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Ageing underground wells in the heart of Hanoi

Underground wells which were closely linked to the lives of Vietnamese citizens can be found throughout the northern delta, especially in rural areas, with many dug approximately half a century ago still in use today in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

Over 50 years ago underground wells were typical features of daily life for the residents of Hanoi. They served as ideal locations in which children could bathe, a meeting place for young couples falling in love, and a place for housewives to share gossip.

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Several underground wells dug about 50 years ago can be found in the Old Quarter

In difficult times, when refrigerators were unavailable, wells were places for men to chill beer bottles and women to preserve Banh Chung, a local delicacy consisting of a glutinous rice square cake, ahead of the traditional lunar New Year festival.

In a bygone era in the Vietnamese capital, every street featured a small well with a diameter of just over one metre.

In contemporary society, the image of wells acting as a community hub seems to have disappeared in the minds of local people, although they still exist, even in the capital’s Old Quarter.

If one ventures deep into lane 86 of Hang Trong street close to Hoan Kiem lake, an old well can be found with a diameter of nearly two meters. Indeed, the well has been used in the past to supply water to people living in the local residential area.

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An underground well is still in use in a small lane of Hang Trong street

Nguyen Van Hung, a resident living in the lane, says he does not know exactly how old the well is.

“This year I am 70 years old, but I've seen the well there since I was small,” Hung confides. “From that day until now, I have never seen the well run out of water. It is quite strange that water from this well is cool in summer and warm in winter.”

“I still remember the days when I was small, children and even young men went out to the well to have a bath. The well at that time served as the common living place of everyone in the area. Since tap water became commonly available, it is no longer used as much. Sometimes when running water is in short supply, the water from the well is still used for daily life. The water is still clean and crystal-clear, without the smell of mud or iron.”

With greater development and running water being connected to people’s homes, underground wells have become something of a relic of the past, with the image of the age-old wells gradually fading away in the memories of local people. Furthermore, many underground wells have been covered over to reserve places for modern houses or buildings to take shape. 

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Such an age-old well is closely linked to Hanoians' daily life

Despite the quick tempo of life in the capital, several age-old underground wells have been preserved in the Old Quarter as a reminder of the past. One of them is situated at the end of Hang Chi lane with the site also serving as a meeting point for Hang Gai and Hang Quat streets.

The well is seen as a great meeting place for local people living in the three streets, who often come to collect water from the well for daily use, despite running water being readily available in their home.

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Underground wells remind Hanoians of a bygone era and hard-working times

Moreover, another underground well in Phu Doan lane remains functional despite its age. The wall of the well was mainly constructed from red bricks which have gradually been eroded over time to become smooth and shiny.

The well, about one metre in diameter and more than two metres in depth, hasn’t run out of water for years. At present, the water from the well remains crystal-clear so many people often come to use it for their daily life.

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Despite the quick tempo of life in the capital, several age-old underground wells have been preserved in the Old Quarter as a reminder of the past

Nguyen Xuan Khoi, a 80-year-old resident of Phu Doan lane, recalls his memory of the well.

“I still remember that decades ago people in the residential area lined up to get water from the well for domestic use every afternoon. The water was so clean and clear, because Hanoi was not as badly polluted as it is today, and local people were aware of preserving the well. For us, the well is the place for community activities and a well-maintained source of life, so everyone loves their well”.

Ancient wells are therefore closely connected with the daily life of several generations of people living in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Though all modern houses feature taps with running water, the old wells are still considered typical treasure of the capital, reminding local residents of a bygone era and hard-working times, although the sentiment of community spirit remains. VOV5

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