To the French must go the credit of thoroughly transforming this once-swampy southern suburb of Hanoi. In order to reflect the grandeur and aesthetic befitting the capital of their protectorate (the French called it Tonkin, from the Vietnamese Dong Kinh, or Eastern Capital), French developers rebuilt much of southern Hanoi from the ground up. The wide tree-lined boulevards combine with the majesty of Parisian-style villas and the shuttered elegance of government buildings to form a handsome seat of colonial power. The French are long gone, of course, and for decades Hanoians lacked the affluence to renovate or further build on the architectural contributions of the colonialists. Villas fell into disrepair, and only those buildings appropriated for state offices were even moderately maintained. This part of the city is caught in a 1920s and 1930s time warp.
Although much of the French Quarter's appeal lies in its grand but aging architecture, the area is now a leading diplomatic and commercial section of the city. As you walk through this airy, surprisingly green district, note the considerable international presence here: several embassies occupy renovated villas or compounds in the grid of avenues south of Hoan Kiem Lake, and modern office buildings have begun to shadow the streets of this lovely part of town.