Hanoi travel guide

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Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

The  wonderful  Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

(Ð Nguyen Van Huyen; admission 20,000d; h8.30am-5.30pm Tue-Sun) should not be missed. Designed with  assistance  from  Musée  de l’Homme in Paris, it features a fascinating collection of art and everyday objects gathered from Vietnam  and its  diverse  tribal people. From the  making  of  conical  hats  to  the  ritual of a Tay shamanic ceremony, the  museum explores  Vietnam’s  cultural  diversity.   Displays are labelled in Vietnamese, French and English.

The museum is in the Cau Giay District, about 7km from the city centre. The trip takes 30 minutes by bicycle. Other options include xe om (20,000d one way) or a me- tered taxi (40,000d one way). The cheapest way to get here is to take bus 14 (3500d) from Hoan Kiem Lake and get off at the junction

between Ð Hoang Quoc Viet and Ð Nguyen Van Huyen.


Temple of Literature

Hanoi’s peaceful Van Mieu (Temple of Literature; Pho Quoc Tu Giam; admission 5000d; h8am-5pm) was dedicated to Confucius in 1070 by Em- peror Ly Thanh Tong, and later established as a university for the education of mandarins. A well-preserved jewel of traditional  Vietnam- ese architecture in 11th-century style with roofed gateways and low-eaved buildings, this temple is an absolute must.

Five courtyards are enclosed within the grounds. The front gate is inscribed with a re- quest that visitors dismount from their horses before entering. Make sure you do. There’s a peaceful reflecting pool in the front courtyard, and the Khue Van Pavilion at the back of the second courtyard.

In 1484, Emperor Le Thang Tong ordered the establishment of stelae honouring the men who had received doctorates in trien- nial examinations dating back to 1442. Each of the 82 stelae that stands here is set on a stone tortoise.

The Temple of Literature is 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake.


Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex

This is the holiest of the holies for many Vietnamese. In the tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep within a monumental edifice. As interesting as the man himself are the crowds coming to pay their respects. Built contrary to his last will to be cre-

mated, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex ( Pho Ngoc Ha & Pho Doi Can; admission free; h8- 11am Sat-Thu) was constructed between 1973 and 1975, using native materials gathered from all over Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh’s em- balmed corpse gets a three-month holiday to Russia for yearly maintenance, so the mau- soleum is closed from September through early December. Some sceptics have sug- gested Madame Tussaud’s has the contract these days.

All visitors must register and leave their bags, cameras and mobile phones at a recep- tion hall. You’ll be refused admission to the mausoleum if you’re wearing shorts, tank tops or other ‘indecent’ clothing. Hats must be taken off inside the mausoleum building.


Photography is absolutely prohibited inside the building.

After exiting the mausoleum, check out the following nearby sights.

Ho Chi Minh Museum (Bao Tang Ho Chi Minh;  admission 5000d; h8-11am & 1.30-4.30pm Sat-Thu) Displays each have a message, such as ‘peace’, ‘happiness’ or ‘freedom’. Find an English-speaking guide,  as some of the symbolism is hard to interpret on your own. Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House (Nha San Bac Ho; Map pp352- 3; admission 5000d; h8-11am & 2-4pm) Supposedly Ho’s official residence, on and off, between 1958 and 1969, its simplicity reinforces his reputation as a man of the people. One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot; ) Built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong (r 1028–54) and designed to represent a lotus blossom, a symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow.

Presidential Palace ; admission 5000d; h8-11am & 2-4pm Sat-Thu) In grand contrast to Ho’s stilt house, this grand building was constructed in 1906 as the palace of the governor general of Indochina.


Other Museums

The terrific Women’s Museum (Bao Tang Phu Nu; 36 Pho Ly Thuong Kiet; admission 20,000d; h8am- 4pm) includes the predictable tribute to women soldiers, balanced by some wonderful exhibits from the international women’s movement protesting the American War. The 4th floor displays costumes worn by ethnic-minority groups in Vietnam. Exhibits have Vietnamese, French  and  English  explanations.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum (Map p358; %824 6358; 1 Pho Hoa Lo; admission 5000d; h8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm Tue-Sun) is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War. The bulk of the exhibits focus on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. Tools of torture on display include an ominous French guillotine used to behead Vi- etnamese revolutionaries; some exhibits have explanations in English and French.

One block east of the Opera House, the History Museum (Bao Tang Lich Su; Map pp352-3; 1 Pho Pham Ngu Lao; admission 15,000d; h8-11.30am & 1.30- 4.30pm Fri-Wed) is one of Hanoi’s most stunning structures. Ernest Hebrard was among  the first in Vietnam to incorporate design ele- ments from Chinese and French styles in his architecture; this building was completed in 1932. Collections here cover the highs  more than the lows of Vietnamese history.

