Hanoi, then and now

By Bao Yen   July 16, 2017 | 04:05 pm GMT+7

Take a trip back in time to see how Hanoi has changed over the past seven decades. 

Hanoi in 1940, when it was also known as Tonkin, was a city in the throes of turbulent historical development. The major powers had entered the early phase of World War II, and French Indochina was being slowly dragged into the conflict.

At that time, local reserves were being drafted by the French to fight the war in Europe, the subject of which was portrayed in the award-winning film "Cong Binh - The Lost Fighters of Vietnam" by French-Vietnamese director Le Lam. 

With France occupied by the war, Indochina became effectively more independent in terms of administrative operations. But the Japanese, who were seeking to enforce a deal with the Vichy French colonial administration to facilitate economic expansion in the region and to block off the American aid passing through China, made sure that these conditions were executed. 

The Vichy French were at a crossroads, and the only possible means to avoid an attack against Indochina was to let the Japanese do what they wanted. According to "Hanoi: Biography of a City" by William Logan, French troops in Indochina at the time were outnumbered by the Japanese, and if war broke out they would have to fight on two fronts: the Gulf of Indochina and the Chinese border. Great Britain and the United States did not particularly want to get involved, even though they were also opposed to the Japanese occupation. 

And so the first Japanese inspection team arrived in Hanoi in June 1940, followed by its navy, army and air force three months later. They remained in Indochina for five years, until the end of World War II. 

Under the Japanese - Vichy French pact, Japan could continue its military operations but it still allowed the Vichy French to administer Indochina. As a result, the former had little influence on Hanoi's environment, administratively and structurally speaking. And as such, urban development was left to the French colonial authorities. 

The following photos were captured by American photographer Harrison Forman, who was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and National Geographic at the time. 

Japanese officials speaking on the balcony of the building at the corner of Dinh Tien Hoang and Dinh Le, as they began the occupation of Hanoi. The Japanese arrived in Vietnam in 1940, and they remained in the country until the end of the World War II. The building is a jewelry store now. Most of the outer decor has remained unchanged since 1940.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

There used to be a tramway running down the middle of Hang Dao Street, but it was removed in 1990.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai


Trang Tien Street was known as Rue Paul Bert during the French colonial times. Hotel de la Paix at 33-35 Rue Paul Bert has been replaced by a range of stores and restaurants.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai


Eden Cinema at 42 Rue Paul Bert, or Trang Tien Street, is now the Workers' Theater. It was originally called Cinema Palace, but in 1947 the name was changed to Eden. After the revolution, it was changed again to the Workers' Theater.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

Banque Franco-Chinoise, or the French-Chinese bank, influenced by art-deco architecture which was very popular in Tonkin at the time, is now used as an office by the Vietnam Department of Industry and Trade.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai


The glory Hanoi Opera House. The building is the signature of the French-influenced architecture in Hanoi.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

Chuong Vang Theater - the Golden Bell, located at the corner of Ta Hien and Hang Bac, is the home of Vietnamese cai luong, a form of modern folk opera. In 1940, it was known as Cinema Trung Quoc, or China Cinema.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

Hang Tre Street, or Rue des Bambous under the French, used to be wider and occupied by bamboo traders. The street bears little traces of the past, with mainly streetside cafes and restaurants now.

Then photo by by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

Cua Nam Garden, at the intersection of Hang Bong and Tho Nhuom. Nothing has changed much except there are more motorbikes, more cars and less bicycles.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

The entrance to Long Bien Bridge.

Then photo by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai

Long Bien Bridge, which used to be called Paul Doumer Bridge, was built between 1899 - 1902. 

Then photo by by Harrison Forman, via flickr/manhhai