Places to visit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Bach Ma Temple - Hanoi.

Originally founded in the 9th century and re-built several times over the years, Bach Ma Temple (white horse temple) is the oldest religious building in Hanoi Old Quarter - a temple has existed here since the 7th century. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To - who was having problems stabilising the city ramparts saw a white horse running from the temple and round the area where the ramparts were being constructed. The white horse then returned to the temple and the King built the ramparts where the white horse had travelled. Thereafter the ramparts were sound - the King dedicated Bach Ma Temple to the Guardian Spirit or White Horse. Located on busy Hang Buom Street it can be hard to spot but worth the effort.
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Entrance to Bach Ma Temple in Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam.  Bach Ma Temple inside view - Hanoi. Shrine at Bach Ma Temple in Vietnam. The White Horse at  Bach Ma Temple, Hano.

Cot Co Tower at The Citadel in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi.

Constructed at the start of the Ly Dynasty (1009 - 1225), the Citadel is situated next to the Military History Museum (which contains lots of old sometimes rusting items such as tanks, planes and so on). You can get a reasonable view of the 34 metre Cot Co (Flag Tower of Hanoi) from out in the street. It is sometimes possible to climb some of the way up the tower although you have to pay to go into the Military History Museum to do this of course. Most of the Citadel was in fact demolished by the French invaders in the 1890s and the Cot Co Tower only survived this destruction as it was convenient for use by their military as a lookout post.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi.

Inaugurated in 1975 Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a huge grey granite structure and the last resting place of Ho Chi Minh who was the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Mausoleum completely dominates Hanoi's broad Ba Dinh Square.
Entrance times and days need checking as they vary - seemingly the Mausoleum is open early morning and not necessarily each day. You need to be properly dressed to go in it (this means visitors cannot wear mini-skirts or shorts), behaviour must be quiet and respectful and no bags or cameras/photography are allowed - however entrance is free.

The Presidential Palace and Botanical Gardens at Hanoi.

Located close to the Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace was completed in 1906 for use by the Governor General of Indo-China - the building itself is currently closed to the public. However for a small fee visitors can go into the surrounding Botanical Gardens which has two carp lakes and the Ho Chi Minh Stilt House (apparently Ho Chi Minh would not live in the Presidential Palace for symbolic reasons). It is a very pleasant area with quite a few water features and lots of shrubs, trees and plants. The surrounds however seemed quite lacking in anywhere to sit apart from near the exit where there were some drinks facilities and a few bench seats.
The Presidential Palace, Hanoi, Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh Stilt House at the Botanical Gardens in Hanoi. The lake at The Botanical Gardens in Hanoi. Carp Ponds at the Botanical Gardens in Hanoi.
Just to the South of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum in Hanoi is the

Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda

which was originally built in 1049 Emperor Ly Thai Tongbut - the most recent version was erected in the mid 1950s. It's a tiny wooden sanctuary dedicated to Quan Am, only 3 square metres in size and is supported by a single stone column rising from an artificial lake (it's meant to resemble a lotus blossom which is the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment and purity). The One Pillar Pagoda is extremely venerated by Buddhists and perhaps second in importance only to the Perfume Pagoda but there is a not a lot to actually see.
The Stupa at Tran Quoc Pagoda - Hanoi, Vietnam. The Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi.

Ho Tay Lake, Truc Bach Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi.

North of the Mausoleum are two lakes - the largest of the two is Ho Tay Lake (west lake) and the other is Truc Bach (white silk lake) - the two are separated by a causeway. This is a popular area for people to wander around, there are street sellers around selling fruit and so on, lots of cafes and plenty of seating. Around halfway across the causeway is the city's oldest Pagoda - Tran Quoc Pagoda - this Pagoda is extremely busy with both locals and with tourists. The Pagoda was built by Emperor Ly Nam De in the 6th century and was originally on the banks of the Red River. It is a single story Pagoda built around lots of brick stupas and is also probably Vietnam's oldest Pagoda.
Giant statue at Tran Quoc Pagoda, Vietnam. The colourful inside of the Tran Quoc Pagoda, Vietnam.  Tran Quoc Pagoda statues - Hanoi. Hanoi's colourful Tran Quoc Pagoda.

