SIGHTS IN HANOI: MUSEUMS, PAGODAS, HOAN KIEM LAKE, THE OLD QUARTER AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

HOAN KIEM LAKE

HOAN KIEM LAKE (in the middle of Hanoi) lies at the heart of the city. It is tranquil place where couples take evening strolls, tourist snap pictures, families enjoy picnics and retirees and war veterans hang out in the day and play badminton and practice tai chi. Shaded by willow trees, tamarinds, myrtles and flame trees, and located in the heart of the city, it's name mean's Lake of the Restored Sword. In the cool hours of the early morning the walkways around the lake are filled with people exercising, doing dance group dance routines and playing various sports.

Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: “The legend told over the years to Vietnamese children and now to an increasing number of tourists is that 15th century Emperor Le Loi used a magic heavenly sword to drive out Ming invaders from neighbouring China. A giant turtle emerged while Le Loi was boating on the lake and told him to return the sword to the Dragon King. The weapon shot from its sheath into the mouth of the turtle, which disappeared underwater. Thereafter, the body of water called Ho Luc Thuy (Green Water Lake) became known as Ho Hoan Kiem, or "The Lake of the Returned Sword" or "restored sword" in some translations. Now, thousands of tourists flock annually to the lake to learn about the legend and perhaps catch a glimpse of the "monster" turtle estimated to weigh about 200 kilograms (440 lb). [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, April 18, 2005]

Hoan Kiem Lake Legend: After ten years of hard fighting (1418 - 1428), the Lam Son insurrectionists led by Le Loi swept the foreign invaders out of the country of Dai Viet (Great Viet), ending the Ming's 20-year domination over the Viet people. Le Loi became a national hero, proclaiming himself kings, called Le Thai To and establishing his capital in Thang Long.

On a beautiful afternoon, the king and his entourage took a dragon-shaped boat for sight-seeing on Luc Thuy (Green Water) Lake, which was located in the center of Thang Long Capital (present-day Hanoi). As the boat was gliding on the lake, suddenly there was a great wave and on top of the wave, the Golden Tortoise Genie appeared, telling the king: "Your Majesty, the great work is completed. Would you please return the sacred sword to the King of the Sea?".

The precious sword was formerly lent to Le Loi by the King of the Sea and was always beside him throughout his battles and helped him win over the Ming invaders. At the time the Tortoise Genie spoke, the sword hung at the King's waist. It then moved out of the scabbard and flew towards the Genie. The Genie kept the sword in his mouth and dived under the water and bright lightning flashed up to the sky. Since then, Luc Thuy Lake has been called the Restored Sword Lake or the Sword Lake for short.

The Sword Lake is not only a historical site but also a beauty-spot of the capital. When visiting Hanoi, Ludemis, a Greek poet, exclaimed: The Sword Lake - An emerald jewel set in the heart of the city, With the Red River as a silk ribbon around. It is said that when visiting Hanoi, if the visitor does not see the Sword Lake, then they would not have actually been in Hanoi. The lake is an endless topic and inspiration for painters, poets, writers, music composers, etc, and innumerable works about the lake have been produced.

The Sword Lake is really an emerald jewel of Hanoi. For generations, the Vietnamese believed that deep in the green water of the Sword Lake, there is a sacred sword of their ancestors, which is carefully safeguarded by the golden tortoise. When the weather changes, the tortoise emerges on the water surface to take a sun bath, seeming to prove his existence and remind the young generation of their national history of defending their country from foreign invaders.

Turtle Pagoda (on a small islet in Hoan Kiem Lake) is small, beautiful tower which sits on an island in the middle of the Hoam Kiem Lake. Here, legend has it, a turtle rose up with a sword whih he gave to the 15th century emperor Le Loi who used it to lead the Vietnamese to reclaim their homeland from Ming dynasty China. Inside the temple is a preserved replica of one giant turtle found in the 1960s.

Giant Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake : Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “Today, occasional sightings of a giant soft-shell turtle draw large crowds, and photographs and amateur video clips attest to the claim that at least one turtle indeed still lives in the lake. The turtle legend is a staple of traditional water-puppet theater, and reported sightings of the animal, a symbol of eternity, are deemed auspicious, especially when they coincide with major national events. "Since 1991 the turtle has come up about 400 times," said Vietnam's pre-eminent authority on the animal, Professor Ha Dinh Duc of the Hanoi University of Science -- better known here as the 'turtle professor.' "Several times when it came up, it coincided with important events," he told AFP. "It's something we can't explain." [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, November 5, 2007]

The turtle has appeared when Chinese presidents have visited, during the inauguration of a Le Loi statute, at the start of last year's Communist Party congress, and even during a conference on endangered reptiles, Duc said. The professor says he doesn't know the age of the turtle -- which he says is a new species he has named Rafetus Leloiiis. He says it weighs around 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds). Previously, at least four of the turtles lived here -- one of them is now stuffed and on display in an island temple on the lake -- but today only one is left and Duc frets about its well-being. See Pollution, Animals

Ngoc Son Temple (on an island on the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake) is reached by red-painted wooden bridge. Built in the 19th century it is dedicated to a general who defeated the Mongols and Vietnamese pioneers in medicine, literature and the martial arts. Initially, the temple was called Ngoc Son Pagoda and was later renamed Ngoc Son Temple, since temples are dedicated to saints.

