What To Do in Hanoi
By turns exotic, squalid, gauche and hip, the high-octane Vietnamese capital of Hanoi provides a full-scale assault on the senses. Its crumbly, lemon-hued colonial architecture is a feast for the eyes; swarms of buzzing motorbikes invade the ear, while the delicate scents and tastes of delicious street food can be found all across a city that – unlike so many of its regional contemporaries – is managing to modernize with a degree of grace. Despite its political and historical importance, and the incessant noise drummed up by a population of over six million, Hanoi exudes a more intimate, urbane appeal than HCM City.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This is a special place for many Vietnamese. To the west of the Old Quarter, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is an important place of pilgrimage. A traffic-free area of botanical gardens , monuments, memorials and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups of all ages, from all over the nation, who have come to pay their respects. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Ho Chi Minh House
This humble stilt house is where Ho lived intermittently from 1958 to 1969. Set in a well-tended garden, the house is an interpretation of a traditional rural dwelling, and has been preserved just as Ho left it. Just how much time he actually spent here is questionable, as the house would have been a tempting target for US bombers.
In an adjacent building a sign proclaims, ‘Ho Chi Minh’s Used Cars’ – in reality, automobiles he used during his life.
Chùa Một Cột -
One Pillar Pogoda
The One Pillar Pagoda stands in the park behind the Ho Chi Minh museum. It rises on a one pillar (concrete in its rebuilt form) from the middle of a square lotus pond. The small square structure has a tile roof that curves up elegantly. Legend has it that Ly Thai Tong had a dream vision of Quan Am sitting on a lotus flower and promising him a male child. Thus, he had this pagoda built, itself sitting on a pond like a giant flower on its tall stem.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm -
Returned Sword Lake
Legend claims in the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To (Le Loi) a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths to restore the sword to its divine owners, inspiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword). Every morning at around 6am local residents practise traditional t’ai chi on the shore.
Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake. The ramshackle Thap Rua (Turtle Tower), on an islet near the southern end, is topped with a red star and is often used as an emblem of Hanoi.
Văn Miếu -
Temple of Literture
About 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the temple is dedicated to Confucius (Khong Tu) and honours Vietnam’s finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment. Vietnam’s first university was established here in 1076. At this time entrance was only granted to those of noble birth, but after 1442 a more egalitarian approach was adopted and gifted students from all over the nation headed to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry.
Hoả Lò - Hanoi Hilton
This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the Vietnam-American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the Vietnam-American War.
These include Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995), and Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008). McCain’s flight suit is displayed, along with a photograph of Hanoi locals rescuing him from Truc Bach Lake after being shot down in 1967.