Exploring Hanoi the Capital of Vietnam a Unique Experience
Table of Contents
- 1 Exploring Hanoi the Capital of Vietnam a Unique Experience
- 2 Best Time to visit Hanoi-the Capital of Vietnam
- 3 Hoa Lo Prison (Maison Centrale)
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, lying 100km from the sea on a bend in the Red River. It is this geographical feature that gives Hanoi its name – it means ‘within a river bend’. It is a beautiful city lined with flowering trees, lakes, parks, and graceful squares. So exploring Hanoi the capital of Vietnam is a much different experience.Read more:
Hanoi is like many other Asian capitals. It has several ancient monuments, weathered colonial buildings and many modern hotels and office blocks. A combination of old and new, Hanoi is a city that has weathered through the long centuries with style, grace and pride.
Hanoi is the world’s 14th most populous city but it has managed to remain compact, historic and full of charm. The younger generation are very friendly and the city has a definite cosmopolitan feel to it. Hanoi-the Capital of Vietnam today is very different to what it was 10 years ago.
Hanoi is situated in a region steeped with historical sites and beautiful landscapes. The city itself is a treasure-chest of places to visit. Advance planning may be necessary to see everything but with so many sites, you may need to stay a little longer.
Best Time to visit Hanoi-the Capital of Vietnam
Most of the year, the weather in Hanoi is non-tropical. Spring and autumn is the best time to visit Hanoi since the temperature is warm but not too hot nor too cold.
From May to November it is incredibly hot and humid. You shower and dry off only to be sweaty again.
From November to February Hanoi can be very chilly, with everyone wrapping up in coats and gloves.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the Lake of the Restored Sword, takes its name from a 15th century event. After Emperor Le Thai To (1428 – 33) had successfully defended his country against the Ming Chinese army, he sailed on the lake. A golden turtle suddenly appeared and took back the charmed sword that had secured the Vietnamese victory, restoring the sword back to its original home. Like the sword Excalibur from the British Arthurian legends, this sword represents divine intervention in times of national crisis.
The Tortoise Tower may be dilapidated but it sits majestically on an island in the midst of the lake. Large turtles actually inhabit the lake and are said to be a variety of Asian softshell tortoise. When the water levels fell dramatically in 2004 turtles were seen quite often.
There is a park which surrounds the lake. On most mornings joggers run around the lake and people practicing tai chi (Chinese shadow boxing). Today it is one of the most beautiful things to see in Hanoi.
Ngoc Son Temple and Sunbeam Bridge
Ngoc Son Temple is located northwest of Hoan Kiem Lake and an ideal spot to take photographs. The temple is built on the earlier foundations of the Khanh Thuy Palace. The palace was established in 1739 but burnt down some years afterwards. The temple itself wasn’t built until the late 19th century on an island.
The island is connected to the shore by the Sunbeam Bridge (the The Huc Bridge). It was constructed in 1875. The temple itself is chiefly dedicated to the God of Literature, Van Xuong, but hero Tran Hung Dao, the martial artist Quan Vu and the physician La To are also worshipped here.
A room to the side of the temple contains a preserved turtle and a collection of photographs of the creatures which call the lake their home. The pagoda is simply stunning. Being shrouded by trees and surrounded by water, it makes for a beautiful photographic backdrop.
Old City and 36 Streets
What to do in Hanoi if you have a chance to visit the capital of Vietnam? Don’t miss Old City and 36 Streets.
The Old City today stretches from the north but it used to lay to the east of the citadel. It used to have a dark reputation, disease-ridden and full of squalor. Today, however, it is one of the most charming areas of Hanoi.
Each of the narrow streets are named after the product it used to sell (or continues to sell), such as Silk Street, Paper Street, Basket Street etc. This makes it an extremely colourful and atmospheric area.