The Army Museum (Bao Tang Quan Doi; Map pp352- 3; Pho Dien Bien Phu; admission 20,000d; h8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm Tue-Sun) displays Soviet and Chinese equipment alongside French- and US-made weapons captured during years of warfare.


Old Quarter

This is the Asia we dreamed of from afar. Steeped in history, pulsating with life, bub-bling with commerce, buzzing with motor-bikes and rich in exotic scents, the Old Quarter is Hanoi’s historic heart. Hawkers pound the streets, sizzling and smoking baskets hiding a cheap meal for the locals. Pho (noodle soup) stalls and bia hoi (draught beer) dens hug every corner, resonant with the sound of gos- sip and laughter. Modern yet medieval, there is no better way to spend some time in Hanoi than walking the streets, simply soaking up the sights, sounds and smells. Hoan Kiem Lake is the liquid heart of the Old Quarter, a good orienting landmark.

Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, heaven gave Emperor Ly Thai To (Le Loi) a magical sword that he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war, while out boating, he came upon a giant golden tortoise; the creature grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths

of the lake. Since that time, the lake has been known as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Re- stored Sword) because the tortoise returned

the sword to its divine owners. Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple; Map p358;admission 2000d; h8am-7pm), which was founded in the 18th century, is on an island in the north- ern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s a meditative spot to relax, but also worth checking out for the embalmed remains of a gigantic tortoise of the species said to still inhabit the lake.

Memorial House (Map p358; 87 Pho Ma May; admis- sion 5000d; h9-11.30am & 2-5pm) is well worth a visit. Thoughtfully restored, this traditional Chinese-style dwelling gives you an  insight into how local merchants used to live in the Old   Quarter.

Bach Ma Temple (Map p358; cnr Pho Hang Buom & Pho Hang Giay; h8-11.30am & 2.30-5.30pm) is the oldest temple in Hanoi  and  resides  in  a  shred  of Chinatown   in   the   Old   Quarter. Stepping inside St Joseph Cathedral (Map p358; Pho Nha Tho; h5-7am & 5-7pm) is like being trans- ported to medieval Europe. The cathedral (inaugurated in 1886) is noteworthy for its square towers, elaborate altar and stained- glass windows. The main gate is open when mass is held.



The biggest scams in town are inextricablyintertwined. The taxi and minibus mafia at theairport shuttle unwitting tourists to the wronghotel. Invariably, the hotel has appropriatedthe name of another popular property and willthen attempt to appropriate as much of yourmoney as possible. Keep your antennae up.We have heard several substantiated reportsof verbal aggression and physical violencetowards tourists when deciding against a hotelroom or tour. Stay calm and back away slowlyor things could quickly flare up.Western women have reported being hassledby young men around town who follow themhome. Women walking alone at night are generallysafe in the Old Quarter but should alwaysbe aware of their surroundings. Catching a xeom (motorbike taxi) is a good idea if it’s lateand you have a long walk home.Gay men should beware of a scam going onaround Hoan Kiem Lake. Scenario: friendlystranger approaches foreigner, offering totake him out. They end up at a karaoke bar,where they’re shown into a private roomfor a few drinks and songs. When the bill isbrought in, it’s often upwards of US$100. Thesituation deteriorates from there, ending inextortion. Exercise caution and follow yourinstincts.



There’s a lively gay scene in Hanoi, with cruising areas such as the cafés on Pho Bao Khanh and around Hoan Kiem Lake. Gay boys should take care not to fall victim to a very organised extortion scam going on around the lake .

Funky Monkey (opposite) is gay-friendly and has wild Friday and Saturday nights. There’s a healthy gay scene at Apocalypse Now (above), but watch for hustlers.




The Old Quarter is brimming with tempta-tion; price tags signal set prices. As you wan-der around you’ll find clothes, cosmetics, fakesunglasses, luxury food, T-shirts, musical in-struments, plumbing supplies, herbal medi-cines, jewellery, religious offerings, spices,woven mats and much, much more. And evenif you don’t need new shoes, take a walk along Pho Hang Dau to gawk at the wondrous shoe market . Larger Western sizes are rare, but for petite feet, bargains abound.HandicraftsIf you don’t make it up to Sapa, you can find aselection of ethnic-minority garb and handi-crafts in Hanoi; a stroll along Pho Hang Bac or Pho To Tich will turn up a dozen places.North and northwest of Hoan Kiem Lakearound Pho Hang Gai, Pho To Tich, Pho HangKhai and Pho Cau Go you’ll be tripping overshops offering Vietnamese handicrafts (lac-querware,  mother-of-pearl  inlay,  ceramics),as well as watercolours, oil paintings, printsand assorted antiques – real and fake.Local artists display their paintings at pri-vate art galleries, the highest concentration ofwhich is on Pho Trang Tien, between HoanKiem Lake and the Opera House (Map p358).The galleries are worth a browse even if you’renot buying

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