‘Saint Van Xuong, considered to be one of the brightest stars in Vietnam's literary and intellectual circles, was worshipped there. National hero Tran Hung Dao is also worshiped. He led the Vietnamese people to victory over the Yuan aggressors. The temple as it is today is the result of renovations made by Nguyen Van Sieu in 1864. A Confucian scholar, Nguyen Van Sieu had a large pen-shaped tower built at the entrance of the temple. On the upper section of the tower, also called Thap But, are three Chinese characters Ta Thanh Thien, which literally means "to write on the blue sky? is to imply the height of a genuine and righteous person's determination and will; Dai Nghien, meaning "ink stand", is carved from stone resembling a peach placed on the back of the three frogs on top of the gate to the temple; and The Huc, meaning "where rays of morning sunshine touch". On the way to the temple there are several parallel sentences (cau doi), written on the walls. These cau doi were part of traditional word puzzles played by educated individuals.

HANOI'S OLD QUARTER

HANOI'S OLD QUARTER (near Hoan Kiem Lake in central Hanoi) is a labyrinth of alleys and pot-holed back streets lined with unusual stores, merchant stalls, colonial buildings, sidewalk restaurants, street vendors and shops selling everything from brass gongs to bamboo scaffolding. Hang Bong Street features numerous dilapidated French-style row houses filled shops and pharmacies with Chinese medicine. Some scenes of the Quiet American with Michael Cane were filmed here.

The Old Quarter (also called the Ancient Quarter) is the heart of Hanoi and its main tourist area. According to Associated Press it is “among Asia's best-preserved urban hubs of traditional commerce — thanks largely to decades of inattention. The 82-hectare (203-acre) downtown area is crammed with Buddhist temples, pagodas and French colonial shophouses, whose original tiles and peeling yellow paint have become a draw for foreign visitors. Scholars say vendors and artisans were among the first residents of the Old Quarter's 36 streets. When some traders fled to the former U.S.-backed South Vietnam in the 1950s, the north's Communist government seized their shophouses and divided them into apartments.”

Organized around a street grid, laid out in the 15th century, the district developed around 36 streets named for the goods once made and sold there. According to to AFP: “On sidewalks jammed with parked motorbikes pedestrians weave past sidewalk vendors selling drinks and snacks. The narrow streets are filled with motorcycles and the ear-splitting sound of their horns. On a typical street like Hang Bac, known for its silversmiths, jewellers ply their trade between other businesses, a bakeshop, and small hotels, travel agencies and cafes that cater to backpackers.”

On Hang Buom you can see a tube house, a very long, narrow house built at a time when taxes were based on how much street frontage a house occupied. Often times a single family shared a long, narrow room and several families shared a communal kitchen and bathroom located at the rear. Some had access to a courtyard.

The Old Quarter is located on an area of about 100 hectares, within Hoan Kiem District, Geometrically, the Old Quarter has a shape of triangle, whose peak is constituted by Hang Than Street, eastern side by the western side by the streets of Hang Cot, Hang Dieu, Hang Da and based by the axis of Hang Bong, Hang Gai, Cau Go Streets.

Jessica Gelt wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Historically, each street in the Old Quarter attracted and was named for a type of artisan or merchant, such as silk traders, jewelry makers or blacksmiths, and many of the streets retain these clusters, although commercialism and a thriving tourist trade now define much of the quaint area. Still, strolling the Old Quarter is one of the great joys of Hanoi. I was particulary taken with the warren-like streets surrounding the Dong Xuan Market, where I ducked into stalls to gawk at buckets of writhing fish, chicken claws and exotic herbs and spices. I bought a puffed sesame baguette and munched on it as I roamed, ending in the cold quiet of the Bach Ma temple, said to be the oldest place of worship in Hanoi. [Source: Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012]

Mike Eckel of AP wrote: “Close your eyes in the streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter and you'll experience two sensations. The first is the earsplitting cacophony of conversation, cars, clamor and chaos. The second is the realization that closing your eyes for very long in such a crowded place can be unwise, unless you enjoy being jostled, bumped, hustled, shouted at, or maybe even knocked down. Everywhere people are buying, selling, hawking goods and offering services, while nationalistic music and announcements about keeping streets clean play regularly in the background. [Source: Mike Eckel, AP, February 9, 2011]

“The Old Quarter is arguably the epicenter for the city's connections to its past. Wander its criss-cross of streets - with tall trees, narrow buildings, louvered windows and people's lives spilling onto sidewalks - and you'll discover a district known as 36 Streets, named for the craft guilds that populated the neighborhood over the centuries, mixing Vietnamese and Chinese merchants and artisans together. Silk Street (Hang Gai), Silver Street (Hang Bac), Sails Street (Hang Buom), among others, all offer their crafts and other goods for tourists or locals. The Old Quarter's oldest building, the Bach Ma (White Horse) Temple, dates back to Hanoi's original incarnation as the imperial city of Thang Long - Soaring Dragon.

Houses in the Old Quarter: According to the assessment of some historians, the Old Quarter made its appearance immediately after the Thang Long's establishment, i.e. nearly a thousand years ago. Most of houses presently existing within the Old Quarter's borders have, however, their age of only more than 100 years. In this quarter, those houses that keep an air of anxiety are no longer so numerous. It is just the phenomena of extension that has sharply and negatively deformed its spatial appearance. Under such circumstances, the embellishment and preservation of this quarter has required great efforts.

