A few days in Hanoi - 2014

Jump to South Korea blog

7th November 2014 - To Hanoi

8th November 2014 - Hanoi

One day to revisit as many sights in Hanoi as I can. Having lived here for a few months in 2007 and know the place quite well so I managed to fit quite a bit in. First up a walk around the lake. Even though you're only 10 yards from the motorbikes whizzing around the road it feels peaceful and brings back great memories of Hanoi; I would walk around the little lake most days. This is the Huc Bridge which leads to the one of the most photographed things in Hanoi.

Next up had to be the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Nhân Tông. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. Being the famous historic place of learning in Vietnam and a beautiful place to go it is where all the students go when they graduate to have their pictures taken. There are always a lot of students there but I have never seen so many as today. No matter what I took a photo of there were graduates in the way :-) On the entrance steps ...

... lining up for a massive group photo in the main courtyard ...

... underneath the drum tower ...

... and back in the courtyard again. Great to see so many happy smiling faces, I hope to get the lives they expect.

I got asked by some 2nd year uni students to do an interview as a part of a project they were doing. They are English students and have to video themselves talking to a foreigner. I ended up talking to quite a few of them, it was fun deciphering their accents reminded me of my TEFL course I did in Hanoi a few years back. Some of the students are in the photo above.

Next up the Flag Tower of Hanoi which is one of the symbols of the city and part of the Hanoi Citadel. It was built in 1812 and the tower, unlike many other structures in Hanoi, was not destroyed during the French administration but was used as a military post. It is now located in the Vietnam Military History Museum which I've visited many times before so I skipped today.

Opposite the Vietnam Military History Museum is a giant statue of Lenin which reminds you you're in a communist country with close ties to Russia.

Next up the One Pillar Pagoda a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It is regarded alongside the Perfume Temple, as one of Vietnam's two most iconic temples. It was first built in the 11th century but destroyed a few times since then the last time by the French in 1954.

From there I walked up to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but it's closed off at the moment as he's away for restoration. From there I walked past the Presidential Palace which was built by the French. There are a lot of grand French buildings around Hanoi, all look pretty similar and are always in the same golden yellow colour.

On the way back I walked past the Vietnam Military History Museum again and snuck this picture through the fence.

A late lunch at the City View Cafe to look down on the chaos of the Hanoi traffic ...

... and to get a great view across Hoan Kiem Lake.

9th November 2014 - Trang An Grottoes - Ninh Binh

Today I took a trip with my favorite tour guide Hang to the Trang An Grottoes in Ninh Binh. Even though the weather was very 'North Vietnamese' misty with a hint of rain. Ninh Binh is about 2 hours drive from Hanoi and a world away.

The whole Ninh Binh area is covered in limestone hills and columns with rice paddies and flooded valleys in between, the whole area is stunning. I visited Tam Coc in the same area a few years ago which was great but quite touristy, with lots of boats going out and hawkers trying to sell you stuff. Here they are obviously scaling up as there were over 1000 boats tied up ready to go out but we got there quite early and there were less than a dozen other boats out in total. The real bonus no hawkers at all. Hang explained that Trang An was only opened up to tourists a few years ago and is mainly visited by locals but that is now changing.

We made one temple stop but apart from that it was over two hours on a small boat paddled by a lady around the rivers and through the caves.

The water is crystal clear and you can see the colourful fish swimming around. Just the sound of the paddles in the water, marvelous.

The high spots of the tour are the caves (grottoes). The first being the best. It was 320m long and very low. As the lady paddled the boat through I had to duck and dive to avoid the stalactites. We had to wear life jackets which in my case I could barely get my shoulders into to save us from 3ft of water but you don't get a crash helmet!

The first cave was one way so had been left natural, some of the later ones which are two way have been expanded so aren't as interesting. But still you're in a boat in a cave which is 100, 200 or 300 metres long.

The caves now all have lighting in them which spoils it a little it would be much better if we could go through just with torches but still the light at the end of the tunnel is a bright light when it comes.

To add colour to the scene there are loads of lily pads along the rivers and they are all in flower. They always seem to be in flower, are they always or is it just that I'm in Asia at that time of year.

It was a great trip and I'm glad I saw it now I fear for the place if all 1000 boats go out in one day.

10th November 2014 - Hanoi

My last day in Hanoi, I fly out at midnight tonight. So some shopping and a bit more sightseeing. First up another walk aroound the lake. I love walking around it, I've done it countless times and I never tire of it. Young lovers, old ladies doing Tai Chi, couples having their wedding photos taken, it really is the lifeblood of the city.

Anyway, I did do a bit of proper sightseeing today and visited the Hanoi Hilton when the Americans stayed there or Maison Centrale when it was run by the French. Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous prison used by the French on the Vietnamese and then by the Vietnamese on the Americans. Now a fraction of the original size and turned into a museum.

Lots of exhibits, mostly praising the brave comrades who were imprisoned here by the French. Some recreated prison scenes, some old pictures both of the prison and of course the usual pictures of protesters around the world protesting against the Vietnam War. The last room shows how well treated and how happy the US Airmen held there were. I love seeing the other side of any story.

In the yard at the back of the prison is this piece of art. The memorial garden is a tribute to all of the Vietnamese who died at the hands of their French captors. It's quite a moving piece, I think it's very well judged for its location.

I walked back via the French Quarter and past the Opera House, a beautiful building. I never did make it to a show there. Maybe a reason to come back to Hanoi again one day in the future.

One last walk down to the lake before I head off for the airport. Absolutely beautiful.

11th November 2014 - Coming Home


Jump to South Korea blog