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Alternatively called Hanoi's Old Quarter, Ancient Quarter, or just simply 36 Streets, the Old Quarter of Hanoi is a must-see for anyone visiting Vietnam. Located at the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter is the home of most the economical hotels, tourist shops, and cafes in Hanoi.
The Old Quarter is truly old: people have called Hanoi home continuously for more than 2,000 years, and the Old Quarter is the first area settled by humans. Most of Vietnamese history and culture has unfurled from the location of the Old Quarter. Unlike other cities with “old towns”, which by-and-large have become nothing more than souvenir shops and cheap tourist attractions, Hanoi's Old Quarter is still the vibrant centre of life in Hanoi. With people on the street by 5:30 a.m., and restaurants opening by 6:00 a.m., the hustle-and-bustle of the Old Quarter doesn't really start to slow down until 9:30 at night.
The 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter are all named for the type of good or serve they used to sell there. There are streets named for bamboo, silk, silver, medicine, shoes, fans, chickens, and even coffins. This method of naming the street after goods or services goes back to the days when craftsmen would work together in guilds to produce and sell their wares. Even today, walking through the Old Quarter, you might come across an entire block of nothing but paper makers, tinsmiths, or tailors.