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HANOI - VIETNAM

If you can only visit one city in Vietnam, it should be Hanoi. To visit Hanoi is to steep yourself in history, tradition, and legend in a capital that has been inhabited continuously for a millennium. Hanoi's present architecture is mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, and the stately French-built section of town is largely intact. Hanoi is cleaner, leafier, and quieter than other big cities in Vietnam — in a word, it's "cooler." There's cooler weather, more drizzle, less traffic, less hype; the streets seem quieter, with few large billboards. There's a cooler mentality here, too-prouder, more prudish. Hanoi is a magnet for intellectuals and artists, while Saigon seems to attract entrepreneurs and hustlers.

The crossroads of the traditional and the modern, Hanoi is where the old exotic Asian grace and the new dizzy Western pace intertwine. A pulsating political, historical and cultural hub, Hanoi buzzes with activity and flight. Catch hundreds of motorcycles whizzing past you in the narrow maze of streets while hawkers and peddlers ply their trade. Watch the rich and the affluent dine and dance their hearts out in the newest hotels and bars. Welcome to a city of amazing contrasts that is Hanoi.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It is one of the two entry points to the country. The first impression you will have, is that this is a chaotic city. But the longer you stay, the more you will appreciate Hanoi. To visit Hanoi, you will need around seven days. Most tourists do not stay for so long here. They stay a couple of days, visit the Old District, and go to Ha Long Bay or Sapa. If you can, stay longer and explore the city and its lakes.

Hanoi street life is fascinating. In the morning, you may see tai chi practitioners, martial arts exponents, badminton players, and joggers along Hoan Kiem Lake. Bicyclists wearing berets ride past with baguettes tucked into their baskets. Strolling through the old French sector, you can find a street occupied by outdoor barbers clipping their customers in front of mirrors hung off building walls. On Trang Tien Street there's a beautician at work: a woman with a flashlight mounted on her head, cleaning a customer's ears. At street corners in the Old Quarter, men with green pith helmets chat over steaming bowls of noodles. Farther along the street, women sell fresh-cut flowers from the backs of bicycles.

THE CITY RISES
Although the banks of the Red River have beer inhabited for thousands of years, Hanoi trace its founding to 1010-the year Emperor Le Tha 16 moved his capital from Hoa Lu to this site. H named the town Thang Long, or Soaring Drag on, after an auspicious dream about a dragon arising from the city.
Originally, Hanoi was laid out in a patter dictated by Chinese geomancy. At its cente was a walled royal city with a cosmic moon Lain; ceremonial rites and recreational function took place in this zone. The One Pillar Pagoda was constructed in 1049; the Temple of Literature, located to the south, was the first educational institution in Vietnam, established it 1070. East of the citadel and north of Float Kiem Lake was the artisan and commercial area now the Old Quarter. On the other side of the lake, east and south, was the quarter for visiting residents; later this became the French zone To the far south of the city lay a region of cemeteries, sickness, and death, where a leper colon and abattoir were relegated. In the 12th century palaces built by Ly dynasty emperors sprouted along the Red Rive and around West Lake; the city was protected from Red River flooding by construction of massive dike. Though flooding was contained the Vietnamese could not keep out the Mongols. In the late 13th century the Mongols sacked the city, and for the next hundred-odd years th city's fortunes fluctuated. In 1428 Vietnamese leader Le Loi ousted the Chinese from the are and renamed the city Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital), later corrupted by the French to "Tonkin.”

From the 16th century on, the city fell into period of decline, culminating in the shifting the imperial court to Hue. In 1805 Emperor Gia Long, ruling from Hue, ordered the ancient citadel of Thang long destroyed, replacing with a smaller citadel constructed in the style by French military architect Sebastien de Vauban. In 1831, Emperor Duc renamed the city Hanoi, or City on the Bend of the River. This strategic bend attracted the French, who were investigating the Red River as an alternate trade route to the Mekong for shipping goods from China. In 1873 Francis Garnier was sent to reconnoiter in the area. After negotiations with the Emperor failed, Garnier attacked and destroyed the Hanoi Citadel. Upon seeing what a small French force could accomplish, Tu Duc acceded to French demands. Many old structures in Hanoi were razed to make way for new French buildings. From 1882 on, Hanoi and Haiphong were the focal points of French exploitation of the north, and Hanoi was made capital of the new protectorate of Tonkin.

