September 01, 2016

The legendary city of Hanoi — retains much of its older charm of bygone eras

Nwe Nwe Tun


Tourists are waiting in front of the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
Tourists are waiting in front of the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.

We went on a trip to Hanoi-Ninh Binh-Ha Long for five nights six days with Viet Nam Airlines on 10-15 August. During this media familiarization trip, the Viet Nam Airlines officials and the guide explained about the history and culture of the Vietnamese cities we visited. The Airlines is a leading airline in Viet Nam with Skytrax 4-star rating, and the airline was awarded a 4-Star Airline rating on 12 July 2016 by the international transport rating SKYTRAX. Viet Nam Airlines is one of the most highly regarded airlines like Air France, British Airways and Emirates. It is flying a total of 53 routes around the world including Europe and Australia. This state-owned airline is said to be one of the top 50 airlines in the world.

A distant profile of the Presidential Palace.
A distant profile of the Presidential Palace.

Our trip was rather a tiring one with a very tight schedule. No sooner did we get up than we had to have our breakfast in a rush in order that we were not behind the schedule. We were introduced to the legendary city, which is known for its ancient architecture. This city is rich in a culture influenced by Southeast Asian countries, China and France. This is the capital of Viet Nam called Hanoi or HàNội in their language. In fact, this name of Hanoi has undergone a lot of changes during a thousand years through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes.
The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Saigon and then Hanoi the capital of all French Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Viet Nam; Saigon was the rival in South Viet Nam. Upon reunification in 1976, it assumed that title for the entire country.

A Vietnamese woman sells the handicrafts at the Old Quarter.
A Vietnamese woman sells the handicrafts at the Old Quarter.

The first institution of learning in Viet Nam, QuocTuGiam, was founded here in the 11th century. Nine hundred years later, the first western-style universities in Viet Nam were also founded in Hanoi. The city is one of the leading centres of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older charm of bygone eras, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflicts had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city centre area are higher than five stories.

Students look around the Presidential Palace Area.
Students look around the Presidential Palace Area.

The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. This section of the city has a 1,000-year-old history of commerce and, although much has changed, items are still sold according to category, with entire streets dedicated to single items. The streets are aptly named “Hang” translated to merchandise, followed by the product it sells. For travelers looking to experience a taste of Hanoi’s nightlife, the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with the Old Quarter houses countless bars.
Hanoi city is 1,285 mi² wide with more than 7 million populations and the second largest city of Viet Nam. It is largely without a scratch from the decades of war, and is now going through a building boom, making it a speedily developing city in Southeast Asia. There are many little temples, including street markets, selling household goods and street food.
Constantly ranked among the world’s famous cities, Hanoi’s surrounding regions attract more tourists. Its climate is tropical, with wet and hot weather much of the year. But due to the city’s latitude, temperatures drop drastically in the wintertime and the wind chill and dampness means winter weather can feel cold. During the summer months of mid May to mid September, the city turns into a sweltering sauna with little to no wind.
There are nine museums in Hanoi City: Vietnamese Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Army Museum, Air Force Museum, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi Museum. They are all closed on Mondays and Fridays like Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum is located in central Hanoi away from one km south of Hoan Kiem Lake. This often overlooked museum has recently benefited from an extensive renewal of its permanent exhibitions. The modernized interior is well laid out with information in Vietnamese, English and French, and contains a huge volume of information on the fearsome female heroines of Vietnamese history. There are also exhibitions on the rituals and traditions surrounding women in the family, as well as a fantastically presented collection of complicated hand-made ethnic costumes. Particular highlights are the regularly updated special exhibitions on a diverse range of subjects, from contemporary issues such as single mothers, street vendors to traditional medicine and Mother Goddess worship.
Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige in the Presidential Palace Area is the beautifully landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh’s houses, kept shiny and “as he left them” by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho’s “used cars” and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it’s not always open to visitors. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is one of the city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Leninesque fashion against his wishes, but that’s how it goes. An extensive collection of over 7,000 artifacts makes this museum worth a visit. There has the bronze Dong Son drums and 2,500-year-old coffin canoe. This relic complex has become vital memories connecting to President Ho Chi Minh’s 15 years of living and working from December 1954 to September 1969.
Visitors will see the presidential Palace, fishpond, pergola, orchard, cars, the hose of 1954 and especially the historic house-on-stilts of Ho Chi Minh which symbolizes his living way of simplicity, modesty, gentleness and dedication to the nation and the nationals. The whole site is full of wind, light and fragrant flowers from gardens around. Millions of home and foreign visitors have poured here to learn and to respect the virtue and thought of a national liberation hero – a great man of world culture. The museum is divided into four exhibition areas. The exhibits focus on ancient history. This being so, one should not miss a chance of visiting the Revolution Museum across the street afterwards to learn about recent events.
In the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Vietnamese and foreigners are prohibited no talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Water bottles are not allowed. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that small digital cameras can be taken into the mausoleum despite their use not being permitted inside. Note also that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.
The gleaming white museum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography is the perfect follow-up to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building was completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus.
Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh’s brain, and several other post-modern confections integrated with the main story of the man’s life and his country’s struggle. That museum is the one of the more informative museums in Viet Nam despite a high dose of personality cult and political propaganda.

To be continued


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