Pritam Rohila Travels

Reports of my travels along with some pictures

Jun 8, 2012


We arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport at Hanoi last night around 10:30 p.m. by a Korean Air flight. After getting through immigration, we were escorted by Mr. Nam, our local guide, to the Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, located by a lake, about 40-minute’s drive from the Airport.

Like many other places throughout our travels, the Hotel Lobby was all decked out for Christmas

Check in took a few minutes before we were in room to get a few hours of sleep before starting our first day of sightseeing next morning.

Slightly larger than Itlay, Vietnam is S-shaped, broad in the north and south and very narrow at the center, only about 31 miles at one point.

Although politically the country is communist, most people profess Mahayana Buddhism. There are a few adherents to other faiths alsoFor centuries the Vietnamese language was written in standard Chinese characters. But since the 17th century the current Latin-based script has been used.

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Breakfast at the Sheraton was excellent in range of choices, quality of food and service. It was cool and windy this morning. We needed light jackets.

We started sightseeing in Hanoi, the first capital of Vietnam for almost 800 years, starting in 1010. It became capital again in 1954 after the French departed from Vietnam. Although smaller and less developed than Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), it has dozens of lakes, and some beautiful streets and neighborhoods.

Like most tourists we started at the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. He was the venerated leader of the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France, and of the resistance against the US-led
multi-billion-dollar military misadventure to “save” Vietnam from the dreaded Red menace.

A granite and concrete structure, and modeled after Lenin’s tomb, the Mausoleum sits at a high platform in the Ba Dinh Square. Ho lies here in state, embalmed and dressed in his favorite khaki suit, even though he had asked to be cremated! But the Mausoleum was closed, probably due to his annual body maintenance in Russia.

After a few pictures from the outside, we marched to the Presidential Palace, nearby. This gorgeous building had been erected by the French in 1909, to house the Governor General, during their occupation of Vietnam.

At the end of the Vietnam War, and reunification of North and South Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the Presidential Palace. Instead, he continued to live in and work from a simple two-story traditional house on the stilts, from 1958 to 1969. The politburo met in the basement of Ho’s house. His bedroom and study were upstairs.
Nearby is the house where he lived and worked from 1954 to 1958.

A stone’s throw away is the One Pillar Pagoda. It sits on stilts over a small tank. It was built in 1049, by a Ly dynasty king, after he had a dream in which the Buddhist goddess of mercy presented him with a lotus flower.

Next we visited the Temple of Literature. Mr. Nam explained the difference in Vietnam, between a pagoda, which is a place of worship, and a temple, which is dedicated to a national hero or it could be a learning institution.

TheTemple was established in 1076, after more than 1100 years of Chinese colonialism (from 179 BC to 938 AD), as an elite institute to teach the doctrines of Confucius and his disciples.

It still has 82 stone tablets, on which are inscribed the names and birthplaces of 1,306 doctoral laureates who had passed the rigorous university examinations, and were erected between 1484 and 1780.

Next courtyard has the sanctuary, with altars to Confucius and his disciples.
In the doorway to this courtyard, we saw a group young men and women, dressed in traditional clothes, posing for their picture. Mr. Nam explained that they had just graduated from college.

People of Vietnam also take time out to pose for wedding photos and

...take a break with friends for snacks or coffee.

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Next we went to the Hoan Kiem Lake area. Located in heart of the city, the Hoan Kiem Lake is an attractive area,...

...where families come for an outing.

Near the lake is a memorial to the Vietnamese resistance against the French. It consists of three human figures. The central figure is of a man with a bomb in his hand, representing those who
volunteered for suicide missions against French tanks. He is flanked by a woman with a sword, and a man with a gun.

Then we visited the Ngoc Son (Jade) Temple, which has been built on a small island, in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake.

It is accessed by the Bridge of the Rising Sun. It is also one of the popular spots for wedding pictures.

At the temple people worship General Tran Hung Dao, and his weapons. The General had defeated forces sent by the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan in the 13th century.

There is also an altar for the worship of a scholar, a master of martial arts, and the patron saints of physicians.

As a mark of their devotion and to have their wishes fulfilled, people burn fake money, and...

...make offerings of incense and flowers.

At the temple, we met a young couple from the Fiji Islands, and a Vietnamese child.

After lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, we went on a cyclo tour of the Old Quarter. Being pulled by a man pedaling a bicycle-driven one-person carriage for one hour during almost deserted areas in the middle of a hot afternoon was not much fun.
However, on the way we could take pictures of a few attractions such as the Opera House, and a statue of the Emperor Ly Thai To, who had moved the royal capital from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, about 1000 years ago.

Next we visited St. Joseph’s Cathedral with nice stained-glass windows. Built in 1886, several masses are held here throughout the day.

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Our next stop was the Ethnology Museum with displays about the life and traditions of the 53 ethnic minorities which inhabit the nation’s hinterlands.
The displays include pictographic script;...

...funerary shrines;...

...cultural practices like paying respects to ancestors;...
...typical homes and their supporting pillars with symbols of fertility like breasts;...

...home interiors;...


....and implements like handlooms, spinning wheels, ...

...earthen stoves, and...

...musical instruments.

A number of young students were at the museum. Some of them were curious about us, and did not mind posing for pictures for us.

A college girl from Haiphong followed us through the museum for quite a while before over-coming her hesitation to initiate communication with us in broken English.

We returned to the Old Quarters, for a few minutes of souvenir shopping. It was followed by a packed performance at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.

The evening starts with a performance by the theater orchestra.

Using bamboo poles, skilled puppeteers extend puppets from behind a curtain up through the surface of a small pond to present ancient tales as well as vignettes from daily life in Vietnam’s countryside.

The last performance related the story of the Emperor Ly Thai To, who upon his arrival at Hanoi saw a golden dragon among the clouds. So he named the city “Thanh Long” meaning “a soaring dragon.”

After dinner we returned to our hotel.

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