Circling the Capital

Hanoï is a sprawling and large city. We opted to take a full day tour to explore historic sites, museums and a few under-the-radar treasures.

An amazing tribute that commemorates the millennium anniversary of the city is a six kilometer mosaic wall which took three years to complete (2007-2010). It documents, with thousands of tiles, the venerable history of the city including landmarks, local heroes, religions, myths, and cartoons. The mosaic runs alongside a major road where it is both unsafe and difficult to stand and take photos, but we managed to grab a few from the car window as we drove by.

A collaboration between South Korean and Vietnamese artists resulted in a wonderful group of trompe l’oeil murals covering the arch walls along the Long Bein Bridge on Phung Hung Street. Most of these murals depict scenes of Hanoï life over the past 25 years.

The Temple of Literature complex is the home of the Imperial Academy, the oldest university in Vietnam. It was built in 1070 as a center of learning and was dedicated to the Chinese scholar Confucius. The grounds of the temple are in a typical Chinese layout with ornate bonsai, other plants and a reflecting pond. It is understandable that such a serene environment was a place dedicated to study. Today, many students come to the temple and pray for good luck with their exams.

West Lake is the largest fresh water lake in Hanoï. It can easily take an hour to drive around. There are swan paddle boats for rent and hip cafes with waterside views. We went to see the Trấn Quốc Pagoda which is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Hanoï dating back to the Sixth Century. It is located on a small island near the southeastern shore of the lake. We were fortunate to see a late-blooming lotus and also a glimpse of a Buddhist wedding.

There are many French Colonial-style buildings with Vietnamese-pattern roofs, windows and doors in Hanoi. Many are used by Vietnamese authorities such as the State Bank of Vietnam and The Palace of Presidents in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex. Behind the mausoleum is the grouping of big homes and offices originally used during the French occupation. A man of the people, ‘Uncle Ho’ chose to live in a modest house on stilts instead of the ornate and opulent Presidential Palace. The yellow buildings are beautiful.

St Joseph’s Cathedral is another example of French Neo-Gothic architecture. Construction began in 1882 and finished in 1886, and was modeled after Notre Dame in Paris.

The Single Pillar Pagoda is built on a single wooden pillar that is just four feet in diameter. The story goes that heirless Emperor Lý Thái Tông dreamt that he met Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy. Soon after, he married a young peasant girl who gave him a son. The pagoda was built between 1028 and 1054 to express his gratitude to the goddess. The temple has a Buddha with many hands.

The Museum of Ethnology opened our eyes to the 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam. It is fascinating to learn about the ethnic history of Vietnam. There are donated homes from many regions and examples of every aspect of daily life including this bicycle covered in hand-made fish traps.

The Hanoï Women’s Museum is dedicated to the Vietnamese women, showcasing their role in the nation’s development and culture. The three floors of exhibits shed insight into the progressive changes of Vietnamese women with traditions, history, and fashion.

Hanoï filled our day with so many fascinating places, we merely scratched the surfaces of this massive capital city.

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