The houses at 87 Ma May and 38 Hang Dao are two projects of embellishing ancient houses, launched at the occasion of 990th anniversary of Thang Long - Hanoi. They became now a tourist spot to be presented to visitors in terms of architectural value of Hanoi's ancient houses. The house at 87 Ma May is a place to present the typical architecture of Hanois ancient houses. The ancient houses have generally a small, pretty form and appearance like the Vietnamese people themselves. Following the former feudal ideology, houses were not allowed to be higher than the shoulders of the Kings palanquin, because when the King was in his palanquin, nobody was allowed to see the face of His Excellency.

The ancient houses had a tube - like shape. Their width is usually narrow, sometimes only of two meters, while their length can amount up to 60 - 70 meters. Under such circumstances, to get enough light and fresh air, there is always a yard between houses. The principal construction material used is wood. However, during 100 recent years, people began to use bricks and traditional mortar made from honey and leaves to build walls or stick tiles on slope roofs. The window bars, doors and roof rafters are all decorated with dragon - or phoenix - shaped vignettes, and other designs.

The house at 87 Ma May was identified to be about 110 years old. Originally, Ma May Street consisted of two shorter streets: the first section was Hang May street, where goods made from rattan were marketed, and the second one constituted a part of Hang Ma Street with things for sacrifices made from paper. In this street there were numerous businessmen, both domestic and foreign. In 1954, five Chinese families came and installed themselves in this house. That is why the house was strongly deformed, and the traditional architecture was damaged.

Originally, the ancient house at 38 Hang Dao was constructed as communal house of Dong Lac - a communal house of the former marketplace for silk brassieres. It was built under the Le Dynasty (17th century). During the years of war, it was heavily damaged. Around 1856 (year of Binh Thin under the King Tu Duc reign), it was restored for the first time. In 1941 (15th year of the King Bao Dai reign), the communal house was rebuilt as a two - floor construction. The owners family lived and made their business in the ground floor, while the first floor was reserved for the altar. In 1953, the house became a shop with miscellaneous goods.

The latest restoration was conducted in the period from February 2000 till April 2000. The house at 38 Hang Dao was chosen as a place for presenting the traditional construction techniques combined with modern restoration techniques. The construction materials used here are composed of reinforced concrete and wood: floors are made from concrete, while stairs are made from concrete and covered with wood.

The doors were designed in such a manner that the central one is higher, while the side ones are lower, following the architecture of ancient pagodas and communal houses: the central door was reserved for the nobles (members of the royal family, mandarins, officials), while the side ones for the mobs. The sanctuary on the first floor was restored just as its origin.

The vignettes on the handrails were kept the same as the available original patterns. The house at 38 Hang Dao has become not only a tourist spot but also a location of the headquarters of the Management Unit of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. At this address you can also get more information on ancient streets and ancient houses of Hanoi.

Makeover of Hanoi’s Old Quarter: Mike Ives of Associated Press wrote: “Hanoi's low-rise Old Quarter seems generations away from the office towers and electronics megastores springing up in other parts of the capital. But with property values high, this neighborhood could change dramatically in the coming years as similar ones already have in Singapore, Shanghai and many other cities. Authorities want to begin gentrifying the Old Quarter by relocating 6,200 households between this year and 2020. New construction is likely a few years away, but some residents already have been relocated. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press, February 15, 2014]

“Vu Thi Hong, an official with the Hanoi government's Old Quarter Housing Relocation Project, said the main goal of the planned relocations is to reduce population density while preserving cultural heritage. With about 66,000 people, the quarter has a population density of 823 people per hectare (2.5 acres) — nearly eight times New York City's. One Silver Street temple — formerly occupied by long-term squatters — has been refurbished and opened to the public, with assistance from architectural consultants from the French city of Toulouse. She said a few hundred Old Quarter residents have been moved in the last decade from weathered temples and pagodas, and authorities plan to build an apartment complex on Hanoi's outskirts to house thousands of others.

“In Hanoi's real-estate market, the average transaction price at Old Quarter properties is currently between $12,500 and $15,000 per square meter, according to Nguyen Son, a property agent in Hanoi. That exceeds the average price of $9,337 per square meter paid at luxury residential properties across Shanghai, as calculated last year by the London-based consultancy Knight Frank.

“ Romain Orfeuvre, an architect from Toulouse who works in Hanoi, said the Old Quarter resisted change decades ago because of stunted economic development during Vietnam's wars against France and the United States, and more recently because authorities have been reluctant to evict squatters. Hoang Thi Tao, who runs a newspaper stand near the Old Quarter, is cautiously optimistic about the impending changes. "The project will help to make the Old Quarter prettier, improve its residents' living standards and lure more foreign tourists," Tao said. "But it'll also require a lot of resources and determination on the government's part. They'll need to give big compensation offers to persuade those people to leave."

Thirty Six Old Streets (within the Old Quarter) was established in feudal times when each street housed a separate guild. There were 36 guilds and streets, including ones for goldsmiths, cotton weavers, charcoal makers, dyers, silkweavers, bronze workers and lacquerware makers. The products were made for Vietnamese royalty and later for rich Europeans. There were also streets for dried fish, reed mats. See Shopping

TEMPLES OF LITERATURE IN HANOI

Temple of Literature (Quoc Tu Giam and Van Mieu Streets, two kilometers west of Hoan Kiem Lake) contains a ruined gate, pond, walls and several pavilions from an 11th century Mandarin university as well as an important 15th century temple that honors Confucian scholars. It is a quiet peaceful oasis and one of the best places outside Hue to observe traditional Vietnamese architecture. Admission is 5,000 dong.

