Arriving in the capital of Vietnam, Inna and I had no idea what to expect. So far, with the exception of our visa payment and a crappy hotel in Dong Hoi, our Vietnam experiences had been universally positive, but we had heard that Hanoi citizens didn’t like Americans too much. One of our friends even said she got spit at when she visited.
Thankfully, Inna and I encountered none of that. For us, Hanoi was another big and friendly city, filled with museums and culture and history. It was harder to find clean restaurants and was a little less personable, but other than those issues we have no complaints about our stay here; we had a great time.
Just like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi wasn’t big on skyscrapers but did have several grand colonial and post-colonial era buildings. Also, if you haven’t noticed, Vietnam really loves yellow.
Despite their love of yellow, Hanoi’s grandest building is black and grey. This building is Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the final resting place of the man who both defeated the French and brought communism to Vietnam.
Accompanying Ho Chi Minh’s tomb was the Ho Chi Minh museum, although it was closed the day we visited. Probably for the better though, given this country’s love of propaganda and our disdain for communism.
Here are some sites around Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. Most strikingly, there were lots of soldiers here; we saw more here than in the rest of the country combined. The soldiers here were also much younger than in the rest of the country.
Somehow, we completely missed the Presidential Palace (unofficially known as the Yellow House), located right next to Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. This is very frustrating because one of the things I’d like to do in my travels is visit every colored house (USA’s White House, South Korea’s Blue House, Trinidad and Tobago’s Red House, Argentina’s Pink House, and so on) in the world.
This is the Hoa Lo Prison, more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton. This prison was first used by the French, who filled it with Vietnamese nationalists, and then by the Viet Cong, who filled it with American prisoners of war. Touring this prison was fascinating, mostly because the propaganda here was through the roof. We’ll get into this in more detail in our Vietnam War post.
Vietnam’s National History museum was another fascinating place, this one surprisingly non-propagandistic. One of the museum’s most interesting aspects was simply what it chose to cover; while the museum goes back thousands of years, 90+% of it is dedicated to the Vietnam War, and nothing is dedicated to post-war Vietnam.
Again, if you would like to read more about this museum, head to our Vietnam War post.
Neighboring Vietnam’s National History Museum is Hanoi’s greatest landmark, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. This citadel, built in 1010, served as Vietnam’s capital for 800 years, until the capital was moved to Hue. Unfortunately, the French destroyed much of this citadel when they conquered Vietnam, but the remains are now protected as a World Heritage Site.
Being a World Heritage Site isn’t just a designation, it also means protection and funds for study and renovation. Here we see the renovation in action, with excavations uncovering buried paths and building foundations more than a thousand years old.
After destroying the Citadel’s original buildings, the French built their own in the newly opened space. These were actually quite beautiful, but their relative newness and French (not Vietnamese) architecture made them out of place.
The Citadel also had art on display, all done by locals to celebrate the New Year. As I mentioned before, Vietnam is a very artistic country, and the works featured here were quite good.
In addition to artwork, the Citadel also had exhibits related to Vietnam’s history. Like this one, featuring wardrobe their royalty used to wear.
Finally, the Citadel also contains these random buildings. On the left is the bunker that served as the main headquarters for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. You can actually go into this bunker and look at old war relics, things like communication equipment, maps, and other documents. On the right is an actual original Vietnamese building, this one used to house the emperor’s mistresses. Of all the buildings to remain standing…
The Imperial Citadel may be the grandest site in Hanoi, but the city has others worth visiting as well. I’ve already mentioned a couple in this post, but here is another: the Temple of Literature.
Unlike every temple we’ve visited on our year of travel (minus a couple in India and Bali), this temple was not Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Muslim, or Jewish. What is left you ask? Confucianism! This was actually the first Confucianism anything I’d ever visited.
In addition to being a Temple of Confucius, the Temple of Literature also houses the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. This university opened here in 1076, although its roots in China go back to the year 3. Above are several of the university’s old textbooks and also a tablet with the names of school graduates; there are 81 tablets in total, naming all the school’s graduates for 300+ years.
Hanoi’s other most famous temple, the Confucianism/Taoism Ngoc Son Temple (also known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain), is actually located on an island in a lake in the middle of the city. Unfortunately, because of the temple’s location we didn’t get any pictures of it, but we did get this picture from it, looking out on the lake.
Like many Vietnamese cities, Hanoi wasn’t the prettiest place, but it was gorgeous at night.
Also like every Vietnamese city, Hanoi had an amazing night market.
An AMAZING night market.
You know, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Hanoi’s night market was the best.
At this point, we’re pretty close to the end of this post, and now that I’ve written it, I see that it is all over the place. I’m not sure how to fix this, as that’s kind of how Hanoi was: history, religion, propaganda, museums, shopping, spirituality, food, lakes, and no through-line between them. So instead of forcing it I’ll just embrace the randomness, and end this post with several random Hanoi pics.
Here is Vietnam’s version of the Manhattan‘s stock market bull. Definitely wasn’t expecting to find one of these in this country, since it is a socialist republic.
Here is a work of public art. The art was go great in this country, we loved it.
These statues are of Vietnam’s first emperor (left) and a Vietcong soldier holding what appears to be a giant American style electrical cord (right).
Where is that tree on right going? What the heck?
Finally, here is Inna (yes I saved the best for last), dressed in authentic Vietnamese garb. She looks so natural; you think she may secretly be Vietnamese?
Alright! Pictures posted, randomness done, now lets get to the next post! Up next is the final stop in Vietnam, one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots in the world.