Hanoi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.
|(Vietnam) - Travel to Hanoi|
The grand old dame of Asia, Hanoi lay in a deep slumber after Vietnam’s partition in 1954 until the effects of economic reforms kicked in four decades later. The city survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990s as an example of a French-conceived colonial city. Huge mansions line grand boulevards, and lakes and parks dot the city, providing a romantic backdrop to the nonstop soundtrack. There are still moments of Paris, as the smell of baguettes and café au lait permeates street corners.
|(Vietnam) - Travel to Hanoi|
A mass of motorbikes swarms through the tangled web of streets that is the Old Quarter, a cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years and still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city. Hawkers in conical hats ply their wares, locals sip coffee and bia hoi (beer) watching life (and plenty of tourists) pass them by. Witness synchronised t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake while goateed grandfathers tug at their wisps over the next chess move. See the bold and beautiful dine at designer restaurants and cut the latest moves on the dance floor. Hanoi has it all: the ancient history, a colonial legacy and a modern outlook. There is no better place to untangle the paradox that is modern Vietnam.
What to see in Hanoi
Vietnamese Women's Museum - Bảo Tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam, 36 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hoan Kiem District (Located in central Hanoi, 1 km South of Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ +84 04 38259938 (info@firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 84 04 38259129), . Tu-Su 8.00AM-4.30PM. This often overlooked museum has recently benefited from an extensive renovation of its permanent exhibitions. The modernised interior is well laid out with information in Vietnamese, English and French, and contains a huge amount of information on the fiercesome female heroines of Vietnamese history. There are also exhibitions on the rituals and traditions surrounding women in family, as well as a beautifully presented collection of intricate hand-made ethnic costumes. A particular highlight are the regularly updated special exhibitions on a diverse range of subjects, from contemporary issues such as single mothers and street vendors to traditional medicine and Mother Goddess worship. English language tours are available on request.
|(Vietnam) - Travel to Hanoi|
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. 8.00 to 11.00 from Tuesday to Thursday, and over the weekends 8.00 - 11.00. The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.
Ho Chi Minh Museum, 19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 846-3572 (email@example.com). 8AM-11:30AM, 2PM-4PM, closed M and F afternoons. This gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain, and several other postmodern confections integrated with the main story of the man's life and his country's struggle. One of the more informative museums in Vietnam, and perhaps one of the oddest in the world. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point.
|(Vietnam) - Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison|
Ho Chi Minh's Vestige: In the Presidential Palace Area, No.1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 0804 4529. Summer 7:30AM-11AM, 2PM-4PM. Winter 8AM-11AM, 1:30PM-4PM, closed M F afternoons. The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's "used cars" and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French, and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait.
One-Pillar Pagoda, (Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum). Travellers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit.
|(Vietnam) - Hanoi - One-Pillar Pagoda|
Fine Arts Museum - Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật, 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St. Tuesday to Sun from 9:15am to 5pm. Only party-approved art is shown here and there is no information in English and only little in Vietnamese. But it is an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, and revolutionary art of the 20th century wars. Also some interesting silk paintings.
Army Museum - Bảo Tàng Quân Đội, Dien Bien Phu St. 8AM-11:30AM, 1:00PM-4:30PM, closed on Monday and Friday. Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it on four buildings with interesting pieces. Item descriptions on museum exhibits are in Vietnamese, French and English. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank and many bombs and articles captured on Indochina and Vietnam wars.
Air Force Museum - Bảo Tàng Không Quân, Truong Chinh St (SW of the city centre). There's a decent outdoor collection of a UH-1 helicopter, Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.
National Museum of Vietnamese History -Bảo tàng Lịch sử Việt Nam, 1 Trang Tien St. 8AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-4:30PM. This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1,000 years back until 1945.
Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution -Bảo tàng Cách mạng Việt Nam, 25 Tong Dan St (and 216 Tran Quang Khai St,. Tu-Su 8AM-11:45AM, 1:30PM-4:15PM. This museum gives a very informed and detailed account of the Vietnamese struggle against first the French (starting in 1858 -- on the first floor), then against the Americans (on the ground floor - ending on 30 April 1975). It is housed in a colonial French building which was completed in 1932. The building, designed by the architect Ernest Hébrard is considered as a successful blend between the colonial French architecture and traditional Vietnamese architecture, called Indochina architecture. He created double-walls and balconies for a natural ventilation system and protection from sunshine.
|(Vietnam) - Hanoi - Temple of Literature|
Museum of Ethnology - Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc Vietnam, Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay district (Bus 14 from Hoan Kiem Lake - ask the conductor when to stop, and take a 500 m walk towards the museum (backtrack a little from the bus stop, and when you see a large street perpendicular to the street that you dropped off, take that street and walk down the street until you see the Museum of Ethnology to your left). Bus 38 goes from right outside the Temple of Literature to the street the museum is on.), Tu-Su 8:30AM-5:30PM. covers mainly the culture and ritual practices of the various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam - one of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups, which even comes with inhabitants in costumes. The museum features actual explanations of the exhibits in Vietnamese, French and English. The Museum of Ethnology houses the excellent chocolate and baguette cafe, which has excellent fare at a reasonable price - an excellent pit-stop after the museum visit.
Hanoi Museum - Bảo tàng Hà Nội, Pham Hung St, Cau Giay district.
Temple of Literature - Văn Miếu, Quoc Tu Giam St (south of the Mausoleum). The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates.
Ngoc Son Temple. Extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen. 10,000 dong.
Bach Ma Temple, 76 Hang Buom St, Hoan Kiem district. Time: the 12th to the 13th day of the second lunar month. Objects of worship: Bach Ma God (the symbol of God of sun), Long Do God (the god defends the east), confer a title of “Thang Long Capital of Nation royal tutelary god". Xuan Nguu presenting rite.
Hoan Kiem Lake. A pleasant park in the centre of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practicing tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater - see below.) Rumor has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.
Ho Tay - West Lake, (northwest of the city). mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. Sofitel Plaza Hotel is on this lakefront. The shores are occupied by numerous fishermen.
Lenin Statue & Park, (Dien Bien Phu St, across from the Army Museum). One can always feel the diversity and liveliness of Hanoi there. In the morning, there are low-energy aerobics class for the elders and aerobic class for younger in the morning. During the day, one can enjoy the tranquility in the park since everybody is either at work or in school. In the afternoon, it becomes a playground for children and students as well as for soccer teams and badminton players.
Ly Thai To Statue & Park. The park faces Hoan Kiem lake with a beautiful view of the busy Hang Bai street and the serenity of the willows on the bank of the lake. Many Hanoians view this mini-park as their favourite place because it is a symbol of the integration of modernity and tradition. One would surely encounter a group of youths who is practicing hip-hop and break dance while at the same time, meeting a three-generation family enjoying a walk in the park.
Hoa Lo Prison (The Hanoi Hilton), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem. 8:30AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-4:30PM. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling detail. The prison was also known as the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War as it held American POW's shot down. Little emphasis is given to this period however, and the exhibits shown can be frustratingly skewed in propaganda, choosing to show solely propaganda photos of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball, playing chess, and other staged events. They also claim to have John McCain's flight suit from when his plane was shot down.
B-52 Lake - Huu Tiep Lake, Ngoc Ha Precinct, Ba Dinh District. Until 19 December 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tham Street, about 1 km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
Downed Aircraft Memorial. Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.
Army Museum, (Dien Bien Phu street, across from the Lenin Statue mini-park and is in the area of embassies). Retells the stories of many battles throughout the country’s history. There are documents as well as models in the museum to make the retelling more interesting. They have the model of the B-52 plane, tanks and even canons.