In 1902, after a merger of French protectorates and colonies, Hanoi was selected as the capital of the French Indochinese Union. It was a convenient base for exploring China routes and its climate mild in comparison to Saigon's. French colonial rule came to an end in 1954 after the departure of the French and President Ho Chi Minh set about expanding Hanoi's industrial base. The city's factories were targeted by U.S. bombers from 1966 to 1972 but lucky enough central Hanoi survived the U.S. attacks as portions of the city that were hit by B-52 bombing lay mainly to the south of Hanoi. The Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem District were not bombed, although adjacent Long Bien Bridge was a constant target. Between 1965 and 1973 up to three-quarters of a the inner-city population was evacuated to rural areas. Cessation of hostilities led to rapid migration back to the capital. Today Hanoi is one of three independent municipalities in Vietnam, covering an area of 2,139 square kilometers. The inner city is distributed in four districts and Greater Hanoi comprises 11 peripheral districts. The present population is estimated at 7.3 million.

HOAN KIEM LAKE & NGOC SON TEMPLE
Hoan Kiem Lake, or the Lake of the Restored Sword, is located directly in the centre of Hanoi. The name is derived from a legend involving Emperor Le Thai To, in which he came across a giant tortoise while cruising on the lake. The tortoise took his sword that had secured victory against the Chinese aggressors of the Minh Dynasty. The emperor named the lake after this episode.

Every morning, the surrounding park fills with locals who arrive to exercise and play badminton. By the way, there still are a few tortoises who call this area home. Hoan Kiem was already considered the most beautiful lake in Hanoi when Ngoc Son Temple was built on a small island during the 19th century. Saint Van Xuong, considered one of the brightest stars of Vietnam's literature and intellectual circles, was worshipped here. National hero Tran Hung Dao was also worshipped after he lad the Vietnamese people to victory over both Mongolian and Chinese invaders.

The temple as it is seen today is the result of renovations made by Nguyen Van Sieu in 1864. A great Hanoian writer, sieu had a large pen-shaped tower built at the entrance of the temple. On the upper section of the tower are three Chinese characters: ta thanh thien, which means that to write on the blue sky is to imply the height of a genuine and righteous person's determination and will.

Also at the entrance are: a dai nghien, or ink stand, carved from stone and resembling a peach, which is placed on the back of three frogs on top of the gate to the temple; and The Huc, or the place where the first rays of morning sunshine touch. On the way to the temple are several cau doi, parallel sentence boards, placed on the wall. cau doi were part of traditional word puzzles played by Hanoi's intellectual class.

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
Notre Dame Cathedral is situated in Paris Square, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. A French priest laid the first brick in October 1877 and the last one in April 1880. Arrangements made with France required the construction to be managed by a French engineer by the name of Baurad. The total cost was 2.5 million francs. With the approval of the Vatican, the cathedral was named Notre Dame during ceremonies held in December 1959. Its neo-Romanesque architecture and two 40m-high square towers tipped with iron spires dominate the city's sky line. In front of the cathedral is a statue of the Virgin Mary. Visitors who wish to attend mass should go Sunday at 9.30 am

TRAN QUOC PAGODA
The Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda currently standing in Hanoi. It was constructed in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De and was then named Khai Quoc, meaning "founding the country." At first it was built outside the Yen Phu Dyke and the move to West Lake

It has been named An Quoc, Tran Quoc and Tran Bac with an architecture harmonious with nature, the pagoda complements the beautiful scenery around the lake. The existing building originated from the last repair work done in 1815, including the triple gate, the main pagoda, the sitting room, the ancestral worshipping chamber the garden tower

ONE PILAR PAGODA
One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) was built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the annals, the hairless emperor dreamed that he had met Quan The Am Bo Tat (Goddess of Mercy), who, while seated on a lotus flower, handed him a male child.

This is what remains of an ancient and much more imposing pagoda. It was built in 1049 in the shape of a lotus flower. According to a legend, King Ly Thai To, who had no male offspring, once saw in a dream the Goddess of Compassion (Avalokitesvara) sitting on a lotus who handed a boy to him. The King later married a young peasant woman he had met by chance and a son was born to them. As a token of gratitude, he had the pagoda built and dedicated to the Goddess. It is a square pavilion (3x3m) on top of a cylindrical stone pillar (diameter: 1.25m).

QUAN THANH TEMPLE
Den Quan Thanh (Quan Thanh Temple) : The three ancient Chinese characters which are still seen today on the top of the entrance to the temple mean Tran Vu Quan.