Founded in 1070 and covering a 350-x-70-meter area, the complex is divided into five courtyards by walls and pathways and has separate gates for scholars, generals and the king. It once contained wooden dormitories, a renowned library, and place called Poet's balcony, where scholars gathered to recite verse before their arduous exams. Some of the buildings were destroyed in fighting between the French and the Viet Minh in the area after World War II.

Today, this important center of learning contains a gilded and decorated temple visited by blue-robed men and yellow-robed women who participate in traditional ceremonies that were, until a few years ago, outlawed by the Communist regime. The names of 82 honored Confucian scholars, who received high marks on the Confucian exams between 1495 and 1787, are inscribed on tablets placed on the back of stone turtles shells. Performances of traditional Vietnamese music are performed every hour starting at 9:00am. English guides are available.

Naomi Lindt wrote in the New York Times, “For over 1,000 years, the Chinese ruled northern Vietnam, and their influence is evident in the defining role that Confucianism still plays in society. The Temple of Literature, or Van Mieu, was built in 1070 to honor Confucius and became the country's first university. The vast complex of peaceful courtyards, lotus-filled pools and red-roofed temples is still an essential pilgrimage for many. The rows of stone tortoises lining the grounds bear steles with the names of former students; young men and women preparing for exams still rub the turtles' heads for good luck. [Source: Naomi Lindt, New York Times, March 30, 2009]

The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) was built in 1070 in honor of Confucius, his followers and Chu Van An, a moral figure in Vietnamese education. Quoc Tu Giam, or Vietnam's first university, was built in 1076. Throughout its hundreds of years of activity in the feudal, thousands of Vietnamese scholars graduated from this university. In 1483 Quoc Tu Giam was changed into Thai Hoc Vien (Higher Educational Institute). After decades of war and natural disasters, the former building was completely destroyed.

In preparation for the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long (present day Hanoi) another building has been built following the model of the previous Thai Hoc Vien on the same ground. The work includes the front hall, the back sanctuary, lean-tos on the left and on the right, the courtyard, and subsidiary structures. This site preserves historical sites of a 1,000-year-old civilization such as statues of Confucius and his disciples (Yan Hui, Zengshen, Zisi, Mencius), and ancient buildings such as Khue Van Cac (Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature) and the Worshiping Hall.

Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature (with the Temple Literature) was built under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). Life of the students in olden times is reflected through a collection of artifacts used by students and scholars. Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam (National College) now preserves 82 steles engraved with the names of 1,306 doctors who obtained the doctoral titles at 82 royal examinations, held from 1442 to 1779.

The artifacts, collected during the recent excavation drives around Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) in Hanoi proved the architecture of this site belongs to the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1225-1400) dynasties. Although Van Mieu was built long ago, some architectural complexes in this area were erected much later. One of them was Khue Van Cac, or Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature. In 1802, Gia Long took the throne and built the capital in Hue. In 1805, the Commander of the Northern Citadel, Nguyen Van Thanh, ordered the construction of Khue Van Cac at Van Mieu. This project was carried out at the same time as the erection of the surrounding walls around Van Mieu in 1833.

The pavilion was a two-storey complex made of wood and bricks, which is mirrored on the Thien Quang Well. Located in the third courtyard (from the front gate), the pavilion's ground floor is empty with four brick pillars of 85 centimeters x 85 centimeters engraved with designs of clouds. The pillars stand on a square base, 6.8 meters x 6.8 meters, which is covered with Bat Trang bricks. The upper floor, made of wooden frames, stands on four brick pillars, with four round windows facing the four directions and having rays like the sun. This floor is the symbol of the brilliant constellation that is shining. The Oriental people consider this star as a symbol of literature. On this floor, the balustrade is supported by engraved wooden pieces and a gilt board with three letters of Khue Van Cac hanging on the wall.

PAGODAS AND CHURCHES IN HANOI

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda (50 Ly Quoc Su Street, Hoan Kiem District) honors a Buddhist Monk of the Ly Dynasty (the 10th - 12th centuries) named Nguyen Chi Thanh, who was born on 1066 in Dien Xa Village, Gia Vien District in Ninh Binh Province in the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong. In 1077, at the age of 11, Nguyen Chi Thanh began practicing for the Buddhist monkhood and was taught by Tu Dao Hanh, a well-known monk. As the legend says, Monk Tu Dao Hanh was erudite in Buddhism and excellent in healing. He admired and respected Nguyen Chi Thanh's talent and virtue. In 1138, in his seventies, Monk Nguyen Chi Thanh cured King Ly Than Tong of a disease that many famous doctors had failed to do. For his respectful virtue and talent, he was given the title Ly Quoc Su by the King, which meant Great Monk and Merit Teacher of the nation.

The King provided Ly Quoc Su with a serene residential quarter, which was situated next to Bao Thien Pagoda in the center of Thang Long Capital, on a side of Luc Thuy Lake (Hoan Kiem Lake of today). This pagoda had a 12-storey tower. Apart from preaching Buddhist sutra for the monks and nuns, Ly Quoc Su taught medicine, prescription of medicines and demotic scripts to many people in the temple and surrounding areas. Skilled in bronze casting, Ly Quoc Su also trained many bronze casting craftsmen.

