Environmentally friendly battery-powered cars have begun offering tourists a new way to take in the sights in Ha Noi's Old Quarter.
Each car carries seven passengers, and the 30-minute tours begin every fifteen minutes between 7am to 9.30pm daily. Passengers can board at two terminals: across the street from the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on Dinh Tien Hoang Street and in front of Dong Xuan Market. Tickets cost VND15,000 (US$0.75).
The cars are operated by Dong Xuan Joint Stock Co, which began offering two tours in July. But, after two months, the cars now follow only one route, making brief stops at 13 iconic cultural and historical spots in the Old Quarter.
"It's fun, it's cheap and it is a very quick way to browse through all of the many streets of the Old Quarter," said Mark Geller, an Australian tourist.
"Foreign travellers, who were the target customers for the tours, have only accounted for 20 per cent of ticket sales," said Pham Tuan Long, an official of the Old Quarter management department.
"This tour not only gives us a quick view of all the major streets and cultural spots in the Old Quarter but also an experience with greener technology," said Pham Thanh Thuy, 27, a tourist from HCM City. "I really like this car – it runs very quietly. It's the perfect way to travel around the Old Quarter."
"I very much adore this," says Tran Van Hung, 67, a Hang Buom Street resident. "I get on these cars three or four times a week. I love to take my grandchildren with me."
Among the stops on the tour on the house in which President Ho Chi Minh wrote the nation's Declaration of Independence, now a museum in which visitors can learn about the history of Viet Nam; Cau Dong Pagoda, which was originally built during the Ly dynasty beside a stone bridge that spanned To Lich River; and Hang Luoc Street, which follows what used to be the banks of the river. Early in the 19th century, the river was filled in to broaden the street. Hang Luoc Street is also the location of the annual Tet flower market, an annual tradition that has been going on for centuries. Each year, the best blossoms from all over the country are gathered here for the nation's biggest holiday.
The tour also visits O Quan Chuong (Quan Chuong Gate), which has long been an inspiration for artists, representing the spirit of Ha Noi's historic architecture. The gate was first built out of clay in 1749 but was rebuilt in brick in 1881. The gate used to lie near the Red River, but the city gradually encroached on the river as it expanded.
The tour moves on to Dong Xuan Market, the mother of all Ha Noi markets. It has absolutely everything you might need, from jewelry, clothing and footwear, to household appliances and dried and fresh food. Surrounding the market are many restaurants, which have been famous for their delicious treats for years. Many of these eateries have received rave reviews from gastronomic writers such as Nguyen Tuan or Vu Bang.
Nguyen Thu Huong, deputy head of business planning for the Dong Xuan Joint Stock Co, says the company has been very pleased with the success of the battery car services.
"It's been so successful that we are thinking of expanding the tours to other tourist spots in Ha Noi, such as West Lake," Huong said. — VNS