[ Hanoi ] The Political, Religious & French Sides

Back in Hanoi, we have full day of city sightseeing activities ahead of us. From visiting museum, to historical political centres, to temples, & streets of the old quarter, we were able to see this old capital from different angles. We began our day early with a visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology) This museum, as the name implies, showcases the culture and traditions of 52 ethnic groups that live in Vietnam.

The puppets like those we saw at the Water Puppet show the night before. I thought these must be hallow plastic to be have to move so swiftly on water surface. But apparently there were really made out of food. & some of these puppets have very fine details.

The Water Puppetry in Vietnam is as old as a cenutry. It was said to originate from the Red River Triangle in Northern Vietnam in the 11th century. When the rice fields got flooded, the farmers would have these water puppetry as a form of entertainment. Basically the performer will hide behind a “curtain” in this pool filled with water to the waist of a standing person. Then the performer will move the puppet with a bamboo stick from behind the curtain. These puppets can do quite a lot of moves. They could even spill water or carry “fireworks” around.

Excerpts from the Water Puppet show we saw the night before. Other than the water puppets, there was also live music, singing, dance and drama. Just like a musical!

The displays in the museum – a house built like those in the farming villages.

The rchitecture of different ethnic groups.  The materials presented in the museum would be interesting for those interested in the culture and traditions of different ethnic groups. But not sure if this museum is underfunded. Because the second floor of the museum doesn’t have air-conditioning. so it was steaming hot up there.

It was busy day packed with walking around attractions in Hanoi. Where we went next was the plaza where Vietnam’s indepedence was declared on 1945. The grey building standing here is the Ho Chih Ming’s Mausoleum.The mausoleum is only open in the morning. All the people out there were in a queue to enter the memorial. It felt a bit like how there’d be massive queues outside of Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing. We weren’t that interested in mausoleum and the queue so we skipped that.  It was said that Ho Chih Ming originally wanted himself cremated after his death and his ashes placed in the northern, middle and southern part of Vietnam. But apparently that wish was not granted. His body was kept and now he rests here.

We crossed the independence square to reach the Presidential Office. This was built in 1900-1906 for the French Governor-General of Indochina. When the French were driven out and the party took over, Ho Chih Ming refused to live and work in there for what the building represents. This is still a place for the government to hold functions.

Behind the Presidential Palace were smaller buildings where Ho Chih Ming lived for a short time. The garage displays the cars used by Ho Chih Ming.

The yellow houses where Ho Chih Ming stayed for some time. It may look big but his living quarters were actually quite small in comparison to other countries’ presidential residences. It’s said to reflect the character of Ho. I wandered why many of the houses were painted in this kind of yellow. Looked around for answers and there was 2 possible reasons – one is the color of yellow was often associated with royalty and was definitely the case for nearby places such as China, India, etc. So these important buildings were painted in this color. The other plausible explanation is that these colours were actually used by the French when they build their own homes in France. They were simply making a reproduction of their own style of buildings here to “glorify” their country (those colonizers’ ego kind of thing).

Ho Chih Ming liked to feed the fish in this pond. Along the lake he later built the Silt House based on the design of traditional houses of aboriginals in the mountains of Northern Vietnam.  Not sure why there were so many people here on a weekend. The whole lakeside path was FILLED with people. Maybe it’s quite popular for the locals to go on a political-party-history-theme tour here (just like in China). Those “sticks” sticking out on the floor are the roots of the tree nearby.

To see Ho Chih Ming’s Stilt involved queuing up as well. It was too hot and too crowded so I didn’t go up to see the room. After seeing the pictures of the house later, I think it looks pretty cozy and comfortable. It’s also a small house (& without a modern toilet). Beside the house is a air-raid shelter. After all, the place was under quite frequent air-raids. Ho Chih Ming lived here between 1958-1969 until his death.

It was said that an Australian journalist recalled when he requested Ho to have a photo of himself at work in his office, Ho replied: But I don’t have an office. If it is fine, I work out in the garden; if it rains I work on the verandah and if it is cold, I work in my room.”

