Hanoi 2

Our second day at Hanoi dawned and we were all ready for another day of sightseeing with Mr Ang. After a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, we met Ang and boarded our bus for the trip. One unique feature of this group tour was that we started each day with a small prayer in the bus thanking the Lord for everything and asking him to take care of the world. The prayer had such a soothing feel that it kept us happy throughout the day.

Our first destination was Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is more than 1500 years old and the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. It was first located on the banks of the Red River where it was damaged. Then it was moved on to this island on the West Lake and from then on was called Tran Quoc Pagoda meaning National Defence. The Tran Quoc has ancient Buddhist architecture.

The serene ambience of the gardens, the beautiful West Lake and the architecture of the buildings in the complex make this place very beautiful.

At the entrance, I found something unique and nice. A lady had some birds which we can purchase and release from the cage, like saving a living creature.

Saving the birds…the Vietnamese way…

The beautiful ambience with the ubiquitous lotus
Entrance to Tran Quoc Pagoda

Once you enter the complex, there is a huge pipal tree in the courtyard outside the main shrine. This tree was presented as a sapling by the President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1958 . It has now grown into a massive tree. The Pipal is considered very sacred by the Buddhists as Buddha got enlightenment from under the Bodhi tree.

The Pipal Tree gifted by India

Once you pass the tree you reach the main shrine where locals pray regularly.

The shrine and a local offering prayers

The Stupa

A 11 storey high Stupa forms the highlight of this complex and can be seen from far away. Each floor has a vaulted window with the image of Buddha. The top of the stupa has a lotus.

The Stupa

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Our next destination was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which houses the embalmed body of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. It is located at Ba Dinh Square where the declaration of Vietnamese independence and establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam took place. The mausoleum is built on the same lines as the Lenin mausoleum in Russia as Ho Chi Minh was an ardent follower of Lenin and communism. The Ba Dinh square also houses the Vietnamese parliament.

On either side of the main building are platforms used for parade viewing. The front of this platform has a banner reading President Ho Chi Minh on one side and the other reading Long live the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh is highly revered by the Vietnamese and they call him Uncle Ho. He is considered as God by the local people.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Reads Long live Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Situated next to the Mausoleum, was another attraction, the One Pillar Pagoda.

One Pillar Pagoda

A historic temple located in central Hanoi, it has unique architecture and stands on one pillar. It resembles a lotus which is the Vietnamese national flower and consists of a square shrine standing on one pillar in the middle of a pond.

It was built in the 11th century when the King wanted a son to follow on with his legacy, but he did not have a son. One night, he dreamt of a lotus with a beautiful lady and a son. Hence the temple is built like a lotus in the pond. After that, he had a son and so many locals come here to worship asking for sons and grandsons. This is a highly revered place of worship for the locals and one has to follow a reasonably decent dress code here.

In most of the Vietnamese temples, we find fruits as offerings by the devotees. Bunches of burnt incense sticks are also commonly seen.

One Pillar Pagoda

The shrine with offerings by the devotees

The Temple Of Literature

An oasis of peace and tranquillity in the midst of chaotic traffic of the city; this is a place for meditation and self reflection . Once a famous University, today it is a memorial.

Built in 1070 as a University, dedicated to Confucius, it is one of the better preserved monuments at Hanoi. This university was dedicated to science and literature and admitted students from the nobility who were taught Confucian values. Exceptionally, outstanding children from among the commoners were also admitted here. So, it was considered a matter of pride to secure an admission to this great university. It blossomed into the Vietnam Imperial Academy, a coveted university.

The temple of literature is also an outstanding example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Many parts of this memorial were damaged in the Vietnam war and rebuilt there after. Some pictures….

A model of the Temple of Literature complex gives one a perspective of how huge it is!!!!

The main gate of The Temple of Literature

This gate leads one into a huge complex with five courtyards. There is a long paved walkway through the complex.

The long walkway through the university complex

The pond and another enclosure inside the complex

The Turtle is considered very sacred and lucky in Vietnam. The students used to touch the turtle before their exams. Now preserved in an enclosure. Turtle is also a symbol of longevity.

A gold plated ceramic turtle preserved in a glass enclosure

There are many stone turtles with plaques on their back with inscribed names of the students who acquired degrees here. Acquiring a degree was a very prestigious thing and hence plaques with names of such students was installed here.

The turtles with plaques and Ang with his flag guiding us along

A statue of a bird that brings happiness lies in the complex and everyone of us touched it…..to be happy!!!!

The bird of happiness( note that even the bird is on a turtle back!)

Traditional Vietnamese architecture in wood in full display at the final courtyard leading to the shrines

And finally the shrine dedicated to the Master himself…Confucius

By now, we were all tired and it was time for lunch. We headed to an Indian restaurant for lunch.

At first sight, I knew the owner was a Tamilian with ash smeared on his forehead and a typical accent. But the guy seemed reluctant to acknowledge his roots!!!

Another Indian restaurant at Hanoi

Post lunch, we had a small shopping session and headed right back to down town Hanoi for a Cyclo tour.

Cyclo Tour

It is basically a cycle rickshaw in which two passengers can sit and they take you around the narrow by lanes of the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

With two wheelers whizzing past and screeching to a halt now and then, it can be quiet an adventure filled activity with your heart in your mouth every now and then. The drivers are elderly people and one almost feels sorry for them. The Old Quarter of Hanoi has narrow streets and each street has shops selling particular goods like one lane for hardware shops, one lane for jewellery shops etc.

Take a look at some pictures of our adventurous trip in the old quarter of Hanoi.

