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We arrived in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, in the evening. Hanoi,with a population of 9.2 million, is the second largest city in Vietnam, only eqlipsed by Ho Chi Minh City with 9.6 million. Hanoi is characterized by its French Colonial architecture, it’s foodie culture and a history steeped in tradition. The city celebrated its millenium in 2010 and a mosaic wall designed by local artists, tells the stories of Hanoi and showcases the city’s folktales and legends.
Our hotel, the Pan Pacific Hotel, is one of the finest in Hanoi. It is a beautiful hotel and the service was exquisite. We stopped in the hotel restaurant for Beef Pho, the most famous noodle soup in Vietnam, before getting some rest.
The Ho Chi Minh Complex
Our guide picked us up early in the morning for a tour of the vibrant city of Hanoi. Our tour began with the Ho Chi Minh complex, the president of Vietnam from 1945 until he died in 1969. The complex contains the palace and other buildings that were designed and constructed by the French during their occupation of Vietnam from 1860 until 1945. The complex also contains the remains of Ho Chi Minh. The line to see his remains and pay respects on the day we visited was well over an hour wait. He was considered the father of the country, as his reign was immediately following World War I I and the liberation from the French. Ho Chi Minh was a very humble leader, as he did not live in the presidential palace, but instead, first, first in a simple house on stilts that reminded him of his travels to Thailand. The home did not even have a bathroom. Later in his life, he stayed in a one story concrete home outfitted with a bomb shelter to protect him from the bombing during the Vietnam War. We strolled through the grounds of the complex and visited the Presidential Palace, the homes of Ho Chi Ming and the One Pillar Pagoda.
The One Pillar Pagoda (a place for the people to pray and show dedication and respect to Buddha), was built by King Ly in 1049. The pagoda is shaped like a lotus flower because it represents the story of King Ly’s dream about the Buddha standing on a lotus flower handing him a child. King Ly and the Queen were not able to have a child prior to this dream. The Queen became pregnant that night and bore the King’s first heir later that year. King Ly ordered that the One Pillar Pagoda be built to honor Buddha and his dream, and he ordered One Pillar Pagodas be built throughout the country.
The Ethnology Museum
We then visited the Ethnology Museum, which gave us an interesting perspective of all of the ethnic backgrounds of the people of Vietnam. There are 54 different groups of people that make up Vietnam, each with different cultures and origins. The largest group is the Viet, which represents 86% of the population of Vietnam. The museum highlighted each ethnic group, providing examples of their dress and traditions, and provided us with a beautiful perspective of the people that inhabit Vietnam.
Lacquer Art
Our guide took us to an artists’ center, where we learned about the creation of Vietnamese lacquer paintings (made from lacquer from the Laka Tree and other products, such as vases and jewelry boxes). We watched a demonstration of artists (comprised of university students) creating the lacquer art with the lacquer, mother of pearl and egg shells. Some of the art is modern and others are of more traditional Vietnam scenery and traditions.
Next, we went to lunch KOTO (meaning know one, teach one), a lovely Vietnamese restaurant, whose staff is comprised of young adults that have been orphaned, to teach them the skills necessary for them to get a job. We had fresh spring rolls with minced pork, fresh rolls with noodles and herbs, stir fried duck with onion, basil, chili and peanuts and marinated fish with herbs streamed in a banana leaf. KOTO was one of the restaurants visited by President Bill Clinton in 1990. President Clinton was the first US President to visit Vietnam after the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.
The Temple of Literature
After lunch, we went to the Temple of Literature, built in 1017 by King Ly, the founder of the city of Hanoi. He built the temple dedicated to honor and worship Confucius. The Vietnamese incorporate the teaching of the Chinese Confucius. According to his teachings, there are three levels of people,with the King at the top, good people in the middle class and a lower class. Confucius taught that the people should continue to better themselves by working on improving and deepening their dedication to six areas of character including: humanity, civality, loyalty, knowledge, reliability and talent. The Vietnamese people also have embedded in their daily life Confusius’ teachings to respect the King, your parents and your teachers. Adult children and their families typically live in the same home as their parents and grandparents, so the respect for elders is passed on from generation to generation.
