Hanoi is a nice city to visit with the family – it is rich in history – and the people are just beautiful and friendly. We went to the attractions with a private guide, which helped as we didn’t have to worry about transport (or parking) etc.
We stayed in Sheraton Hanoi, which is a lakeside hotel. Just love the beautiful view from the room. One of the restaurants at the hotel served halal food. But do check if that is still the case in case you decide to book there.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was built in 1973. The Mausoleum houses the embalmed figure of President Ho Chi Minh – ‘Uncle Ho’, displayed in a glass coffin. The Mausoleum is opened to the public daily except on Mondays/Fridays. Note there are dress codes – no sleeveless and short skirts etc.
Ho Chi Minh, was one of the founders of Viet Minh which led the Vietnam independence movement against the French colonial rulers and the establishment of the communist-governed Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945. He was the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam for 15 years. He died on 2 September 1969, 6 years before the communist were successful in conquering South Vietnam. They say that several North Vietnamese tanks displayed a poster with the quote “You are marching with us, Uncle Ho”.
The former capital of South Vietnam, Saigon – was later renamed Ho Chi Minh in his honour.
Interesting facts about Ho Chi Minh
- He had travelled all over the world – and did all sorts of jobs – a pastry chef in England was one of them!
- He was also a very modest man – instead of moving into the Presidential Palace in Hanoi when he was the President, he chose to live in the gardener’s house in the same grounds, and then a wooden stilt house built later within the grounds.
- He can speak and write in not just Vietnamese, but also English, French, Russian, Cantonese and Mandarin
- He was not just a politician, he was also a writer and a poet – his collection of poems from The Prison Diary, written when he was imprisoned in the Republic of China, has been translated into many languages. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.
Our guide explained that the locals see him as their “father” – very dear to their hearts – and every day, especially the weekends, you can see long queues of people at the Mausoleum paying their respect to him.
The Presidential Palace was supposed to be Ho Chi Minh’s official residence. It was built in the 1900s, in colonial French architectural style. The palace is not opened to the public as government meetings are held there.
Ho Chi Minh's House
President Ho Chi Minh did not live in the Presidential Palace; instead, he had a house built behind the palace – modelled after an ethnic minority stilt house.
The rooms in the house were sparsely furnished. There are two rooms – a study and a bedroom. He stayed here for the last eleven years of his life. In the area below the house, he would receive visitors and meet members of his political bureau.
One Pillar Pagoda
This unique pagoda is one of the symbols of Hanoi. It is supported by a single column rising from the middle of the lake, and the whole structure was designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the Buddhist symbol of purity.
According to local legend, the Emperor at the time – Emperor Ly Thai Thong, who was childless, dreamt that the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Guan Yin, handed him a baby while seated on a lotus flower. When he finally had a son in 1049, he built the pagoda as a sign of gratitude.
The Temple of Literature
This is one of my favourite places in Hanoi.
The Temple of Literature is a Confucian temple, built in 1070. It was also Hanoi’s first university, or Imperial Academy, established to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, and royalties. It functioned for more than 700 years (up to 1779). The examinations were said to be so difficult that few passed. The temple has five main courtyards. The first two feature landscaped gardens with ancient trees.
In1484, the academy started a tradition to recognise scholars who passed the Royal examinations by carving their names on stelae placed on top of stone-carved turtles. Turtles are the symbol of longevity and wisdom. Only 82 stone steles (out of 116 relating to examinations held between 1142 and 1778) remain today. You can see the stelae in third courtyards of the temple – they are also referred to as the Stelae of Doctors.
Our guide told us that a lot of the local students used to come here to touch the head of the turtles for good luck before their examinations. That is no longer allowed to avoid damages to the stones.
In the fourth courtyard, you will find the House of Ceremonies “Bai Duong” and the Dai Thanh Sanctuary – where Confucius and his closest disciples are worshipped. The fifth courtyard is where the classrooms and dormitories are located.
The Opera House was built in 1911. It is a typical French colonial architectural and said to be a small scale replica of the Palais Garnier, Paris’s older opera house.
Simply beautiful. And it really stands out – especially being on its own on a busy junction. I didn’t manage to see any shows here. But if you are interested – check out Lune Production to find out what’s on.
We took a cyclo tour in the afternoon around the Old Quarter.
The Old Quarter gives you a glimpse of the real Hanoi. The history of Hanoi goes back over 2,000 years – and here in the Old Quarter, it is said that the ambience gives one insight into the past and present.
The Old Quarter was originally arranged with each street selling one category of goods. The street names used to reflect the goods sold. Most of the streets start with “Hang” which means merchandise or shop. Along the Hang Ma (“Ma” refers to paper”) for example, you can find paper decorations, such as paper flowers and lanterns and paper offerings. This area is often called the 36 Pho or 36 Old Streets. This is believed to have originated from the 15th century when there may have been 36 guilds. Today – a few of the streets still retain their ancient trades such as Hang Ma.
You will probably observe some of the street vendors carrying their wares on trays/baskets hanged to long wooden poles balanced on their shoulders. Not sure whether I described that correctly, but the picture speaks for itself. See below. Those things looked seriously heavy, especially for the young girl in the picture. These hard-working folks sell everything from fruits and vegetables to ready to eat hot meals.
Here you can also see the tube houses – houses back then were built long and narrow – the front of the house was where goods were produced/sold, followed by a small open courtyard and living space at the rear. I read somewhere that the reason for the narrow houses is because shops were taxed by the width of the frontage of the market – not sure whether that’s true.
I didn’t plan on doing much shopping on this trip – but I did browse around some of the art galleries and silk stores. There are a number of silk stores on Hang Bong (Cotton) and Hang Gai (Silk) streets. Too many in fact, I couldn’t make up my mind – in the end I didn’t get any (sigh)…Partly was because I wasn’t sure I was getting a good price – back home in Malaysia silk prices are quite reasonable too…
Too Short a Trip...
So, I was working in Hanoi and could only afford the weekend sightseeing. What I would have loved to also do is a day trip (at least to Halong Bay). Oh well – maybe next time. But I did enjoy spending time in the city – people here are friendly – from the people at the hotel to people you meet on the streets. Even colleagues at the office who I just met for the first time that week are great – they introduced me to some interesting food in Hanoi. Hanoi is a beautiful place to visit – highly recommended for all types of travellers.