By the 15th century there were 36 short streets here, each one specialising in a certain trade (the Dryers’ Guild Street and Silversmiths’ Street for example). Not only this, but the streets were usually inhabited by people from a different area of the country or from the same village. They lived, worked and worshipped together. There are parts of these old traditions still in practice today.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral is a rather sombre, neo-gothic looking building. It stands in its own little square to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake. It was built between 1883 and 1891 and is important as it was one of the first colonial buildings in Hanoi to be finished. There are still some original stained-glass windows here.
Stone Lady Pagoda
Located around 100 yards in front of St. Joseph’s Cathedral stands the Stone Lady Pagoda (Chua Ba Da) and a Buddhist school. Nestled inside a narrow alley, the pagoda was built in 1056 and known as Sung Khanh Pagoda. It needed rebuilding in the 15th century. A stone statue of a woman was found inside the pagoda and was worshipped.
In 1767 the walls needed rebuilding once again; the foundations were dug even deeper and the stone statue found once more. Since then the walls have not needed to be rebuilt again. Although the pagoda is primarily a place for Buddhist worship, it is clear that it has had a mixed spiritual history.
The Opera House was built in 1911 by Francois Lagisquet and considered one of the finest French colonial buildings in the city. Around 35,000 bamboo piles were used to make a strong foundation for the building in the mud of the Red River. The exterior of the building is breathtaking with shutters, little balconies and griffins decorating it. Inside the Opera House is even more spectacular, reminiscent of the French period. In 1997 the Opera House was painstakingly restored, costing a whopping US$14 million.
Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution
The Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution (Bao Tang Cach Mang Vietnam) outlines the history of the Vietnamese when struggling to establish their independence. The rooms are set up in chronological order starting on the first floor. The American involvement in Vietnam is just another chapter in a long history of struggles against outside invaders. The rooms to the end of the galleries highlight peace, prosperity and reunification.
If you are the one who loves to discover the history of Vietnam capital city, don’t foget to visit Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution.
Museum of Vietnamese History
The Museum of Vietnamese History (Bao Tang Lich Su) is located a stone’s throw from the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. Housed in a beautiful building, this museum was originally the home of the Ecole Francaise de’Extreme-Orient. This was an illustrious archaeological and ethnological research institute established by Ernest Hebrard. This museum showcases artefacts ranging from all periods of Vietnamese history from the Neolithic to the 20th century. Galleries are laid out in chronological order. Some of the artefacts are sadly reproductions but are still incredible to behold.
Hoa Lo Prison (Maison Centrale)
Known better as the Hanoi Hilton, the Hoa Lo Prison (Maison Centrale) is the place where US POWs were incarcerated during the Vietnamese War. Furthermore, the last prisoners were not released until 1973. In 1992, a Singapore-Vietnamese joint venture purchased the prison and today it is a hotel and shopping centre complex. However, the deal was part of the prison had to be used as a museum. Visitors are shown around the prison. Their conditions under colonial rule are highlighted. The conditions the US POWs were subjected to are recorded on film.
The Ambassadors’ Pagoda (Quan Su) had a guesthouse in the 15th century to house Buddhist ambassadors. The structure you see today was built during 1936 and 1942. The pagoda looks somewhat Chinese from the exterior. Inside, there is a wealth of stone statues of the past, present and future Buddhas. At the rear of the pagoda there is room where Buddhist students listen to lectures.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body has been made into a holy place of pilgrimage. Visitors should dress conservatively, walk sombrely and do not talk. The mausoleum was constructed between 1973 and 1975. It is an imposing square building and loosely based on Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. It took Dr Sergei Debrov a year in a cave to preserve his body.
Ba Dinh Square
Ba Dinh Square is located in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleumthe in the Capital of Vietnam . It was the place where the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence was read by Ho on 2nd September 1945. This then became Vietnam’s National Day. Ho Chi Minh died on this day in 1969 but his death wasn’t announced until the 3rd so not to upset the people’s enjoyment on the National Day.
