District is named after Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake, the main symbol of Thang Long, the ancient capital of successive Dai Viet (Vietnam) dynasties. The entire district is part of the former Tho Xuong district.

Hoan Kiem District was originally called Hoan Kiem Zone between 1961-1981.

 Tourists join the night tour at Hoa Lo Prison Relic. Photo: Hoalo.vn

In January 1981, Hoan Kiem Zone was officially named Hoan Kiem District with 18 wards, and it has remained so until today.

The district is home to the headquarters of major government agencies, embassies, and international organizations. Hoàn Kiếm District is famous for its fine services, large commercial streets and wholesale markets.

It is the cultural, political and economic center of Hanoi, with 190 historical and cultural relics. The Sword Lake, the Huc Bridge, the Hanoi Opera House, the Long Bien Bridge and the King Le Temple are the works associated with the thousand-year history of civilization of the capital city of Hanoi.

Ancient Thang Long is refered to as the "36 streets" in the Old Quarter in Hoan Kiem District, with the name starting with the word "Hang" (guild).

 Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) is one of the landmarks of Hanoi. Photo: VNA

Hoan Kiem District is home to almost all of Hanoi's "hang" streets. In the old days, it's the gathering place of talents from all over the country. This is reflected in the names of today's streets, such as Hang Dao (specializing in dyeing and selling cloth), Hang Trong (famous for many handicrafts such as folk painting and drum making), Hang Bac (silversmith street), and Hang Da (leather worker street).

Hanoi's Old Quarter is classified as a national historical and cultural relic and has become a valuable asset in Hanoi's cultural heritage treasure. It is also a place where the traditional identity and beauty of the elegant and pompous Hanoi people are best preserved.

Dr. Pham Quang Long, vice chairman of the Vietnam Association of Administrative Sciences, said Hoan Kiem is related to the story of King Le Thai To, who defeated foreign invaders thanks to a magic sword lent to him by the Genie Turtle and returned it to the Golden Turtle after winning independence for the country.

Each street name evokes nostalgia for people who have left Hanoi. Pham Quang Long said that the landmarks of Hanoi, such as Hoan Kiem, inspire poetry, literature, music and art.

Hoan Kiem District is considered the heart of Hanoi because of its cultural, historical and architectural significance, according to Thang Van Phuc, former Deputy Minister of Interior.

Must see destinations

Hoan Kiem Lake

The lake is a historical symbol of Hanoi and the first place people visit when they come to the city. It's also the symbol of Hoan Kiem District and is known as Bo Ho or Ho Hoan Kiem or Ho Guom. On weekends, this place is closed to traffic and the pedestrian streets become the stage for many unique cultural activities.

 Nam Huong Communal House in Hoan Kiem District is a favorite cultural rendezvous for locals and tourists.

St. Joseph's Cathedral

It is a Catholic church built in 1884 and inaugurated on Christmas 1887. It is one of the first Western architectural works erected in Hanoi. Over the years, St. Joseph's Cathedral has been a testament to Hanoi's transformation over two and a half centuries. It's a top destination for young people to enjoy coffee, iced tea and street food around the cathedral, such as grilled pork roll and chicken porridge.

Hanoi Old Quarter

It is a place that gathers the most beautiful and representative of Hanoi's ancient architecture, ancient temples, thousand-year-old cultural values and rich cuisine, a must-visit place when coming to Hanoi.

Dong Xuan Market

Built in 1889, Dong Xuan Market is known as the largest indoor market in Hanoi, offering a full range of goods such as fresh produce, souvenirs, accessories and clothing, electronics and household goods.

The place also reflects the daily life of people in old Hanoi. Even after renovation, the exterior of the market remains unchanged and is a great place to take photos of Hanoi's past and present. On weekend evenings, a night market is opened for pedestrians.

Trang Tien Street

Trang Tien Street leading to Sword Lake was one of Hanoi's high-end shopping streets during the French era. Trang Tien Plaza is an old shopping mall with impressive colonial architecture.

Tourists should not miss the chance to taste Trang Tien ice cream. Since 1958, it has become the favorite ice cream of many generations of Hanoi people and tourists to the city. This ice cream still attracts customers today because it carries the memory of a time. Trang Tien Mung Bean Ice Cream is considered "the best in Vietnam".

Hoa Lo Prison Relic

Hoa Lo Prison is a special historical relic of Hanoi, built by the French colonists in 1896 to imprison Vietnamese patriots. Called Maison Centrale, it was one of the largest penitentiary centers of French colonialism in Indochina at that time. In 1993, the government demolished Hoa Lo Prison, except for the southeastern part, to turn it into a historical relic. There is a memorial monument dedicated to Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary fighters. It offers a night tour to help tourists understand more about the city's history.