So we’ve now travelled almost the length of Vietnam reaching Hanoi in the north. Day 6 started with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s very impressive and well guarded mausoleum. No cameras allowed, so my photos are of the grounds, the museum and his very modest house on stilts, taken with my iPhone. Most Vietnamese strive to see the mausoleum at least once in their lifetime to pay their respects to this humble man whose leadership led to the country’s eventual reunification and independence. The day we visited had particular significance on the lunar and was particularly busy.
Close by was the One Pillar Pagoda, founded by King Ly Thai To in 1049 and designed to represent a lotus blossom; now an important symbol for the people of Hanoi.
We also visited the ancient Taoist Quan Thanh temple and the Buddhist Tran Quoc Pagoda, one of the oldest in Vietnam.
After lunch we had a somewhat strange interlude where we spent an hour or so in a ‘pottery village’. A large seven-storey building showcased the various stages of pottery making and decoration while the street was lined with pottery-shopping opportunities! I suppose it was quite interesting but we took a photo break!
Another ‘shopping opportunity’ was the massive sheltered workshop (of which we saw several during the tour) which displayed for sale a huge variety of goods made by people with a disability as a result of the war. We were told some 3,000,000 such people still work in these facilities. Much of their work was very beautiful and I particularly liked the intricate embroideries, but this was a horrible reminder of the consequences of war. I wish I had taken a couple of pictures of their stunning art work.
This was such a full day – we also spent ages exploring the impressive Temple of Literature, Quoc Tu Giam. Beautifully set inside the perfectly manicured gardens is Vietnam’s first university, opened in 1076 to educate Vietnam’s elite and bureaucrats. The university remained open until 1779 when it was replaced by a new Imperial Academy in Hue. It was then used as a school for the district.
Our day should have finished with a visit to Ngoc Son temple on Hoan Kiem Lake but time was running out and we still needed to squeeze in the promised cyclo tour around the lake and back to our hotel. This turned out to be much more relaxing and interesting than we anticipated given the frenzied rush hour traffic. Our drivers were experts at weaving in and out of the traffic, even around a huge roundabout, and we were able to take in the scene. My favourite part was the ‘tin alleys’ in the Old Quarter where streets seemed to be organised into old craft areas. Here shop after shop displayed a vast array of every imaginable metal implement.
After our official tour we spent an extra couple of days exploring Hanoi by ourselves, but first a boat in Halong Bay starting the next morning.