Hanoi’s Ancient Book Street: Preserving the City’s Literary Legacy

From one small bookstore to dozens today, Dinh Le, Hanoi's oldest book street, has been a favorite destination for bibliophiles for decades.

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For the youth of 20th century Hanoi, an excursion to Hoan Kiem Lake would involve a visit to the General Department Store, the forerunner of today’s Trang Tien Plaza, savoring Trang Tien ice cream, and exploring Dinh Le’s renowned “book street”.

Despite the passage of generations and the emergence of numerous other book hubs across the capital, the title “Book Street” remains synonymous with the stretch of Dinh Le Street.

 Dinh Le Street is a beloved destination for book enthusiasts in Hanoi. Photo: Hai Yen

The Genesis of Hanoi’s First “Book Street” 

Dinh Le Street connects Ngo Quyen Street to Dinh Tien Hoang Street.

In the 1990s, it was colloquially known as “Do De Street” due to its notoriety as a trading hub for US dollars (“Do” for dollars) and Deutschmarks (“De” for Deutschmarks), highly valued currencies at the time. Prior to the 1990s, Hanoi’s two prominent state-owned bookstores, the National Literature Bookstore and the Foreign Literature Bookstore, were located on Trang Tien Street. This convergence of bookstores on Dinh Le Street, Nguyen Xi Street, and Trang Tien Street established the area as the epicenter of bookselling in Hanoi.

 Dinh Le- the first “book street” in Hanoi. Photo: Ngoc Nga

However, its designation as a “book street” originated from a modest bookstall operated by Pham Thi Mao, which evolved into the present-day Mao Bookstore at No. 5 Dinh Le Street . Initially, Mao sold books on the street’s sidewalk, followed by the establishment of several ‘mobile’ book stalls at the intersection of Dinh Le and Nguyen Xi. In 2003, the Hanoi authorities’ decision to prohibit sidewalk book stalls at night to facilitate traffic flow prompted the stallholders to rent properties along Dinh Le Street, many of which were previously medical equipment shops.

Today, the book street boasts a diverse range of bookstores, including Hoa Bookstore, Huy Hoang Bookstore, Lam Bookstore, Ngan Nga Bookstore, and Tan Viet Bookstore, among others.

Word of mouth has established Dinh Le Street as a haven for book enthusiasts in Hanoi.

Its towering shelves are laden with an extensive collection that caters to every reader’s preference, from students to seniors, business professionals to art aficionados. Regarding prices, new releases typically offer a 10-20% discount, while used books can be purchased with discounts as high as 40-50%. The allure of affordable prices and a vast selection ensures that Dinh Le Street is perpetually bustling.

A Unique Literary Sanctuary

Mao Bookstore offers a literary paradise for avid readers from Hanoi and beyond. Photo: Thu Hien

Dinh Le bookstores have been a constant presence for decades, fostering a love of reading across generations. Mao Bookstore, the trailblazer, is nestled within a narrow alleyway at 5 Dinh Le Street. Marked only by a simple sign bearing the inscription “Mao Bookstore” and an arrow pointing upwards, it is a veritable paradise for bookworms in Hanoi. Despite the proliferation of modern bookstores throughout the city, even those occupying prime ground-floor locations, this quaint establishment retains a special charm for patrons.

Separated from the bustling street below by a wooden staircase, the timeworn attic is home to towering bookshelves that line the narrow aisles. The collection encompasses a wide range of subjects,包括佛教、哲学、灵性、风水、东方和西方文学,甚至儿童漫画。凭借其亲切的氛围和远离喧嚣,这家老式书店几十年来一直屹立不倒,见证了无数读者的心灵成长。

在茅女士去世后,她的丈夫吕某经营了这家书店多年。如今,顾客们只能偶尔见到他,因为他的女儿通常会代替他。 

 Dinh Le Street上的毛主席书店标志简单而令人印象深刻。 照片:如玉

失去了自己的灵魂伴侣后,他经常呆在家里写诗来缓解对她的思念。这座满是书的阁楼上装饰着他的诗句,以及顾客们写下的表达对这对夫妇的钦佩之情的纸条。还有一扇门上贴着一副名言,出自百科全书家黎贵惇,毛主席生前最喜欢的一句:“百两千金/不如几部名著。””

在这栋旧公寓的二楼,现在还有另外两家书店,Nguyệt灵和《传世》(故事)。据说,前者的店主在创业时,也曾向毛主席借钱借书。在这栋小楼里卖书,比她预想的要赚钱得多。和放贷人一样,借书人的书店也经常挤满了顾客。

从月玲书店走几步,就能看到《传世》社区空间——一个以非常“青春”的方式融合阅读、社区调研和知识交流的地方。它的活动包括讨论、共读、家庭电影放映、工作坊或文化之旅,希望帮助激发人们对阅读的热爱,并在年轻人中培养和传播阅读习惯。

 Dinh Le Street的游客可以在品尝咖啡的同时阅读一本书。 照片:Café Kohibito

Dinh Le Street虽然短小,但宽敞舒适。因此,它已成为Hoan Kiem Lake周围步行街的众多亮点之一,周末还有老式咖啡馆和流动饮料和小吃摊、儿童汽车租赁和其他服务。在这里,游客们可以买到书籍,喝上一杯咖啡,或享受一些典型河内街头美食。

尽管现代生活节奏很快,但仍然有爱书的人花时间通过光顾这条街上的任何一家书店来享受阅读文化——特别是聆听迷人的旋律,并沉醉于5 Dinh Le Street二楼书店特有的书香之中。 “书街”至今仍定期迎来年轻访客,证明了珍贵的文化之美总是被传承,就像千年文明古都的一股强大潮流一般。