That is why when he died at the age of 75 at Giao Thuy Pagoda in Nam Dinh in 1141, King Ly Anh Tong (holding power from 1138 to 1175) had a temple erected right on the ground of the residential quarter where Ly Quoc Su had lived. Throughout the country there are many pagodas worshiping both Buddha and Ly Quoc Su, who is considered the Saint of the bronze casting craft, such as Giao Thuy Pagoda in Nam Dinh and Keo Pagoda in Thai Binh.

Ly Quoc Su Pagoda was rehabilitated and redecorated many times with the biggest restoration being made in 1954. The cultural and historical treasure of this temple still remains Ly Quoc Su's statue, Buddha statues and statues of Monk Tu Dao Hanh and his mother and Monk Giac Hai. There is also the precious bell of Tu Chung, cast in the 19th century and a stone stele with inscriptions made in 1855 by Le Dinh Duyen, a famous man. The name of Ly Quoc Su was given to a 244m-long street running from Hang Bong to Nha Tho streets.

Quan Su Pagoda (73 Quan Su Street, Hoan Kiem District) was established more than 1,000 years ago. Also known as Ambassador's Pagoda It is a good place to observe monks and old women practicing Vietnamese-style Buddhism and Taoism. The temple is most active on the 15th of the month (considered an auspicious day) when thousands of Vietnamese come to pray and light joss sticks.

Quan Su Pagoda was built on the land of An Tap Village, Tho Xuong District, on the southern gate of Thang Long Capital (Quan Su Street, Hanoi nowadays). Originally it was a small Buddhist Pagoda, which had been constructed during the Le Dynasty in the 15th century to receive foreign envoys and ambassadors. In 1934, the pagoda was the headquarter of the Northern Buddhist Association. Since 1942, the pagoda has been restored and expanded many times with a larger and better architectural structure. Since 1958, this place has acted as the head office of the Vietnam Buddhist Association.

One Pillar Pagoda (on Chua Mot Cot Street, Ba Dinh District near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum) is a slightly scaled down wooden version of an 11th century pagoda burnt down by the French army as it retreated from Hanoi in the mid 1950s. The original lotus-shaped wooden structure was built in 1049, on the spot, according to legend, where the Goddess of Mercy helped King Ly Thai conceive a male heir with a young country girl.

The small but elaborate temple sits on a 1.2-meter-wide stone pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, with the image of a blossom rising from a sea of sorrows. In the early 2000s, the pagoda was at the center of a controversy pitting two elderly monks against the government. For a long time the pagoda had been overseen by two elderly monks. The government wanted to replace the monks with state-appointed monks. The resident monks refused to go, claiming the government wants the temple for the money and donations it brings in, and people who prayed at the temple rallied to their support. In the 1980s the government tried to seize the pagoda and turn it into a shrine for Ho Chi Minh. Objections from the public kept that from happening. Nearby is Dien Huu Pagado, a small charming temple with an old monk that performs acupuncture.

In the past, One-Pillar Pagoda was located in Thanh Bao Village, Quang Duc District in the west of Thang Long Citadel under the Ly Dynasty. According to Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (A Complete History of Great Viet), the pagoda was built in the winter of 1049 under the reign of King Ly Thai Tong who dreamt of seeing the Goddess of Mercy sitting in a lotus throne and taking him to it. When waking up, the king told mandarins about his dream and one of them thought that it was a bad omen. Monk Thien Tue advised him to build a pagoda and a lotus-shaped tower like what he saw in his dream. When the pagoda was inaugurated, monks went around the pagoda and recited the Buddhist scriptures to pray for longevity of the king. For this reason, the pagoda is also called Dien Huu (long lasting happiness and good luck).

During the Ly Dynasty, the pagoda was the site to hold an annual ceremony on the occasion of Buddha Day - Vesak. In addition, on the 8th day of the Fourth lunar month (late April or May), the king and people visited the pagoda to participate in Buddha-bathing and release ceremonies. After being repaired many times, the pagoda was destroyed by the French colonists in 1954. In 1955, the government has the pagoda rebuilt. The present wood pagoda is in the shape of square with each side of 3 meters and a curved roof. It was designed to resemble a lotus stretching up out of the square pond and placed on a big stone pillar including two blocks which are connected together skillfully. This stone pillar is approximately four meters high (excluding the underground section) and 1.2 meters in diameter. The pagoda’s structure also shows the harmonious combination of imagination and unique architecture with a system of wood beams that create the solidity and beauty for the pagoda.

With its architectural and historical values, the One-Pillar Pagoda was classified as a historical relic on April 28, 1962. On May 4, 2006, it was recorded in the Vietnamese Guinness Book as ‘The pagoda with the most unique architecture in Vietnam.” The pagoda is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Entrance is free.

Hanoi Cathedral (40 Nha Chung Street, Hoan Kiem District) was built on the site of the former Bao Thien Tower, which was famous in the ancient capital of Thang Long under the Ly Dynasty (the 11th and 12th centuries). Also known as Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi Cathedral, was inaugurated on Christmas Day 1886, two years after its construction. Its design is similar to the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Many Catholic rituals have been held there. A ritual ceremony dedicated to Jesus Christ is held in this cathedral every year on March 19.

