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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hanoi "Top Destinations 2010"


Vietnam's bustling capital may be a 1,000 years old, but it's a thriving metropolis with a French colonial soul. A cultural center littered with pagodas, temples, and historic monuments, Hanoi offers plenty for the traveler seeking an authentic yet eclectic Asian experience. The eating scene is colorful with excellent meals available at both street-side stalls and fine eateries. Nightlife won't disappoint with the labyrinthine Old Quarter and the area around Hoan Kiem Lake housing dozens of bars from Western ex-pat establishments to disco-infused nightclubs -- plus the legendary Minh's Jazz Club. There's also a cool and contemporary art gallery scene showcasing young artists along Pho Trang Tien. And if you love to shop, try the funky boutiques on Nha Tho, or Cho Hang Da, the huge Dong Xuan market that transforms into a night bazaar on weekends.


One Pillar Pagoda
The original name of the pagoda was Dien Huu pagoda which literally means long lasting happiness and and good luck. The pagoda is situated in the western part of the city. It was first built in 1049 in the reign of King Ly Thai Tong. legend has it that at time King Ly Thai Tong was very old and had no sons of his own. One night he had a dream that he was granted a private audience with Buddha with a male baby on his hands. Buddha seating on a lotus flower in a square-shaped lotus pond in the western side of Thang Long Citadel, gave the king the baby. Month later the queen got pregnant and she gave birth to a male. To repay the gift from Buddha, the king ordered the construction of a pagoda with was supported by only one pillar resembling a lotus seat on which Buddha had been seated. The pagoda was dedicated to Buddha.

Temple of Literature- Quoc Tu Giam
Temple of Literature-Quoc Tu Giam was the first university of Vietnam where many students graduated with high flying colors. Some became doctors of philosophy. In 1482 King Le Thanh Tong ordered the erection of steles with inscription of all the names, birth dates and birth places of doctors, and other excellent graduates who took part in examinations since 1442. At present there remain 82 steles standing in the premises of Van Mieu. Aprt from its cultural value, each stele presents an artistic project of stone carving. Each stele is placed on the back of a turtle representing the nation's longevity.

Sword Restored Lake/Hoan Kiem Lake
The lake which is not as large as Ho Tay to the northwest is situated in the center of the city. Because of its unique location Sword Restored Lake is billed as a basket of lower placed in the middle of Hanoi. The name of Sword Restored Lake is derived from a legend which has it that King Le Thai To had a precious sword. The sword. The sword had always been on his side during the 10-year resistance against the Ming aggressors. After he won over the foreign aggression and returned to Thang Long Citadel. One day he went out and boarded a royal boat to cruise in the lake. Suddenly he saw a giant turtle emerging and coming towards him. The king withdrew his sword and pinpointed with the sword the direction of the coming turtle for his soldiers' attention. All of a sudden, the turtle caught the sword between its teeth from the king's hand and submerged. The king thought that it might have been that during the resistance war against the Minh aggression, the king was offered sword by genie to help him defeat the enemy. Now when peace has returned the genie appeared and took back the sword. With that thought in mind, King Le Thai To named the lake after episode as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of Restored Sword).

Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem lake which had been considered the most beautiful lake in the city was in the 19th century added with another object to make it more beautiful and famous. That was the construction of a temple on the Ngoc (Jade) islet in the lake. Initially the temple was called Ngoc Son Pagoda. Later it was renamed Ngoc Son Temple because in the temple is dedicated to saints. Saint Van Suong was a person considered the brightest star in Vietnam's literature and intellectual circles. Tran Hung Dao was worshipped because he was the national hero who led the Vietnamese people to a resounding victory over the Nguyen aggression. The temple as it is seen today was attributable to the restoration afforts of Nguyen Van Sieu in 1864. A great Hanoi literature writer, Nguyen Van Sieu himself had a large pen-shaped tower (Thap But) built in at the entrance to the temple. On the upper section of the Thap but there are three Chinese characters Ta Thanh Thien which means literally that to write on the blue sky is to imply the height of a genuine and righteous person's determination and will. Behind Thap But is Dai Nghien (Ink Stand). The ink stand is carved from stone resembling a peach, which is placed on the back of the three frogs on top of the gate to the temple. Passing through Dai Nghien visitors are to tread on the wooden bridge called The Huc. The Huc is literally understood as the place where beams of morning sunshine are touching.
On the long way that leads to the temple there are several cau doi (parallel sentences) written on the wall. These cau doi are considered part of a traditional ward puzzle entertainment, a lifestyle literally educated persons of ancient Thang Long used to follow.