Ho sounds like a very down-to-earth person. Maybe that’s what it takes to win people’s heart in such a difficult time.

After a long walk around the park, we finally arrived at the Chua Mot Cot (One Pillar Pagoda). This was initially built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in the 11th century. According to the court records, the Emperor was childless until one day he dreamt that bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara came to to him in lotus blossom and handed him a son. Not long after he met and married a peasant girl and gave birth to a son. To express his gratitude, the Emperor built this temple. The original temple was destroyed by the French when they withdrew from Vietnam. So what we see now is a reconstruction. This is still a popular place for people to come to ask bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara for help to get a son.

In Hanoi, there’s also another temple with an even longer history – the  Chùa Trấn Quốc  (Chua Tran Pagoda).  Built in the 6th century, this temple sits right on the edge of the West Lake and is the oldest Buddhist temple here. 

It considered to be a temple for the royalty. The original building has gone and been reconstructed since the 6th century. There’s a Bodhi tree in the courtyard of this small temple. It was a gift from the president of India in 1959 and was supposedly taken from the original tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which the Buddha mediated and achieved enlightenment.

There are actually many temples in Hanoi – our next one was the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám). This was a Confucius temple originally built in the 11th century.

You have to pass through gates before reach the temple. The layout is said to be quite similar to a temple in Shandong,China,  a city where Confucius was born. The temple is dedicated to Confucius and his disciples.

These tomb-like stone slates was actually how they announced who passed the government’s exam. There were so many of these that it’s like a “forest”. You could see things like this in the old capital of China – Xi’an.

Chinese writing was used as the language of the elite in Vietnam before the French came in. Maybe because Chinese characters were not easy to pick up so it remained to be the privilege of the educated. But in terms of how things are pronounced, many words sound similar to those in Chinese . So many Vietnamese finds it pretty easy to pick up conversation in Chinese.

It was wayyyy tooo hot to be walking around a hot and humid mid-summer day in Hanoi. After we were done with the walk and exited the park we saw a building that was as narrow as the length of a double door!

The traffic in Haoi can be quite crazy. Cars, motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians going and coming and going from all kinds of directions. You’d not see traffic police and traffic light that much either. & Looking for a cross walk? hmmm.. maybe you’d have to draw your own? (just kidding). You’d basically just have to navigate your own way through this chaos.  Despite the seemingly chaotic scene, our guide mentioned that there’s actually not that much traffic accidents here. So maybe there’s some “order to this madness”.

Another famous attraction is the 36 streets in the old quarter. We got on an electric sightseeing car-ride to see some of these streets. The original quarter probably has a history of 2,000 years. In the 11th century, the emperor of the time decided to build his palace around this quarter then this “village” at that time started attracting craftsman and artisans to settle in. Then each area formed their own guilds.

Although it’s commonly called the 36 street quarter, there’s actually more than 70 streets here now. The photo above shows an European looking market square architecture.

It’s not uncommon to see influences of French, Chinese and local architecture elements in a frame here.

If you don’t look at the words or the people, you’d probably think this is somewhere in Paris. 若

We got off the car in the French Quarter of Hanoi. This is considered a relatively chic part in town where young people like to hang out. I just find that electric wires hanging out like that on the street (like almost everywhere in the old quarter of Hanoi) looks a bit hazardous….

St. Joseph Cathedral – a landmark in the French Quarter. This neo-gothic cathedral was built in 1887. The stained glass window and the design of the building and its interior  would just make you immediately feel as if you were in some cathedral in Europe.

We had about 40 minutes to explore the quarter but I didn’t want to carry my heavy backpack with camera around walking in tight spaces. So I sat in the cathedral before they had to clear the hall. Then I ventured to explore the buildings around it.

On our way out of the area, we also passed by many chic-looking places.

It’s not convenient for coaches to stop and pickup or drop off guests. We waited outside of this theatre for our coach to pick us up. It looks pretty grand in comparison to the place where we watched the water puppet show the night before.

A short “trailer”  including some of the videos I took on this trip:



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