It is also one of Asia’s greenest cities with an abundance
of parks and lakes as well as a host of cafes and art galleries and an
Old Quarter steeped in history. By day the city hums with commerce and
moves at motorbike speed; by night the city is an enchanting, 19th
century Asian village best experienced from the seat of a silent cyclo.
Hanoi sits alongside the Red River, Vietnam's second largest river.
Beneath modern-day Hanoi lie artifacts and relics of the early Bronze
and Iron ages, dating back to 2,000 B.C. The city was officially founded
in 1010 by Emperor Ly Thai To, who in 1010 renamed the area Thang Long
or Soaring Dragon. Soon after some of the city’s oldest structures were
built including the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s oldest university.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the city experienced rapid growth due to
the expansion of foreign trade. In 1786, the Tay Son Army from the south
invaded northern Vietnam and united the country. During the Tay Son
reign the capital was moved south, to Hue, where it remained throughout
the Nguyen Dynasty. Indeed Hanoi had to wait until 1831 to regain its
former name, when Emperor Minh Mang established it as the capital of the
Northern Province. The city’s main period of growth stems from the
arrival of the French in 1888. Fortunately many of the old boulevards
and residences have survived and are used to house Foreign Embassies and
Government institutions. From 1902 until 1953 the city served as the
capital of French Indochina, although in 1945 Ho Chi Minh proclaimed in
his independence speech from Ba Dinh square that Hanoi would henceforth
be the capital of Vietnam. Today Hanoi is a bustling capital city of
nearly 4 million people.Places of Interest
One Pillar Pagoda
Ly Thai To built one of Hanoi's most famous landmarks, the One Pillar
Pagoda in 1049 in honor of the Goddess of Mercy. The pillar was
destroyed in 1954, but the pagoda was quickly rebuilt. The design of the
pagoda reflects the Buddhist belief that the world was created much as a
lotus flower emerges from the water. The temple is built above a small
pond covered in lotus blossoms.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is an unforgettable experience. Inside an
imposing building lies the embalmed body of the founder of modern
Vietnam. When visiting the mausoleum the following rules need to be
observed: No short sleeves & skirts are allowed. Silence should be
observed when entering the tomb and definitely no photographs (in fact
all bags have to be left outside). It’s quite an experience as you queue
with many Vietnamese, some of whom have traveled many miles to make the
pilgrimage. The mausoleum is a unique opportunity to reflect upon the
life of one of the 20th century's more revered historical figures. Next
to the mausoleum is a replica of "Uncle Ho's" wooden house on stilts.
Temple of Literature
back to 1070, the Temple of Literature was the site of Vietnam's first
university and was used to educate the sons of the mandarin class. The
complex consists of five separate courtyards with different paths that
would originally have been reserved for the Emperor and his mandarins
and highlighted by the Khue Van Pavilion. One of the courtyards contains
the statue of Confucius guarded by two beautiful bronze storks standing
on turtles. Another feature of the temple is the steles. In 1442,
hundreds of stone tablets, or steles were erected to record the names
and achievements of the graduates. Eighty-two of the steles remain and
are considered the most valuable artifacts at the temple. The temple
highlights the importance that Vietnamese society placed then and now on
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The museum contains documents, artistic works, photographs and other
items, which vividly detail Ho Chi Minh's accomplishments in developing
modern Vietnam. Portions of the museum focus on the links between
revolutionary Vietnam and the outside world.
