I met Pham Kim Ngan, a 20-year-old student, on a summer afternoon in a bookstore in Dinh Le street.
"The reading culture is not dying," Ngan said. "Not in Hanoi anyway."
I had to agree with her. There were no parking spaces on the footpath and the bookstore was packed with people
Dinh Le lies in the bustling Old Quarter, where the city's signature dry-zone mahogany trees spread their canopies to shield the street from the scorching sun. You can find people of all ages circling Dinh Le street at any hour to find a literary treat for the week.
"It's just another weekend here," said Nguyen Van Trung, a 23-year-old shop attendant.
Walking into one of the 20-something bookstores in Dinh Le street , I was surprised by the sheer variety of books on display. On both sides as well as in the middle of the cramped room were three gigantic shelves with what seemed to be every genre of books there is, from the great love stories of Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind to the valuable business lessons from Rich Dad, Poor Dad or What They Don't Teach You in Harvard Business School.
Ngan lives far from the area, but still comes to her favourite store. She bought her first book there eight years ago and became a regular.
"The shop sells genuine publications at prices 20-30 percent lower than elsewhere. Shopping for literature in such a cultural hotspot feels great," she said.
Despite 52 years difference in age, Ngan and Pham Quoc Huy, a 73 year-old retired teacher, are on the same page when it comes to store choices. Huy has been shopping for books in Dinh Le street for ages. As soon as he walks into the shop, the sales girl warmly welcomes him and introduces new titles he might be interested in.
"I always shop here because of the variety of titles and the discount," Huy said.
The street faces Hoan Kiem Post Office while on the other side, in Trang Tien street , there is the Books and Publishing Corporation.
A few decades ago, there used to be three nationally famous bookstores in the area: Quoc Van (National Language), Ngoai Van (Foreign Language) and Nhan Dan (People). Today, more than 20 stores, providing tens of thousands of book titles, have taken over the street.
A regular customer, Phan Viet Nga, 29, said whenever he felt low, he'd wander around Dinh Le street . I don't look for any books in particular, but if I'm lucky, I will find one that speaks to me."
Like Nga, some people go to the area without intending to buy anything.
"Looking at the thousands of colourful books and no-less-colourful titles is very cheering," Nga said.
In the corner of the bookstore came a child's laughter. Seconds later, Phan Quang Huy, 6, went running to his mother holding a colourful comic book.
"Mum please buy me this," Huy pleaded.
His mother, La Thanh Truc, was checking out the translated version of Alone in Berlin .
"Too many comic books might be bad for the kids, but how can you say no to those puppy eyes?" Truc said.
"I bring my son here every Sunday afternoon, and every time I secretly hope that he will come running to me with any kind of book other than a comic," she said, "but it is fine, as long as he still loves reading."
As the city heads inexorably towards modernisation, it's nice to know that in the Old Quarter's jungle of buzzing bars and restaurants there are busy shops in Dinh Le street in which one can indulge in an age-old pastime: reading./.