MUSEUMS IN HANOI

Museum of the Revolution (216 Tran Quang Khai Street, Hoan Kiem District) contains exhibits that chronicle Vietnam’s struggles since the middle of the 20th century against the French, Americans and the American-puppet regim (South Vietnam) with photographs, maps and weapons. Among the photographs are ones of smiling U.S. soldiers posing with Vietnamese corpses.

The Museum of the Revolution contains 29 showrooms, with more than thousands of historical exhibits. The exhibition is divided into: 1) National liberation movements of the Vietnamese from 1858 to 1945 (from the 1st to the 9th showroom). 2) 30 years of struggle against the invaders and protecting the National independence and unifying the country from 1945 to 1975 (from the 10th to the 24th showroom). 3) Developing the economy from 1976 up to now. The collections of Vietnam Economy from 1975 to 2000 are displayed in the room No. 26, No. 27. 4) The present collections of the Vietnamese people and of the people in the world offered President Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam Communist Party (room No. 28 and No. 29). Visiting hours: From 8:00am to 11:45 and from 1:30pm to 4:15 everyday.

Vietnam Women’s Museum (Ly Thuong Kiet St, Hoan Kiem District) covers a 4,500 square meter area planted with beautiful trees. It was open on the 20th October 1995 on the 65th anniversary of the Vietnamese Women's Association's establishment. Documents and objects are displayed and carefully preserved and maintained in this place, expressing the role of women in the process of the development of the Vietnamese nation. The museum is also a place for cultural exchange for Vietnamese and international women with the goal of creating equality, development, and peace. There is a display of pictures from Jane Fonda’s visit to North Vietnam.

The exhibits are displayed on an area of 1,200 square meter on two-storey building; the museum organized around five main themes: 1) Vietnamese women in Vietnamese community. - The involvement of Vietnamese women in the fight for national independence and national construction. 2) The Vietnamese Women's Association and its struggle to liberate women. 3) The culture of Vietnamese women expresses through traditional handicraft products. 4) Women costumes of the 54 Vietnamese ethnic groups. The museum is open daily except Monday, from 8:00am to 4 pm. The entrance fee is 10,000VND.

Vietnam Fine Arts Museum (66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Ba Dinh District) was opened under the direction of Ho Chi Minh in 1956 two years after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu. The museum contains a collection of folk art and heroic Communist painting as well an entire floor of Impressionist works painted by Vietnamese artists. The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum occupies a two-storey building displays the art works.

The exhibition system is divided into 5 parts: 1) Fine arts of Prehistory: Consist of the objects from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. 2) Ancient fine arts from the 11th to the 19th centuries: Consists of the objects of Ly, Tran, Le, Mac, Tay Son, and Nguyen Dynasties. - Fine arts in the 20th century: Contemplate times fine arts (1925-1945) and modern fine arts (1945 up to now). 3) Folk painting. 4) Traditional pottery and ceramics. Visiting hours: 8:30am to 5:00pm everyday except Monday. 8:30am - 9:00pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Contact for guided visit: Vietnamese, English and French.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay District) contains more than 10,000 objects, 15,000 black and white photos and hundreds of video tapes and cassettes which depict all aspects of life, activities, customs, and habits of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. Opened at the end of 199 and visited by ethnographers and researchers as well as tourists, the museum has recreations religious rituals, daily life and festivals of Vietnam’s ethnic groups as well as costumes and embroidery of different groups. An open-air exhibition in the museum's spacious and peaceful ground features ethnic houses from all over Vietnam.

The displayed object area is divided into 9 parts with extensive sections on the Viet (Kinh, most Vietnamese), Muong, Tho, Chut ethnic groups and ethnic groups that belong to the Tay, Thai, and Kadai groups.

The outdoor exhibition area is only large enough for the most popular architectural styles to be presented. Already presented are the E De long house, the Tay stilt house, the Dao house half on stilts and half on earth, the H' Mong house whose roof is made of pomu wood, the Viet house with tile roof, the Gia Rai tomb, the Ba Na communal house, the Cham traditional houae, the Ha Nhi house made with earth-beaten walls.

There are future plans to present the Co Tu tomb and the surrounding completion of the Viet house. Between the houses, there are trees indigenous to the area of each house, zigzagging paths and a meandering stream crossed by small bridges. The outdoor museum is being realised step by step. Visiting hours: 8:00am - 5:00pm everydays; except Monday and holidays such as Tet. Admission: Regular Admission: 20,000VND; Reduced Admission: 5,000VND: College and university students: 3,000 VND: Primary and secondary students, Children under 6 years of age and to Vietnam's ethnic minority: Free Admission.

Hanoi Zoological Garden (on Cau Giay and Buoi streets, west of Hanoi center-city) is home to hundreds of animals. Opened its in May 1977, it covers a total area of 29 hectares, in which water is 6 hectares. There is also Bo Mountain, Voi Phuc Temple here. Voi Phuc Temple, meaning "prostrated elephant," was built during the Ly Dynasty to worship the Linh Lang deity. Besides, Hanoi Zoological Garden has thousand of trees and flowers. It also features entertaining games such as driving carts, ball games, and electronic games; there is a bookshop and an outdoor stage for dancing.