Literally, the temple is dedicated to Saint Tran Vu. Temples are places for worshipping saints while pagodas are dedicated to Buddha and faithful disciplines.

Saint Tran Vu was a legendary figure which was a combination between a legendary character in Vietnam's legend and a mystic character derived from China's legend. In Vietnam's legend, he was a saint who had earned the merits of assisting Thuc Phan (future King An Duong Vuong) in getting rid of ghost spirit during te constructiom of Coloa Cidatel

An Duong Vuong Temple in CoLoa Citadel (Dong Anh district) is also named Thuong Temple. Inside it, there are An Duong Vuong's bronze statue (cast in 1897) and a big arbalest symbolizing the magic arbalest in the old days. In China's legend, Saint Tran Vu was a saint who had made many contributions in safeguarding the northern border.

Quan Thanh Temple was built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1010-1028). Special attention should be paid to the black bronze statue of Saint Tran Vu. Another object of no less significance is a smaller black bronze statue of Old Trong, a chief artisan of the bronze casting team who had made the giant statue of Saint Tran Vu and the great bell on top of the entrance.

WATER PUPPET SHOW
Puppetry is common throughout the world, but puppetry theatre of Vietnam on water is unique. The art of water puppetry appeared in the Ly dynasty (1010-1225). Vestiges of evidence have been found in several places such as the pavilion on water by the Long Tri lake in the Thay Pagoda, Ha Tay province

Water puppetry was developed in lake and pond-rich areas in the Red River Delta. The surface of water serves as the stage while spectators sit at the edge of water. The puppeteers both male and female stand waist-deep in the water to manipulate the puppets making them move about and even dance on the surface of the water. The water serves not only to hide the puppeteers and strings of the puppets but also to create a trembling stage full of reflection, while providing natural amplification for singing puppeteers accompanied by percussion music and fire crackers.

In the old days, puppeteers grouped together into guilds. Nowadays, they are brought together in the National Water Puppetry Theatre and various provincial and even private troupes. Every puppet is a piece of real folk sculpture. It is made of wood, painted with water-proof lacquer. The prominent character is buffoon Teu with a plump body and a humorous smile. When the curtain is raised, the merry, arch Teu enters onto the stage and introduces the play.

A considerable repertoire of traditional water puppet plays still get a big hand from the audience. They include the Teu Dance, Buffalo Fighting, Duck Tender Chasing Fox and Chess Playing.

FINE ART MUSEUM IN HANOI
Hanoi, the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam positioned in the delta of the Red River and encircle by various lakes. The word Hanoi means river interior and the city of Hanoi was established in 1010 A.D, Hanoi for many centuries served as the capital of various Vietnamese dynasties. Hanoi consisting of eight inner districts and five outer districts is the political, cultural, economic as well as the technological hub of Vietnam. The city of Hanoi still vividly bears the marks of French colonial architecture and cherishing life in this pictorial city presents a nostalgic reminder of the old world magic of the European villages. The rich legacy and colorful tradition of Vietnam and its capital, Hanoi is best reflected through the six national museums. Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi occupies a significant position among the six national museums as it traces the origin of artistic culture in Vietnam and presents a promising account of the development of Vietnam's artistic fervor.

Features of Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi
-  Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi is located just opposite the Temple of Literature and it exhibits approximately 10.000 art works in 16 showrooms segmented according to the following division and arranged chronologically.
- Ethnic minorities
- Primitive eras-Neolithic Age, Bronze Age, and Paleolithic Age
- Feudalism-11th to 18th centuries
- Ancient sculpture-outstanding works from the 11th to 19th centuries
- Technological fine arts
- Fine arts
- Fine arts before the August 1945 Revolution
- Resistance against French troops (1940- 1954)
- Folk painting
- Apart from displaying the wide range of stylish art collections, Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi exhibits several fine art pieces like ancient stone sculpture, pieces from the Bronze Age, antique pottery, ethnic minority painting and lacquer painting.
- The classical structure with an authentic oriental touch, which is famous as the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi was previously used as French Ministry of Information.
- Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi is situated at 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 to noon and 13:30 to 16:30.
- The admission cost of 20,000 Dong is worthwhile for the visiting this three-story museum, which opened in 1966.
- Taking photographs is strictly prohibited in the Fine Arts Museum in Hanoi.

(Source: LuxuryPrivateTravel.Com Inc)
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