A Travellerspoint blog


Happy in Hanoi.

A Few Days in Hanoi. 2000.


On our trip to the Perfume Pagoda.

This was our second visit to Vietnam. Having been to Ho Chi Minh City and enjoyed it, it was time to have a look at Hanoi. The two places were quite different. For a start it was cold in Hanoi during our Chinese New Year visit, whereas I think Ho Chi Minh is almost always hot. Hanoi was not quite as bustling as Ho Chi Minh ­that could have been because many things closed at Chinese New Year. Both places had crumbling colonial architecture, lots of sights and great day trips. Both places had great food.

Our stay in Hanoi:

During our stay we went to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake with its little temples, the Temple of Literature, the One Pillar Pagoda, the Tomb of Ho Chi Minh, a snake farm and a superb value ceramics village. We also did day trips to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu and the Perfume Pagoda.

One thing we did not do that everyone else does, is go and see the famous water puppets. Why not? Well, it was high up on my to do list, but our hotel did not sell tickets for it. They explained how and where to buy them on our own. No problem. We went to the ticket office, we queued up and waited. Over time the queue went down till we were the only people waiting. Slam! The woman banged the ticket office gate closed. I objected. She ignored me. We were shocked by how rude she was. None the less when it eventually re-­opened, we got in the queue again. Same woman. There were two prices of ticket. Both very cheap. When it was my turn, she automatically started to sell me the more expensive ones. Out of sheer bloody mindedness, because I was still angry about her earlier behaviour, I asked for the others. No, I could not have them and she began serving the person behind me. Why couldn't I have them? No answer. OK, I'll have the more expensive ones. No, I no longer existed and could not have anything. Fine! We gave up and left. Back in Hong Kong every single person we met asked where did you go for Chinese New Year? Oh, Hanoi. Lovely. Did you see the water puppets? Weren't they great? That was the highlight for us. By the time the tenth person asked me I had something akin to an explosion. "No, we did not see the f****** water puppets. What about it?" Nineteen years have past but the words water puppets still make me mad!!!!!!!!

Shop selling water puppets.

Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the centre of Hanoi. The lake's name means Lake of the Returned Sword. Legend states that warrior Le Loi was presented with a sword by a magic turtle on the lake's edge. Le Loi used this sword to fight the Chinese and drive them out of Vietnam. After his great victory, he was made emperor of Vietnam. One day when he was sailing on the lake, his sword fell into the waters. No matter how hard he looked, he could not find it. It had been returned to the magic turtles of the lake. There are two temples on the lake: Tortoise Pagoda (Thap Rua) at the south end of the lake and Ngoc Son Temple at the north end. Ngoc Son Temple, which dates from the 14th century, can be reached by crossing the Huc (Morning Sunlight) Bridge, a pretty red wooden bridge.

Launching a boat. Hoan Kiem Lake .

Launching a boat. Hoan Kiem Lake.

Vendors beside the lake.

Vendors beside the lake.

Vendors beside the lake.

We decided to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square to see the enbalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the modern united Vietnamese State. Ho Chi Minh actually wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the north, centre and south of the country as a symbol of Vietnam's reunification. However, upon his death in 1969, Ho Chi Minh's body was enbalmed and work began on a suitable mausoleum. In 1975 when the huge stone mausoleum was finally complete, Ho Chi Minh's body was placed to rest inside. Directions: Ba Dinh District

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

Guards at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

We also visited the Army Museum. This was interesting and not as disturbing as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh. The most memorable part were the wrecked tanks and military vehicles placed outside. A huge heap of wreckage contained the remains of a shot down American B­52 bomber, a US F111 Aardvark bomber and a French transport plane.

Shot down aircraft.

Hubbie outside the museum.

We had a look at the Metropole Hotel. We did not stay here. We visited because it was famous and ended up having lunch here. The Grand Hotel Metropole Hanoi first opened in August 1901. The hotel was a joint venture between French businessmen André Ducamp and Gustave ­Émile Dumoutier. Ducamp became its first general manager. The hotel became increasingly popular during the rubber boom. The Metropole Hotel was the first place in Indo­China ever to show movies. Famous people who have stayed at the Metroplole include actor Charlie Chaplin and his wife Paulette Goddard, plus authors Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. During the Vietnam war Jane Fonda spent several weeks at the hotel. She was seeking refuge from the bombing at the hotel's underground bunker. Joan Baez cheered the spirits of the American troops by singing in the hotel's bunker during US air raids. We did not see this bunker but apparently it has recently been restored and is now a tourist attraction.