Quan Thanh Temple

The three ancient Chinese which are still seen today on the top of the entrance to the temple means Tran Vu Quan. That is literally the temple which is dedicated to Saint Tran Vu. A temple is a place for worshipping saints while a pagoda is dedicated to Buddha and faithful disciplines.
Saint Tran Vu was a legendary figure which was a combination between a legendary character in Vietnam's legend and a mystic character derived from China's legend. The legendary character in Vietnam's legend was a saint who had earned the merits of assisting King An Duong Vuong in getting rid of ghost spirit during the King's construction of his citadel at Co Loa.
The Chinese legendary figure was a saint who made great contributions in safeguarding the northern border. Quan Thanh Temple was built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1010-1028). In 1893 the temple was given a grand facelift to have the shape as we can see it today. Special attention should be paid to a black bronze statute of Saint Tran Vu. The giant statute, formally placed in the main hall, was cast in 1677. Another special object is an ancient bronze bell, 1.5 meters high, which is hanged at the top of the three-gate entrance.
Another object of no less significant is a smaller black bronze statute of Old Trong, a chief artisan of the bronze casting team who had made the giant statute of Saint Tran Vu and the great bell on top of the tree-gate entrance. To commemorate the great contributions of the teacher Old Trong, his students of bronze casting cast his statute and placed in the temple for their for their younger generations to remember Old Trong for ever.

Hai Ba Trung Temple

The temple is also called Dong Nhan Temple because it is located in the area of Dong Nhan village in Hai Ba Trung precinct. The temple was built in 1142 inder the reign of King Ly Anh Tong. It is dedicated to the two Vietnamese heroines Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. At the inner sanctum of the temple there are two statutes made of fine clay dedicating the two ladies Trung. Flanking on either side of the two statutes of Ladies Trung are statutes of 12 women generals who followed the two Ladies leading their army to defeat the foreign aggressors. In the 5th and 6th day of the second lunar month there is a grand festival organized at the site of the temple to commemorate the two national heroines.

West Lake and Youth Road
The Youth Road can be compared to a beautiful bridge spanning across the two large bodies of water - West Lake to the northwest and Truc Bach Lake to the southeast. This 992-metre-long road has been made into two-lane road with a line of big trees grown in between the lanes. On either side of the road is grown with flamboyant trees, weeping willow trees and Bang Lang trees. In summer the road looks colorful with the many flamboyant trees in blossom and Bang Lang trees with violet flowers.
The west lake area is estimated at 480 hectares, being the biggest lake in the city. A road that runs around the lake is as long as 12 kilometers. It passes several flower-growing villages such as flower Nghi Tam village, Tay Ho, and Peach tree planting Nhat Tan village. Situated nearby the lakeside road are several famous pagodas and temples such as Phu Tay Ho and Kim Lien Pagoda. In feudal regimes many royal palaces and rest houses have been built to used as resort places for kings and senior court officers. Now Ho Tay has been earmarked for the city's major tourism development center.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
After two years of construction, the mausoleum of President Ho Chi Minh was officially inaugurated on August 29,1975. The facade of the mausoleum faces the historic Ba Dinh Square.
The mausoleum is divided into three layers with a combined height of 21.6 meters. The lowest layer forms a terraced stand exclusively used for the presidium of grand meetings organized at the grassy Ba Dinh Square. The second layer is the central piece of the mausoleum where the remains of the president is kept in a chamber accessible through a series of passages and flights of marble staircases. The upper part of the mausoleum is the roof resembling a three terraced steps. The facade of the upper part bears an inscription "President Ho Chi Minh" made of dark violet precious stone.
The mausoleum is the place to keep the remains of President Ho Chi Minh, the great patriotic who had been conferred the title "World Cultural Activist" and the national hero. The conferment was made on the occasion of the centenary anniversary of President Ho Chi Minh's Birthday (1890-1990).
The mausoleum project was the results of artistic labor of both Vietnamese and former Soviet Union scientists in respect for President Ho Chi Minh.