Note: All museums are closed on Monday. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is
only open during the morning from everyday (except Friday and Monday)
and is closed from September to November for annual maintenance.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi. In the morning, residents converge to
jog around its tree-lined shores or perform mesmerizing "Tai Chi". In
the evening people once again gather in the lakeside cafes to chat about
the day's events. Hoan Kiem Lake has a colorful history. In the 15th
century Emperor Le Thai To vanquished the invading Chinese with the help
of a magical sword. Legend has it that whilst rowing on the lake an
enormous turtle seized the sword from his grasp. The Emperor took this
as a sign of divine intervention and that peace had been restored. In
honor of the event he renamed the lake ‘Ho Hoan Kiem’ – Lake of the
The Old Quarter
walk through the Old Quarter, also known as the 36 Streets offers a
glimpse in to Vietnamese life from ages past. In the early 13th century,
guilds and artisans clustered their shops around certain streets. As
time went by the narrow lanes adopted the names of the particular guild
or goods sold there. Hence you can still walk from Fish Street to Tin
Street to Bamboo Street. It’s a great place to explore on foot with
numerous photo opportunities.
There are also two ancient houses in the Old Quarter that are especially worth visiting
Ancient House: 87 Ma May St.
over 110 years ago, this house is one of the two ancient homes in
Hanoi's Old Quarter, which were carefully restored as part of Hanoi's
990th Anniversary in 2000. The house is a typical Old Quarter "tube
house" 2 meters wide and 60 meters long with open yards between rooms
for air and light. The house is arranged strictly in accordance with
"Feng Shui" rules and is vividly decorated in a traditional style.
Ancient House: 38 Hang Dao St.
This house, built on the foundations of a 17th century trader's home has
been renovated to reflect the architecture and decorative styles of old
Hanoi. The first floor is designed for trading purposes and living
accommodation, the second for the family altar and the act of
Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House is one of Hanoi's grandest buildings. The exterior is
a delightful mix of French neo-classical design with shuttered windows,
wrought iron balconies and tiles friezes. Construction of the Hanoi
Opera House began in 1901 and was completed in 1911.
Hoa Lo Prison
known as ‘The Hanoi Hilton’ it became famous during the American War as
many US POWs were incarcerated here. Notable inmates included
Republican senator John McCain and Douglas Peterson who later became the
first post-war US Ambassador to Vietnam. In 1996, a modern, 26-storey
office block was built on the site. However, large sections of Hoa Lo
have been preserved and converted into a museum.
Water Puppet Show
puppetry is a remarkable Vietnamese art form combining traditional
music, fireworks and elaborate puppets floating gracefully on the water.
The stories depict Vietnamese legends, peasant life and local
festivals. The art form dates back to the 10th century and originally
these plays would have taken place on lakes and ponds during the monsoon
season. The stories remain the same but now the production takes place
in a specially designed theatre with a stage knee-deep in water. The
puppeteers are hidden behind a bamboo screen and the whole experience is
both entertaining and amusing.
Ngoc Son Pagoda
Ngoc Son Pagoda stands in Hoan Kiem Lake. The pagoda was built in honor
of Saint Van Suong - the spirit of literature and wisdom and Tran Hung
Dao, one of Vietnam's most famous generals. Surrounded by water and
shaded by trees, this 19th century temple is a delightful place to
escape the bustle of Hanoi.
Quán Thánh Temple
Thánh Temple was built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1010 -
1028). The temple honors Saint Tran Vu, a legendary figure who helped
King An Duong Vuong chase away demons during the construction of Co Loa
Citadel. The central feature of the temple is a giant, black, bronze
statue of Tran Vu cast in 1667.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
With origins dating back to the 6th century Tran Quoc is one of the
oldest pagodas in Vietnam. The pagoda's unique design features a visitor
hall, two corridors and a bell tower. Inside are numerous statues, the
most notable of which is the wooden statue of the Shakyamuri Buddha. The
oldest stele was built in 1639 and depicts the pagoda's history.
Several burial stupas in the garden are relics of one of the earliest
Zen Buddhist groups in North Vietnam.
Museum of Ethnnology
This is a must-see for anyone intending to visit either Mai Chau or
Sapa, or indeed anyone interested in Vietnam’s cultural diversity. The
museum is widely acknowledged as the best in the country and has an
extensive display dedicated to Vietnam’s 54 Ethnic minority peoples. As
well as the comprehensive array of exhibits inside, there are also
traditional tribal houses reconstructed within the grounds.