Our driver along with the cycle rickshaw

Manoeuvring the streets of Old Quarter Hanoi

A typical shop in the Old Quarter of Hanoi

A short video of the cyclo tour

After an hour of this adventure through the old quarter, we got off the rickshaw in one piece and headed for dinner and back to the hotel. Next day was expected to be a long day but a very picturesque one, visiting Halong Bay.

See you next week at Halong Bay. Till then, do keep your comments and feedback coming like the two wheelers of Hanoi…..

Hanoi 1

Hanoi was our first destination on the Viet Cam tour.

We were to fly to Singapore and from there on to Hanoi. With a lot of anticipation and excitement, we reached Mumbai airport and found this giant beauty of an A 380 getting ready to fly us to Singapore. The multiple boarding chutes at different levels were all set to welcome us.

The Singapore Airlines A 380 awaiting us!!

After an overnight flight, we landed early morning at Singapore where the other half of the group met up with us.

The ladies in the group had a quick photo session at Singapore Airport

After taking the connecting flight to Hanoi, we reached Hanoi around noon. The Noi Bai International airport at Hanoi welcomed us with this picture…..

The Noi Bai Airport at Hanoi

Our Guide at Hanoi Mr Ang received us at the airport and our first halt was at “Dalcheeni”, the Indian restaurant where we had lunch and proceeded to our hotel.

Dalcheeni, the Indian restaurant in Hanoi

After lunch we proceeded to our hotel Sheraton Hanoi . It was Christmas time and the decorations were out at the hotel.

Christmas decorations at Sheraton Hanoi

After a short rest at the hotel, we left with our guide to get our first glimpses of Hanoi. We drove down to downtown Hanoi which more or less centres around the Hoan Kiem Lake.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, located next to the Red River and the word Hanoi means “inside the river”. Hanoi gave me a sense of familiarity; what with the chaotic traffic of two wheelers whizzing past me as I tried to look around and absorb the ambience.

But as soon as it was dark, the scenario changed. The streets around the Hoan Kiem Lake became walking streets and no vehicular traffic was allowed on the roads. Most restaurants spread out small stools on the footpath ready to welcome locals and tourists. Street vendors had spread out their wares all along the roadside and locals started pouring in with families to spend an evening full of food and fun. We also walked around enjoying the fun ambience and soaking in the local feel. Some pictures of an evening in downtown Hanoi…

The low stools so typically spread out outside the restaurant

A street vendor with her colourful wares waiting for customers!

Vietnamese street food

Vietnamese coffee

Vietnamese coffee is world famous and the streets are lined with specialised coffee parlours and shops selling coffee powder. We visited one such coffee parlour and tried out the authentic Vietnamese coffee.

The coffee flavour was good but what put me off was that it was only lukewarm. Used to piping hot coffee back home, I was honestly a little disappointed . Different coffee flavours are available and the most fascinating one was egg coffee!! Many of us purchased coffee powder to brew piping hot Vietnamese coffee back home.

Most shops were advertising Weasel coffee and that was something that intrigued me. I was told that the weasels eat coffee pods and the beans collected from their poop is weasel coffee! It is considered a delicacy coffee and is more expensive than the other coffee. I must admit, I did not have the courage to try that out.

A shop selling Vietnamese coffee.

Water puppet show

Our next scheduled activity was a water puppet show. It was at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Water puppetry is an ancient tradition of the Vietnamese dating back to the 11th century when the farmers practised this when theirs fields got flooded. The puppets are made of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist deep pool. A large bamboo rod supports the puppet under water while the puppeteers control them from behind a screen. The audience gets the feeling that the puppets are moving in water.

During the show the daily life of the Vietnamese including duck herding, fishing, rice farming, rowing and royal parades are recreated using colourful puppets. Some of the performances are depictions of folklore. It is accompanied by traditional orchestra and narrations.

Some pictures from the water puppet show….

Outside the water puppet theatre

Exhibits of puppets inside the theatre

The puppets on water and musicians by the side of the pool

The stage and one of the performances

A video of one of the performances

The red bridge

Another sight that attracted all of us was a beautifully illuminated bridge on the Hoan Kiem Lake. It was lit up with red lights and looked very attractive. Our guide Ang explained to us that the bridge was Huc Bridge which led to Jade islet on Hoan Kiem Lake where the Ngoc Son temple was located .

The Red Bridge

Ngoc Son Temple

One of the most famous destinations at Hanoi, the Ngoc Son temple sits on a small island on the lake connected to the shore by the Huc Bridge built in typical Vietnamese style. It is a sacred shrine for the local people and a popular tourist destination for tourists.

Apart from the regular shrine where locals worship, there is a glass case with a preserved turtle in it. The turtle is holy to the Vietnamese who believe that the turtle is linked with a magic sword used to defeat foreign invaders.

There are beautiful bonsai collections in the premises too.

The bridge and the temple entrance

The shrine at Ngoc Son Temple

The preserved turtle

A huge bonsai tree at the Ngoc Son complex

Our group members taking rest at the temple complex before dinner time

By now we were all hungry and Ang took us to a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant . The name of the restaurant was UDham.

Vietnamese restaurant

Traditional Vietnamese vegetarian fare , sticky rice, rice paper rolls and pumpkin soup in that order

After enjoying the Vietnamese cuisine which was light on the belly, we returned to the hotel for the night. Next day was another day of sightseeing around Hanoi which will be featured in my next episode.

Till then, enjoy the views, puppetry and cuisine and continue your support with feedback and comments.