Two Guided Tours of Hanoi

Monday, 22-12-2014. Day 124.

Reunions, Memorials, Street Food.

After we had breakfast (have I mentioned how great it was?), we went down to the lobby to meet Jenji and her family, who came rolling up in a van. It was good to see old friends from Los Angeles, but we didn't have a lot of time to catch up—we had a tour of Hanoi waiting for us. Our first stop: Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum & Presidential Palace Historical Site

We got out of the tour van at Ba Dinh Square, the location of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies in state (just like fellow world leaders Lenin and Mao Zedong). Unfortunately for us, the mausoleum is closed on Mondays, so we didn't get to see Ho Chi Minh's preserved body.

Ho-Chi-Minhs-Mausoleum.jpg

But we did get to walk over to the Presidential Palace—which is not open to visitors, so we didn't get to go inside that either. Instead we admired it from a distance. It sure is yellow.

The color of prosperity.

The color of prosperity.

When the Vietnamese kicked the French out of the country in 1954, Party Chairman Ho Chi Minh was offered the stately Presidential Palace to live in. But he refused such a display of opulence, staying instead at a small, humble stilt house (built in the traditional Vietnamese style ... but with a nearby bomb shelter) next to a carp pond. I have to say, it would be a pretty nice place to wake up every morning—at least in the spring and summer.

Ho Chi Min's stilt house across the carp pond.

Ho Chi Min's stilt house across the carp pond.

The next picture isn't really that germane to the tour, but I enjoyed how many people were stopped on the bridge next to a sign that told people to keep moving and not stop on the bridge. Tourists.

Tourists stopping on the bridge in front of a sign that tells them not to stop on the bridge.

Tourists stopping on the bridge in front of a sign that tells them not to stop on the bridge.

After leaving the Presidential Palace Historical Site (which our guide referred to as the Ho Chi Minh Complex), we made a quick stop at the One Pillar Pagoda, an iconic Buddhist temple that was built to resemble a lotus flower. It was first built sometime in the 1050, only to be destroyed by the French some 900 years later. It was rebuilt, of course. When we stopped by, it was undergoing some renovation so we couldn't get a closer look (this was turning into a theme for the day).

One Pillar Pagoda.

One Pillar Pagoda.

Temple of Literature

Then it was back into the van and off to the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu), a sprawling Confucian temple in the middle of Hanoi that was built in 1070.

The entrance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.

The entrance to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.

I was frequently amused by our guide, as he was often quick to assign UNESCO World Heritage site status to many sites we were visiting that day, despite none of them actually being on the official list of Vietnamese UNESCO sites. But the situation with the Temple of Literature is a little muddled. By itself, it's not on the official list of World Heritage sites, nor is it on Vietnam's tentative site list. But I think it might be part of the Complex of Hué Monuments (despite being very far away from Hué). However, the Doctor's Stele that are housed here are part of UNESCO's Memory of the World, which isn't quite the same as a World Heritage site, despite what some sites report.

What does all that mean? Not a whole lot, really, other than we're not counting it as a visit to a World Heritage site.

Nice turtle.

Nice turtle.

In any case, the Doctor's Stele are pretty cool. They contain the names of more than 1,300 students who have passed the Royal Examinations over a 300-year period. Each stele sits on top of a turtle, a symbol of longevity and one of the four sacred animals in Vietnamese mythology (along with the phoenix, the unicorn, and, of course, the dragon). Everywhere you see a turtle in one of these temples, it'll have signs of its head having been rubbed.

Then we moved on to the National Museum of Vietnamese History, where we had to leave all of our belongings in lockers at the front of the museum, which was sort of weird. The museum itself was pretty dry and relatively forgettable and we spent too long in the place for my taste.

A cyclo looking for a rider.

A cyclo looking for a rider.

After we left the Museum, we were all placed on Vietnamese cyclos (reverse bicycle-powered rickshaws) and taken on a short trip through town back to Hoàn Kiếm Lake and the Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Temple of the Jade Mountain

The Temple of the Jade Mountain has temples to three different deities (four if you count the huge preserved giant turtle representing the turtle god). One of these deities is Guan Yu—although he's called something else in Vietnam and our guide didn't appreciate me having this knowledge for some reason—the red-faced Chinese god of war. Before he was deified, Guan Yu was a real man and is was best known as one of the main players in the Chinese historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

A peek inside Guan Yu's temple.

A peek inside Guan Yu's temple.

One of the most interesting parts of the temple was the furnace where huge throngs of people were lined up and tossing thick stacks of fake money into the roaring fire as offerings.

Burning offerings at the Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Burning offerings at the Temple of the Jade Mountain.

When we were done at the temple, our day tour was over and we parted ways with our guide and Jenji's family. We had booked a night street food tour from our hotel, and they had booked one from their hotel. So we said our goodbyes, and looked forward to comparing food tour notes in the morning.

Street Food Tour

We met Ha, our street food expert, in the lobby of our hotel. He took us on a walking tour to a lot of different places where we tried a lot of different foods. Look for a full post from Samantha soon, but something interesting happened while we ate dinner at one restaurant. A woman who was sitting next to us mentioned a café that served egg cream coffee, which is exactly what you think it is. We thought it sounded great, so Ha took us to Giang Café for our last stop of the night. It was delicious.

Egg cream coffee, a delight.

Egg cream coffee, a delight.

At the end of the night, Ha dropped us off back at our hotel, stuffed and happy.

Notable Statistics:

  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 0 (15 cumulative)
  • Cyclos ridden: 3
  • Temples visited: 3

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

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Two Guided Tours of Hanoi
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