View inside Quan Thanh Temple at Hanoi, Vietnam. Quan Thanh Temple Elephant, Vietnam. Tran Vo sitting on the altar at Quan Thanh Temple in Hanoi.

Quan Thanh Temple in Hanoi.

Another temple close to the Lakes (just south of the Causeway) is Quan Thanh Temple which was built in the 11th century under the instructions of King Ly Thai To and dedicated to Tran Vo (The Guardian of the North). The black bronze statue (see photo) cast in 1677 shows Tran Vo seated on the main altar. The area is always busy and there is few Dong entrance fee for entry into the Temple.
Temple of Literature Main Gate, Hanoi, Vietnam. The Great Drum at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi.

The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) in Hanoi.

This is open daily and there is a small entrance fee. The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 during the Ly Dynasty and founded in honour of Confucius. Van Mieu Temple is the oldest and perhaps the finest complex in Hanoi. Originally the temples was the centre of higher learning and for educating future mandarins for over 700 years. Built to replicate the temple at Qufu in China it contains five courtyards - the first two have lawns and walkways each of which is separated by walls containing ornamental gateways and central paths divide the two halves. You then pass through the Khue Van Cac to the third courtyard - the gate was built in 1805 and it's upper story features four radiating suns pointing to the cardinal points.
A Temple of Literature statue - Hanoi. Fourth Courtyard at the Temple of Literature, Vietnam. The Great Bell at the Temple of Literature - Ha Noi, Vietnam. Kue Van Cac, Temple of Literature, Hanoi.
Within the third courtyard is the Thien Quang Tinh (the well of heavenly clarity) and on either side of it are covered galleries which house 82 stone stelae (or stele) - these are some of the Temple's most prized relics.
Temple of Literature vases and figures, Hanoi, Vietnam. Sacred Stele at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam. Thien Quang Tinh pond - Hanoi, Vietnam. They are stone pillars situated on tortoise pedestals and show personal details and names of scholars who passed Van Mieu's examinations during the 15th to 18th centuries. The music room and the Temple of Confucius are located in the fourth courtyard. The bell tower and great drum are situated either side of the fifth courtyard which also contains the former Quoc Tu Giam which is the National Academy - which now has a display of historical books and learning tools plus images of three Ly Dynasty Emperors.

Side view of Hanoi's St Josephs Cathedral, Vietnam. Sombre looking St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi.

St Joseph's Cathedral (Nha Tho Lon), Hanoi.

Vietnam was once occupied by the French and as you travel around the country it is noticeable that most towns have a church or cathedral. St. Joseph's Catholic Cathedral in Hanoi is a huge grey building which was built in 1886 in the neo-gothic style. The main entrance is usually closed unless services are being held (when the Cathedral is jammed solid) so it's necessary to go round and use the side entrance to get inside the cathedral.

Long Bien Bridge walkway in Hanoi, Vietnam. The quiet (at the moment) Red River, Hanoi seen from the bridge Huge bridge of Long Bien in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Walking across Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Constructed in 1902 this superb iron lattice railway bridge crosses Hanoi's Red River. Long Bien Bridge has a 1700 metre span and is badly in need of painting - the last makeover apparently took around 5 years the last time it was done in the '60s. There are walkways on either side of the single railway line - these walkways are strictly for motorbikes, cycles and pedestrians. Once across the Red River there is a small park down on the left where you can get drinks and where there is plenty of bench seating available (and toilets). Walking across the bridge takes around 35 minutes each way and it can be quite hot thirsty walking so remember to take a bottle of water if you do the trip. If you are really lucky one of Vietnam's long slow trains might rumble across the bridge beside you whilst you are crossing!
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