The Ho Chi Minh Museum
The museum displays relics about the life and work of President Ho Chi Minh, a cultural figure and hero of the national liberation movement (1890-1969). The museum was inaugurated on May 19,1990, the anniversary of the Centenary Birthday of President Ho Chi Minh.
Address:3 Ngoc Ha St, Hanoi. Tel:(84-4) 8263752 or 8255435

The History Museum
The museum is a national museum. It was founded in 1926 and named "Ecole d'Etreme Orient." In 1958 it was restored and renamed the Vietnam History Museum. On display are rich collection of archaeological findings of great scientific and artistic value, illustrating the development of the nation and the State of Vietnam from the dawn of its history to the period prior of the coming into being of the Vietnam Communist Party.
Address: 1 Pham Ngu Lao St, Hanoi. Tel:(84-4) 8252835 or 8253518

The Revolution Museum

The museum is a national museum. It was founded in January 1959, It exhibits relics from various phases of the Vietnamese people's patriotic and revolutionary struggle from the founding of the Vietnam Communist Party up to the present day.
Address: 25 Tong Dan St, Hanoi. Tel:(84-4) 8253766 and 8254151 or 8254323

The Army Museum
The museum is a national museum which was established in June 1959. War relics and trophies reminisce great periods of the armed struggle of the Vietnamese people. Evolutions of the two recent great historic battles: the Dien Bien Phu battle in 1945 and the Ho Chi Minh Campaign in 1975 are unfolded again on miniature models.
Address: 28A Dien Bien Phu St, Hanoi. Tel: (84-4) 8234264

The Fine Arts Museum

This is a national museum founded in June 1966. It displays art works and objects of the various nationalities living in Vietnam in every period. Prominent are collections of painting of great values by such famous contemporary artists as To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Phan Chanh, Tran Van Can and Bui Xuan Phai, etc,.
Address: 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St, Hanoi. Tel: (84-4) 265801 or 233084

Wartime sites
Hoa Lo Prison ("The Hanoi Hilton"), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Open 8:30AM to 11:30AM and 1:30PM to 4:30PM, admission 10,000 dong. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling detail. The prison was also known as the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War as it held American POW's shot down. Little emphasis is given to this period however, and the exhibits shown can be frustratingly skewed in propaganda, choosing to show solely propaganda photos of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball, playing chess, and other staged events. They also claim to have John McCain's flight suit from when his plane was shot down but its beyond me how they knew he would subsequently become a United States senator and thus the importance of his particular suit.
B-52 Lake - Huu Tiep Lake - Ngoc Ha Precinct, Ba Dinh District— Until December 19, 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tam Street, about 1km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
Downed Aircraft Memorial— Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.

Get Around
Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning motorbike-hug).
Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind. Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol. It has also become common for the drivers of some of the less reputable taxi companies to "fix" their meters to run faster hence giving differences in prices for the same distance by a factor of 30! The recommendation is to only use the reputable and reliable taxi companies. These are Hanoi Taxi (Tel (04) 38 535353), Taxi CP (Tel. (04) 38 262626), Mai Linh Taxi (Tel. (04) 38 616161). Another common thing with taxis is that the driver takes you for a "sightseeing" - and extends the tour to make more money. This is very hard to discover unless you know the city well, but if you catch your driver doing this (e.g. going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice), demand that he stop the taxi and leave the taxi without paying.
Be very careful with meter taxis in Hanoi. Some have central locking , and are known to lock passengers in , and demand large amounts of US dollars before letting them go. The driver may threaten to have you beaten up or arrested should you not give in to his demands , but if you kick up enough of a fuss , they will let you go.
Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). You should absolutely negotiate a fare in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day. You should also write down the negotiated fare (with all zeros) to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000! In case of argument over fares after the ride, keep calm and repeat the original agreement (remember, you have the leverage). A typical 10 minute fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well. At the end of a ride, some will offer to hang around to drive you to your next destination - either be clear that you don't want a return ride (and don't go near him when you leave), or get a price in advance. Otherwise, you might be surprised when the driver tacks on several million dong for having waited.
Keep your wallet out of arms reach of the drivers when you pay, less honest motorbike drivers are not adverse to grabbing your wallet and helping themselves to any notes they like the look of before jumping on their bike and speeding off.
Negotiate first or avoid using the cyclos services, they demand 200,000VND (US$12) for a short ride of less than 100 metres. At the end of the journey, a few men will come over to translate, and they will pretend to help and later insist that you pay the demanded amount.
Motorcycles can be rented for around US$5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores.
Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 3000 dong and off you go. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the conductor where you want to get off.

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