10 Must See Attractions in Hanoi by Miranda Lopez
Vietnam as a country has for a long time been associated with war and civil strife. Over the recent years however, Vietnam has emerged on the international scene as the cultural and historical jewel it has always been. Hanoi, the capital city, is home to more than six million people and the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam. A busy and hectic city, there are a host of highlights, a few of them listed below.
1. Temple of Literature. Built around since the eleventh century, this tribute to Confucius is a reflection of the importance that was given to learning. There are a number of other temples around the country that have been dedicated to sages and scholars. Within the gardens of this complex is Vietnam’s first national university. Stroll around to see the five courtyards surrounded by beautiful gardens, halls and statues.
2. Grand Opera House This magnificent 900-seat venue is an architectural mimic of the Paris Opera. Built between 1901 and 1911, the colonial beauty is a reminder of French influence in Vietnam. A lot of restoration has gone into preserving the former glory of the Opera House and now performances are held at the venue on a regular basis.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is modeled on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow. The legendary leader’s final resting place is a landmark for the city of Hanoi. His embalmed body lies in the cooled central hall of the mausoleum, protected by military honor guard. The site also houses a museum for Ho Chi Minh. The staff at the mausoleum ensures that visitors follow strict dress and behaviour rules.
4. One Pillar Pagoda Another Hanoi landmark, the original Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda was built in the 11th century. The one you will be shown by your Hanoi travel guide is actually a replica. The original pagoda was destroyed in 1954 by the French Union forces as they withdrew after the first Indochina war. This beautiful and unusual pagoda is built in the centre of a pond and is made to look like a lotus emerging from water.
5. Hoan Kiem Lake In Hanoi, the City of Lakes, Hon Kiem is by far the most popular. It is the social and cultural focal point of the city and is extremely popular with visitors as well. Dotted with small but beautiful bridges, a number of pagodas can also be spotted here.
6. The Presidential Palace A very interesting story comes along with a visit to the Presidential Palace. Constructed in French colonial style, this overly luxurious building was built for the French Governor General of Indochina. When Ho Chi Minh took over Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam, he refused to stay at the palace for symbolic reasons, choosing instead the servants’ quarters on the same compound. Later, he built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house for himself on the grounds of the palace.
7. National Museum of Fine Arts This museum showcases Vietnam’s fine arts from every period of its history. It is the country’s primary art museum and contains an array of art, crafts, sculptures and artifacts.
8. Hanoi Hilton The Hoa Lo prison was originally set up by the French for holding political prisoners, and later by the North Vietnamese to house POW’s. When American POW’s used the facility, they sarcastically named it the Hanoi Hilton. Though the prison was demolished in the 1990’s, the gatehouse remains and is used as a museum.
9. West Lake is a freshwater lake in the centre of Hanoi. It is the largest lake of the capital and its shores are lined with pagodas, gardens, restaurants and hotels. This lake is extremely popular with locals and visitors. Once at West Lake, be sure to go across the Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi’s most historic pagoda. This pagoda goes back about 1500 years and is the foremost symbol of Buddhism in the country. Restored to its original beauty, no visit to Hanoi is completed without visiting Tran Quoc.
10. Water Puppet Theatre. Puppets used in water based setting are used to narrate old folk legends in this unconventional theatrical display. Though the narration is primarily in Vietnamese, one still enjoys the musical visual effect of the show.
A word of advice: Hanoi must be explored along with a Hanoi travel guide. Each of the places mentioned above has a story that goes along with its history, and those legends come alive when you hear them at the right place in the right ambience!