Today Hang Gai is a mix of both the past and present with traditional and contemporary fashion houses, art galleries and coffee shops.
Just north of Hoan Kiem Lake and on the edge of the Old Quarter, Hang Gai has always been a famous trading place for silk. Tapping the tourist trade you will also find art galleries, handicraft stores and tiny souvenir shops.
Hang Gai’s central location and international reputation also mean the price of land on Hang Gai is astronomical by Vietnamese standards. Prices can be as high as $30,000 per square metre!
Nevertheless plenty of shop owners are happily renting retail space here – so business must be good. The 250m-long stretch of road is home to 120 shops, including 91 shops that sell mostly silk products.
Before the advent of tourism in modern Vietnam, Hang Gai street was part of Co Vu (Vu Village) which stretched from Hoan Kiem Lake to Cua Nam at the end of Hang Bong street. The original Co Vu Communal House is still standing at 85 Hang Gai street and has recently been renovated. Outside you will see a century-old banyan tree, which symbolizes Vietnamese spirituality.
Today Hang Gai is now highly congested thoroughfare and inevitably the street has lost some of its original charm but thanks to its cultural heritage and appeal to tourists, the Hanoi People’s Committee has committed to preserving what remains of the street’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Le Minh shop
78-79 Hang Gai street
With so many small shops specialising in silk and embroidery, just choosing a shop to enter on Hang Gai can be over whelming at first. Although the merchandise at the various stores is similar, as you might imagine, prices and service very from shop to shop.
Le Minh has a solid reputation that has been developed sence it first opened its doors in 1954. You can pick up ready-to-wear outfits or have items tailormade. Le Minh’s Vietnamese-style shirts made out of raw silk with a mandarin-style collar and traditional frog closures are highly popular. Shirts start at $15, tailored jackets $25-$30. You can also find some wonderful embroidered table-cloths ($10-$25).
131 Hang Gai street
With outlets throughout the country, Khai Silk is one of the best places for ready-made and tailored silk products in Vietnam. The flagship store in Hanoi is more expensive than some of its neigh-bours on Hang Gai street but you can expect quality products here.
Tan My Design
61-65 Hang Gai street
Tan My Design is veritable shopping emporium with over 800sqm of shopping space, selling both the best of Vietnam alongside international products. The beautiful restored French colonial-period villa is filled with gorgeous handmade embroidery, home ware, bed linen, clothing, accessories and artwork. Originally a family run shop, Tan My Design has welcomed some of the most exciting brands in Vietnam today – Chartage, Casa d’Oriental and Grace – and also showcases the designs of Victoria Roe, Pascal Dang, and the founder of Mirror Mirror, Ha Truong. Tan My Design also boasts a modern and spacious café, featuring top quality espresso drinks and delicious snacks. The café will also showcase work by some of Hanoi’s most celebrated artists.
Thang Long Art Gallery
41 Hang Gai street
First established in 1996, Thang Long Art Gallery has experienced many highs and lows over the years and even closed its doors for a spell. Reopened since 2004 the gallery has now affirmed itself as one of the city’s more prestigious and reliable addresses for classic Vietnamese art. Thang Long Art Gallery features artork by old master and contemporary artists.
30 Hang Bong
Further down from Hang Gai is one of Hanoi’s oldest patrons of contemporary Vietnamese art. In fact, Salon Natasha was the first private gallery in Hanoi. It was established in 1990 by Russian emigre Natalia Kraevskaia and her husband, the artist Vu Dan Tan, Salon Natasha closed for a number of years but has recently reopened its doors and is once again a meeting place for artists and intellectuals and a venue for modern, young, experimental and non-commercial art.
Trang An Hotel
58 Hang Gai street
Trang An is the only mini-hotel on Hang Gai street with Standard, Superior Room and Balcony Rooms available from $45-$65. It’s certainly a great spot for anyone looking to be right in the thick of Hanoi.
Silk Path Hotel
195-199 Hang Bong
One of Old Quarter’s most luxurious hotels is about to open at the year’s end just down the road from Hang Gai. The Silk Path promises to introduce a “symphony of comfort” to the Hanoi hotel scene. Rates for The Silk Path’s Executive Room and The Silk Path Suite are currently at $128 and $375 respectively for the opening period in early 2010. The hotel will offer state of the art facilities for conferences and banquets.
Café Vuon Pho Co
11 Hang Gai
Known as the secret café this old Vietnamese coffeehouse is not much of a secret anymore but it’s well worth visiting for either the stunning views of Hoan Kiem Lake from the second, third or fourth floors out the back or the indoor oriental garden downstairs. Great coffee and fruit juices and famously reluctant staff (they must really hate walking up and down to the fourth floor). It’s also one of the last places on Hang Gai where you can get a classic ca phe trung (coffee mixed with egg white). You have to walk past the souvenir shops out front and down a thin passageway to get there.
7 Hang Gai
This used to be a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse called Café Giang – one of the most famous addresses for the aforementioned ca phe trung. It’s a sign of the times that tourists with out of date guide books will now find a small Italian café serving up latte and frappucinno. If you are looking for Café Giang, the owner moved to Nguyen Huu Huan street.
21 Hang Gai Street
Little Hanoi could probably sell thin air and turn a profit with one of the most perfect locations for a snack bar in town.
It’s a sanctuary for many hot and sweaty tourists who have marched up and down Hang Gai street or all around the Old Quarter. The food is solid with freshly made western-style sandwiches as well as a limited range of local classics such as banana flower salad and noodle soup. A great spot to watch the world go by and a good central meeting point, Little Hanoi is already an old faithful on Hang Gai street.
By Dieu Linh.