Co Loa Historical Site (Co Loa Village, Dong Anh District, Hanoi) is the relic of an ancient urban area and military citadel. Throughout history, Co Loa was nominated twice as the capital of Vietnam: the first time during the An Duong Vuong era in the late 3rd and early 2nd century BC, and the second time during the Ngo Vuong Quyen reign in the middle of the 10th century. The three ramparts archeological relics from the Bronze and Iron ages are 16 kilometers long. The complex of religious and commemorative relics includes Ngu Trieu Di Qui Communal House, My Chau Temple, and Bao Son Pagoda. Mystical relics such as Ngoc Well, Flag Tower, and Ngu Xa Castle make of this area a culturally and historically interesting area.

Other Museums and Sights in Hanoi include the Temple of Quan Thanh (on Truc Bach Lake), with a four-ton statue of Tran Vo, the god of the north; Air Force Museum, one the largest museums in Vietnam, with planes, weapons and other military hardware; the mile-long Long Ben Bridge, repaired several times after bombings; the Independence Museum, St. Joseph's Cathedral, and Thu Le Park and Zoo. The Ho Chi Minh Trail Museum is a new museum outside of Hanoi Another new museum commemorates the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972.

FRENCH QUARTER

FRENCH QUARTER(near the Red River east of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hoan Kiem District) is home of many French-era buildings as well as the Hotel Metropole and the Hanoi Opera House, two Vietnam landmarks closely associated with the capital’s colonial past. Jessica Gelt wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “I headed to the French Quarter, where the air suddenly felt cooler, thanks to the many trees that shaded the wide boulevards flanked by stately villas and mansions, legacies of an earlier era when Hanoi was the capital of French Indochina. I splurged on a poolside Henry Graham Greene daiquiri and a one-hour $75 massage at the luxurious Hotel Metropole, which was built in 1901 and is among the most historic hotels in the country. As limp as one of the noodles I'd eaten earlier, I walked to the Hanoi Opera House, which is near the famous "Hanoi Hilton" (Hoa Lo prison) whereSen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was imprisoned during the Vietnam War. [Source: Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012 ><]

“The gorgeous 900-seat French Colonial-style opera house was built in 1911 and has been lovingly restored after years of neglect. I ate my second-favorite bowl of soup at a stall marked No. 9 in a little alley called Ngo Trang Tien, across from the opera house. Called bun dau, it was a lovely, light noodle soup with a tomato-based broth, dry red chili paste, crunchy greens and tender little pillows of fried tofu that exploded with curd when I bit into them. ><

Hanoi Opera House (Le Thanh Tong St., near the Red River and several hundreds meters east of Hoan Kiem Lake) was completed in 1911 after 10 years of work. Located near the French quarter along the Red River and modeled after the Paris Opera, it regarded as the main symbol of Vietnam's French colonial past. Supported in swampy sub soil on 35,000 bamboo piles and used in the past by the Communists as a government hall, it contains an ornamented balcony where Vietnamese Nationalists declared their independence. During the Vietnam War The Opera House was used for making concrete bomb shelter casings and boarded up much of the time. It was given a $14 million facelift in the mid-1990s. Air raid sirens on the Opera House roof sound at noon to announce lunchtime.

The Hanoi Opera House contains Gothic features, mosaics, door domes and glass rooms. For a long time, the Hanoi Opera House has been a rendezvous for those who love theatrical performance and traditional songs and music, symphonies, opera and classical opera. It is also a tourist attraction for local and foreign visitors.

The Hanoi Opera House is the largest theater in Vietnam. It was built between 1901 and 1911 on the site of a big pond, adjacent to the city gate of Tay Long (also called Tay Luong) of the ancient Thang Long Capital. The construction met with many difficulties, because the foundations of theater were built on the pond. Before building a concrete foundation, nearly one meter thick, the pond was emptied and dredged, then 30,000 hard bamboo stakes were placed on its bed.

After nearly 100 years of operation, theater's equipment and adornments became old and run down. In 1997, theater was repaired and modernized under the management of two Vietnamese French architects, Ho Thieu Tri and Hoang Phuc Sinh. The original architecture of the 3-storey theater has remained. The decorative designs on the ceiling, arches, walls, and doors were renewed. The 3-meter-high stage and the audience's hall, with 600 seats, were also modernized in conformity with international standards.

Theater has been equipped with state-of-art facilities and appliances, compatible for all types of artistic performances, from folk music and songs, ballets and piano to classical opera, reformed opera, Vietnamese operetta and drama, all made great impressions on the audience. The Hanoi Opera House has also successfully organised many large-scale international concerts.

WEST LAKE AND THE PAGODAS AROUND IT

WEST LAKE (Thanh Nien Road, Tay Ho District) is surrounded by million-dollar homes owned by entrepreneurs rich from joint ventures with foreigners. Here there is a small monument honoring Hanoi resident who helped seek out and find shot-down American pilots. The concrete monument stands beside the lake, depicting an American pilot, hands raised in surrender. A plaque misspells U.S. Senator John McCain's name and lists his branch of service as the Air Force (he was in the navy)

West Lake, also called Ho Tay, is the biggest lake in central Hanoi with area of over 500 hectares. The road running around the lake is 17 kilometers long. Scientists proved that West Lake was once a part of the Red River. This part turned into a lake when the river changed its course.