In 1076, King Ly dedicated the temple site as the first university in Vietnam. In the beginning, it was for the education of members of the royal family alone. In 1082, the King opened the university to the common people, to try to find the most talented individuals in the country to serve in the government. Candidates had to pass and move through three strenuous exams, first at their village level, then at the province level and finally, if the made it through the first two levels, they were invited to the capital city, where they spent anywhere from three to seven years learning about the Royal Government and the teachings of Confucius. After the learning period, the King gave an oral exam to the candidates, questioning them on their knowledge, and a written exam. The top one or two candidates with the best scores were retained to work for the King and Queen, the candidates with the next highest scores were sent to work in the provincial governments, and the candidates with the lowest scores were sent back to govern their villages. Students still come to this beautiful location for graduation pictures, and we were lucky enough to see groups of university graduates celebrating their graduation on the grounds.
Hanoi Hilton
Next we visited the Mason Centrale, a prison constructed in 1896 by the French to house Vietnamese political prisoners during the French occupation of Vietnam. The prison was later nicknamed, The Hanoi Hilton by American pilots who stayed there as POWS during the Vietnam War. The French built the prison in the middle of the city, so that any Vietnamese individual thinking about protesting or fighting against the French oppression, would know what would happen to them. The exhibit had numerous pictures representing the horrific treatment of the Vietnamese people held there, including several cruel and inhumane torture treatments. The prison closed in 1954, when the French left. The prison was not used again until the Vietnam war, when it was used to hold captured American pilots. Nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by the American POWs, its’ most famous prisoner was Senator John McCain, who stayed there for over five years, from 1967 to 1973. His plane crashed down in Truc Bich Lake, right in the city of Hanoi.
The Old Quarter
From there we made our way to the Old Quarter, a the oldest section of Hanoi, characterized by old french colonial architecture, narrow streets lined with shops, sidewalk vendors and restaurants. The Old Quarter offers insight into life in Hanoi, including the traffic and the noise of the motorcycles and cars zooming past you with no rhyme or reason. Crossing the street in Hanoi can be harrowing. Our guide’s advice: walk slowly, do not speed up, do not slow down, close your eyes and hope for the best! There is a joke in Hanoi. Green light means go, yellow light means go and, a red light means go…. We commissioned two rickshaws that drove us around the area. The rickshaw is a terrific way to observe Hanoi city life and to take some great photos.
The Water Puppet Show
We then headed over to the Thong Long Water Puppet Theatre, a North Vietnamese art form that dates back to the 11th century. Villagers created water puppet shows where the rice paddy fields were flooded. Standing in waist deep water, hidden behind a screen or curtain, they would manipulate the puppets attached to long rods, making it appear that the puppets were moving across the water on their own. The performance in Hanoi takes place in a theatre and the area where the stage usually exists is a sunken pool of water with a curtain that the puppeteers hide behind. The show is accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music from wooden bells, bamboo flutes, horns, cymbals and drums. There is also Vietnamese operatic singing to help tell the folktales and Vietnamese legends that the puppets are acting out. The show is an hour long and worth going to see. There are five shows per day, each seating the theatres’ capacity of 500, so it is a popular attraction.
Dinner was amazing. We walked from our hotel the short distance to a restaurant called Home, a stunning Vietnamese restaurant. The restaurant and it’s food fuses traditional Vietnamese with a creative and modern spin. We had a fabulous waiter that ordered the specialties of the house for us, including: a salad with banana blossoms, shredded chicken, carrots, cucumbers and peanuts in a sweet sauce; beef with a black pepper sauce and: fish, grilled at our table by our waiter, with dill, onions and a sweet chili sauce. Delicious!!!
Tomorrow, we will make the five hour journey by car to the mountainous region Sa Pa, located in the Northwestern part of Vietnam. Sa PA is located in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains. The area is renowned as a hiking destination and a place where you can observe the terraced rice paddy’s in the Mhong Hoa Valley amd visit with the vibrantly clothes hill tribes. Talk to you tomorrow! FK

By |2017-03-09T05:53:21+00:00March 7th, 2017|News, Uncategorized|0 Comments

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