There is nothing more striking in Hanoi than looking down Trang Tien Street and seeing the Hanoi Opera House standing strong at the end. Built by the French in 1911, and renovated in the late 1990s, this is an incredible building. The facade is colonial French with pillars and balconies overlooking the city center. The 900-seat opera house plays host to visiting foreign performances as well as Vietnamese symphonies.
The resting place of the remarkable revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, this monumental mausoleum stands at the same place where the then-President read the Declaration of Independence. The glorious centerpiece of Ba Dinh Square, the mausoleum boasts an architecture which is a skillful melange of both modernist as well as traditional Vietnamese styles. Inside, the mortal remains of the great politician are placed in a glass case amidst much protection. One of the most precious landmarks of Hanoi, this mausoleum proffers an increasingly somber experience, lending deep insights into the legacy the man has left behind, setting a striking example, not just for the country, but for the entire world. Cradled in the spiritual center of Vietnamese Independence, the mausoleum features a quiet line that forms to view 'Uncle Ho's' body, which is a vision of sheer respect and dignity. Sitting in front of Ho's stilt house, this moving mausoleum is one of the priceless possessions of the city.
St. Joseph's Cathedral, which anchors one of Hanoi's most touristy streets, offers a glimpse into a bygone era. Speckles of light still dance through stained glass work, leaving a kaleidoscope of color on the towers, which stretch toward the sky. Its doors first swung open in 1886, during the earliest days of colonial rule, and the cathedral still holds mass twice daily. During other hours, visitors can enter through a door on the side of the cathedral.
This small lake between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter is central to Hanoian folklore. A ghostly shrine (the Turtle Pagoda) standing on an islet at its center pays homage to a golden turtle. In the 15th century, this heroic reptile is said to have returned a magic sword to its home in the lake after it had been taken. These days, the sculptured park along the banks plays host to postcard sellers, hawkers, old men playing chess, freelance money changers, lone photographers looking for a lucrative snap and, at about 5am every day, locals practicing tai chi.
Dubbed as one of Vietnam's most important temples, this unique pagoda stands in the midst of a tranquil lotus pond. Unfortunately, the original One Pillar Pagoda was destroyed in 1954, and a reconstructed version stands in its place. Originally constructed under the orders of Emperor Ly Thai Tong to commemorate the long-awaited birth of an heir, the pagoda was rebuilt by the Vietnamese government in 1955. When it was initially built, the Emperor believed that the luck had been foretold in a dream about the Goddess of Mercy handing him a male child on a lotus flower. So, for the entire pagoda to be built on a single stone pillar makes sense, as it exemplifies a blossoming lotus emerging from a sea of sorrow. Deeply entrenched in the Buddhist belief of purity, this pagoda is skilfully fashioned from wood, standing gloriously under traditional, pointed roofs. In the heart of the pagoda is an ornate sanctum enshrining Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, and fringing the pagoda is a tapestry of verdant trees, a placid pond and rambling green lawns.
The Thang Long Water Puppet show depicts an hour or so of Vietnamese culture via traditional music, song and puppetry. The spectacle is quite unique, though you might have a hard time picking up the nuances since it's performed entirely in Vietnamese. Brochures outlining each act are available free in the lobby, so you'd do well to pick one up on the way in. The price is VND100,000 for first class seats and VND60,000 for second class. Since the difference equates to roughly USD2, you might as well go for the former, which will put you right up in front of the action. The performances are often sold out, so it's highly advisable to book in advance the day before, particularly for groups. -Martin English
Old Quarter has quite a few things that can fascinate tourists. In the early days, it was a prominent trading market and today, it is known for its shopping markets, a pagoda, the Flag Tower and monuments that are historical. There are few restaurants where you can stop for a bite and drink while you walk the roads of the Old Quarter. Keep at least three hours of the day to go around this charming place.
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi has also been a hub of cultural activities for quite a long time now. Hanoi is a mixed bag of culture and social life. With various scenic places, parks, pagodas and temples, you will be spoiled from all the choices when in this Vietnamese jewel.
Wide Eyed Tours are a tour company that specialize in South East Asia and try to offer their customers as much variety as they can. If you want to sample the different sights, sounds and smells of Asia, this is the tourism boutique to go to. Choose a special custom designed tour like the Adventurous Tour, the Special Interest Tour, the Deluxe Tour or the Corporate Tour, for one that suits your requirements and time frame. All the staff members at Hanoi are ex tour leaders so the tours are handled professionally. Head to Culi Café and let them give you all the free advice you need to find your way around, while you enjoy the cool comforts of the cafe of course!
In the ninth century, King Ly Thai To was trying to build the Hanoi Citadel, but the walls kept collapsing. Bach Ma (White Horse), who was the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi), posed as a builder to help the King. This temple was then founded in honor of the spirit. A statue of the horse stands beside the altar. The current structure is typical of Hanoi pagodas and was built in the 18th century. It blends in well with the bustling streets and there is even a shop built into the walls to the left of the entrance.
Remarkably frozen in time, Hanoi's Old Quarter offers a stark contrast to the frenetic pace of the main city. The district takes sprout from near the shore of the Hoan Kiem Lake, radiating in streaks of alleyways and age-old thoroughfares that still grapple with the quarter's 13th Century spirit. Earlier a heavily walled unit that was connected to the main city after the 19th Century, the Hanoi Old Quarter pretzels itself into a rather cramped space, a place where a more urbane version of chaos ensues. Here, the old quarter mirrors its erstwhile atmosphere, when streets were dotted with silk merchants, artisans, bamboo carpenters, tinsmiths, and other specialized vendors who peddled their humble wares to meandering visitors. A night market tries to keep up with the promising vestiges of this economic legacy, a retail wonderland that reveals a staggering variety of souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing and food. This fading face of Vietnam's timeless heritage is also home to an exalted architectural treasure, which includes the Temple of Literature, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Flag Tower of Hanoi.
Nestled between silk shops and handicraft peddlers, the Apricot Gallery highlights the works of both new- and old-generation Vietnamese artists. A stone waterfall trickles into a small pool on the ground floor of the serene three-story space. Items on display rotate and feature several mediums and styles, from the more traditional lacquer scenes to abstract oil paintings. The gallery has a reputation for attracting foreign dignitaries in search of a souvenir.