The lake itself and its name are originated from many legends. According to the Ho Tinh (Succubus) story, the lake was called Xac Cao (Fox Carcass) because there was a nine-tail fox which often harmed people died here. The lake was the vestige of the foxs cave after it was destroyed by Dragon King when he raised the water level to kill the fox. Whereas, according to the "Khong Lo casts a bell" story, the lake was called Kim Nguu (Gold Buffalo). The story tells that monk Khong Lo had the power to collect all the black bronze of the North and cast a bell. The echo of the bell attracted a Gold Buffalo to follow the sound to look for its mother. When arriving at this area, the sound of the bell ended, the buffalo didnt know where to go. It trampled upon the ground and the sunken area became the lake. According to ancient books, the lake was named Dam Dam (Fog Lake) in the 11th century. In 1573, it was called Tay Ho (West Lake) to avoid coinciding with King Le The Tongs real name of Duy Dam.

Described as the most romantic part in the colourful Hanoi panorama, West Lake has been creating an endless source of inspiration for poets, writers and artists for their works that have gone down deep to the heart of many people. With the vast blue water, the violet and red flowers in summer, the soft sunshine and cool climate in autumn, the near-freezing winds in winter and the pure air as dawn breaks in spring, West Lake is known as a friend with whom people can share their feelings. In the early morning, hundreds of people, old and young, flock to the lake to enjoy the fresh air as they do morning exercises. From the Thanh Nien (Youth) slope near the lake, flower-loaded bikes and vendors balancing baskets of traditional snacks hung on the ends of bamboo sticks on their shoulders are seen fanning into Hanoi's busy streets.

The lake has become a habitual rendez-vous for many people. The beautiful Thanh Nien Road, previously called Co Ngu, that separates West Lake and Truc Bach Lake is jammed at every sunset. Some people search for a niche by the lake to enjoy a coffee, shrimp pancakes, snail noodles or ice creams. Others treat themselves with luxurious restaurants on boats that cruise around the lake while the rest prefer a simple walk in the fresh air. During weekends, the lake often witnesses weddings of couples who wish to make the most memorable day in their life on a boat.

Not only an ideal tourist attraction, West Lake is rich in cultural values. Up to 21 pagodas, shrines and communal houses with many valuable artifacts dot the lake's rim. From the Ly and Tran dynasties, many palaces and pagodas were built there such as Thuy Hoa Palace under the Ly Dynasty, afterward Ham Nguyen Palace under the Tran Dynasty and now Tran Quoc Pagoda; Tu Hoa Palace under the Ly Dynasty, now Kim Lien Pagoda. The 17 kilometers path around the lake leads to Nghi Tam flower village, Tay Ho, Nhat Tan peach villages and Tay Ho Temple, built in honor of Princess Lieu Hanh.

Most frequently visited ones include Quan Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda and Tay Ho Temple where visitors can enjoy the beautiful architecture after praying for blessing. Villages located in the west of the lake have their specific characteristic. Nghi Tam Village boasts the unique architecture of Kim Lien Pagoda while Xuan Tao Village takes pride as home to Soc Temple dedicated to Saint Giong. Trich Sai Village houses Thien Nien Pagoda, Ke Buoi Village houses Dong Co Temple while Thuy Khue Village houses Ba Danh Pagoda.

Nhat Tan Village has been known as the source of most beautiful peach blossoms, a must-have floral home decoration to every Hanoi family at the approach of the traditional New Year. Many of the traditional sketches of the villages like century-old dwelling houses, village gates and communal houses are still preserved in face of the urbanization process that has brought high-rise buildings, hotels and villas to the land around the lake. West Lake isn’t only a place for Hanoians to relax, but also an ideal residential place for foreigners working in the city with hundreds of villas built near the lake.

Tran Quoc Pagoda (an islet of West Lake in Hanoi) is one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam and a cultural symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism. It is said that, the pagoda was built under the reign of King Ly Nam De (544-548) under its original name of Khai Quoc (National Founder). It was originally built on the bank of the West Lake and the Red River. In the time of King Le Kinh Tong (1600-1618), the pagoda was removed to the Kim Ngu (Golden Fish) Islet due to the river bank crumbling and was renamed Tran Quoc (National Defence).

Behind the worshiping shrine is the Buddhist trinity followed by corridors, ten shrines and the belfry. In the pagoda, there are many valuable statues, such as the red lacstatue trimmed with gold of Sakyamouni Buddha's Parinirvana and many ancient stelae with the old- one made in 1639 by Doctoral Law- Nguyen Xuan Chinh recording the pagoda's history.

In 1959, on his visit to Vietnam, Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat offered the Pagoda a bodhi tree as a gift. The plant was grafted from the holy Bodhi tree where Sakyamuni sat in zen (meditation) position 25 centuries ago. Now the Bodhi tree is green and luxuriant, shading part of the pagoda's yard.

Kim Lien Pagoda (Quang An Village, Tay Ho District) was originally built on Nghi Tam Peninsula, on the bank of West Lake. The pagoda was part of the former Tu Hoa Palace of the Ly Dynasty. Princess Tu Hoa is daughter of King Ly Than Tong. He ordered to built Tu Hoa Palace then sent his daughter and her imperial maids to this area to help them understand and venerate their position in the society. Formerly, it was Dong Long Pagoda and built in the 13th century. In 1771, the pagoda was renovated and changed its name to Kim Lien, which has been used since then. Kim Lien is composed of three pavilions, each of which has 2 roof layers and the appearance of being slightly curved and supple. Apart from its nice disposition, the pagoda has a gate of sophisticated and intricate architecture.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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