Ho Chi Minh’s House and the Presidential Palace
His house was built on the grounds of the former Presidential Palace. The Palace was built during 1900 and 1908. It was built for the Governors-General of French Indochina. Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the palace and instead lived in the house of an electrician on the same compound. He stayed here from 1954 to 1958 before moving to a house (‘Fish Farm’) on the other side of the small lake. Behind the palace is the bomb shelter and the hut where he died in 1969.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) located in the capital of Vietnam was commissioned by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049. It is a remarkable structure, one of the few that has survived from the first foundations of the city. The French destroyed it in 1955 when withdrawing from Vietnam. It has since been rebuilt.
The pagoda was originally built according to a passionate dream the emperor had. He dreamed that the goddess Quan Am (the equivalent to the Chinese goddess of mercy Guanyin) was sitting on a lotus. She held a young boy that she handed to the emperor. His counsellors interpreted the dream and the emperor had this lily-shaped temple in the midst of a water-lily pond. Not long afterwards, his wife gave birth to a son.
The pagoda is supported by a single concrete pillar. A brick and stone staircase runs up one side. The pagoda is a representation of the ‘pure’ lotus growing from the sea of sorrow. Dragons run along the graceful up-turned tiled roof. This beautiful building is one of the most elegant and charming monuments in Vietnam and one of Hanoi points of interest as well.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The Ho Chi Minh Museum opened its doors to the public in 1990, a century after his birth. The museum follows the course of Ho’s life and death in a series of modern and well laid out galleries. There are traditional Vietnamese music performances held here.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu Pagoda) is the biggest and important temple complex in Hanoi- the Capital of Vietnam . Founded by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong in 1070, it was built to honour the Chinese sage Confucius. Confucianism had a huge following in Vietnam. It is said that the temple was modelled on a temple in Shantung in China where Confucius was born. Confucianism replaced Buddhism and this temple became the intellectual and spiritual centre. A cult of literature and education established itself throughout the city.
Visitors enter the southern end of the compound. The Van Mieu Gate is embellished with dragons dating from the 15th century. The path leads through the Cong Dai Trung to a second courtyard and the Van Khue Gac Pavilion. This was built in 1805 according to the principles of ying-yang and dedicated to the Constellation of Literature.
Beyond this lies the Courtyard of the Stelae. The rectangular pond or Cieng Thien Quang (well of Heavenly Clarity) can be found here. The names of the 1,306 successful examination scholars are recorded on the stelae. North from here is the Dai Thanh Mon (Great Success Gate) leading to a courtyard. Two buildings flank either side, dating to 1954 having been destroyed in 1947.
The Dai Bai Duong (Great House of Ceremonies) was constructed in the 19th century in the Le Dynasty style. The friezes contain depictions of dragons, phoenixes, lotus flowers, clouds, flowers and yin-yang symbols. These are meant to reflect the hierarchal order of society as stated by the gods. An altar sits inside, upon which sits a statue of Confucius and his disciples. Another interesting fact is that the Dai Thanh Sanctuary (Great Success Sanctuary) connects this building and contains another statue of the great sage.
Hung Kings’ Temple
The Hung King’s Temple (Phong Chau) is 100km northwest of the city near the village of Viet Tri. It is the mythical birthplace of the Vietnamese people. As a result both history and religion has been intertwined with it. According to myth, the Vietnamese people are descended from the union of the dragon King Lac Long Quan and his fairy wife Au Co. Au Co gave birth to a pouch which contained 100 eggs. These eggs produced 50 girls and 50 boys. To populate the land, husband and wife split up, each taking 50 of the children. The children then propagated; those who followed their mother to the highlands became the Montagnards and those who stayed on the plains with their father the lowlanders. Also, the Hung kings then built a temple in the Capital of Vietnam in honour of the legendary parents of the Vietnamese people.
As you can see there is so much to see and do when exploring Hanoi the Capital of Vietnam.