We used Bangkok’s old airport, the Don Muang, for our Air Asia flight to Hanoi. For some unknown reason we were both assigned a window seat even though there were two open seats in my wife’s row. My seatmates were students from a Vienna, Austria university who had completed a study abroad program in Singapore and were now exploring other places in southeast Asia. The two hour flight was inexpensive and required payment for any beverage or food. After an early check-in at the Hanoi Intercontinental Westlake, I set out to explore the surrounding area. Near the hotel was a popular spot for pre-wedding photographs. Many Vietnamese couples now favor Western-style wedding dresses. Continuing my walk down a narrow but busy road introduced me to the sights, sounds, and smells of Hanoi. Motorcycles, parked on the sidewalk in front of residences, which often serve as a storefront, are the most popular form of transportation. Walking is not only difficult negotiating motorcycles on the sidewalk and road, but the sidewalk is frequently in disrepair. I passed three religious sites: Kim Lien Pagoda, Tran Quoc Pagoda, and Quan Thanh Temple. I stayed near West Lake, the largest of some 100 lakes in Hanoi, before turning around at Ly Tu Trong Park, named for a Vietnamese revolutionary executed in 1931 by the French when he was only 17 years old. I passed Truc Bach Lake where John McCain was captured after his plane was downed.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

We visited the Ho Chi Minh memorial complex. Contrary to his wishes, the body of Ho Chi Minh was preserved and put on display. The body was not available for viewing on the day of our visit. The mausoleum and parade grounds reminded me of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. A new Parliament building now sits across from the mausoleum while the old building is not far away. Also nearby is the Presidential Palace, the former Indochina’s General Governor Palace. Government buildings are painted a bright yellow. Ho Chi Minh’s residence and workplace from 1954-1958 included a garage with his three cars. We then toured his House on Stilts where he lived and worked from 1958 until his death in 1969. Both residences are on Uncle Ho’s Fishpond. Ho Chi Minh, a great man of world culture, is rightly revered for his embodiment of simplicity, modesty, gentleness, and dedication for his nation and its people. In my youth I never imagined having the opportunity to visit this place.

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda

The One Pillar Pagoda is an historic Buddhist temple. Although it is under construction, we were able to see it.

The Temple of Literature was founded in the 11th century. It is Vietnam’s first university. Graduates were having their picture taken when we visited. A series of 82 carved blue turtle steles with the names of those successful at the royal exams dating from 1484 surround one of the five courtyards. The Constellation of Literature Pavilion, built in 1805, is a symbol of present day Hanoi. A red-colored pavilion sits atop four stone stilts. It has a bronze bell that is rung on auspicious occasions. The Dai Thanh Sanctuary is where Confucius and his four closest disciples are worshipped. Ancient trees, beautiful flowers and trimmed grass in a couple of the courtyards provide a relaxing contemplative mood.

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison

Hoa Lo Prison, widely known as Hanoi Hilton,” was originally established by the French colonial government in 1896 for the purpose of detaining political prisoners. Only the southernmost corner has been preserved as a museum. It documents the conditions of men and women inmates during French rule and later when used for American prisoners-of-war.

After lunch at the Wild Lotus restaurant, we toured the ancient area of Hanoi on a cyclo tour. Individual guests sit in front of a bicycle driver. The city’s elegant, tree-lined boulevards and weathered colonial buildings contrasted with the bustle of bikes, motorbikes, and cars all vying for road space. It was interesting to see street vendors selling off the back of a bicycle. Throughout our visit we saw many flower vendors. People regularly buy fresh flowers. On our return to the hotel we traveled along a highway with four miles of murals. We also saw the cities’ oldest bridge which was designed by Eiffel. During the American war this bridge was regularly repaired immediately after it was bombed.

Phoenix Puppets

Phoenix Puppets

We were gifted with front row seats for the Thang Long Water Puppet Show. This modern variation of an ancient tradition features puppets made out wood and lacquered. A large rod supports the puppet, and the puppeteers, hidden behind a screen, use controls on the rod to bring the puppets to life on the surface of a waist-deep pool of water. A musical ensemble of traditional musical instruments accompanies the performance of fourteen scenes. One of the most memorial sketches was the “Phoenix’s Dance. Two phoenix appear and dance. Soon an egg appears which then hatches a young phoenix. According to tradition, puppetry traces back to when the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam would flood and the villagers entertained each other with puppets.

Our day ended with dinner at the Forest Restaurant. The building that houses the restaurant is designed to give the feel of a traditional mountain home. It is decorated with Hmong artwork. During dinner we were entertained with traditional folk music from a band in traditional costume. Two performances were especially memorable. In one the artist uses a one-string bamboo instrument that he made himself to compose interesting a high pitched sound. The other interesting instrument was a bamboo pole with one string and a mouthpiece. Without using the mouthpiece, little sound was possible. With the mouthpiece the performer produced very interesting sounds. What a great time in Hanoi!

Advertisements