The Metropole Hotel.

The Metropole Hotel.

There are some lovely temples in Hanoi. Here are pictures of some we visited. This temple was close to our hotel and we visited it several times. I do not know the name of the temple. It was always busy and it was always filled with clouds of smoking incense.

Temple in Hanoi.

Visit a temple.

Visit a temple.

When you are trying to cross the road in Vietnam, walk at a steady pace in a predictable manner and traffic will go round you. Don't lose your nerve or do anything unexpected or you may well get hit by something.

Take care crossing the road.

Our trip to Hanoi came with a choice of half day tour. I choose the trip to the ceramics village and snake farm because the other options were things we could easily do by ourselves. Our very sweet guide tried to dissuade us saying we would not enjoy the tour, but I would not budge on the issue. Now the snake farm was awful consisting of an unpleasant man with a deformed finger, due to a snake bite, thrusting snakes and bottles of liquor containing snakes in our face. Our guide was quite scared of him. So were we. However, the ceramics village was great ­so much choice and incredibly cheap. I bought a tea pot, bowl and octagonal jar. We also visited a temple on this trip.

Temple on trip.

Temple on trip.

Hubbie and guide.

From Hanoi we took a day trip to Tam Coc near the city of Ninh Binh. Tam Coc is like an inland Ha Long Bay (and also reminiscent of Guilin, China) with spectacular river and mountain scenery. The tour bus took us to the village of Van Lam, then we boarded a small boat which took us along the Ngo Dong River. We passed rice fields and spectacular mountain scenery. We floated through three natural caves. Our boat was rowed by two strong local women. On the way back to Van Lam, they began to try and sell us some embroidered goods. We bought a couple of pieces.

Tending the fields, Tam Coc.

Tending the fields, Tam Coc.

Working the fields.

Leaving Van Lam.

On the same trip that took us to Tam Coc we also visited the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu is near the town of Ninh Binh. Hoa Lu was once the site of the ancient capital of an old Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet. This small Kingdom was only 300 hectares in size. This kingdom existed from the 10th century, during the Dinh and Le dynasties, to the 11th century, during the Ly Dynasty. There are not many remains, but the mountain scenery and agricultural land are beautiful.

Hoa Lu.

Hoa Lu.

Hoa Lu.

Hoa Lu.

We visited this stone mason's yard on this tour. There were lots of interesting bits and pieces lying around and as well as being a good place to take lots of photos, it was just really quite interesting to wander around here for a while.

Stone Mason's.

Stone Mason's.

A second day trip that we carried out involved a visit to the Perfume Pagoda. This pagoda is situated in the mountains about 60KM southwest of Hanoi. The Perfume Pagoda, Chua Huong, is called the perfume pagoda because of the fragrance of the blossoms that surround it in spring time.

To get to the Perfume Pagoda first you must travel by bus then journey by rowing boat up a river valley surrounded by hills. We loved looking at the boats passing us and were delighted when several carrying dragon dance costumes to celebrate Chinese New Year came towards us. When you get off the boat you must climb a steep path up the mountain to the pagoda. Our guide gave us a set time and we thought we had stuck to it, but took the wrong path on the way down and ended up lost. So lost, we expected our tour to leave without us. When we eventually made it back to the boats, our guide was looking for us. We were embarrassed at having held everyone up. Then we discovered that half the remaining tour passengers were also lost. Our poor guide was off up and down the mountain looking for them, too. Close to an hour past the time we had all been told to come back, we all re-found the transport. It was quite funny. The pagoda has several shrines and parts occupy a dark cave. I got a little carried away with the photos again!!!! But how can you blame me? Everything was very picturesque and the endless traffic up and down the river was fascinating to watch. I really enjoyed visiting this area and would heartily recommend a trip here.

Setting off point.


More Boats.

More boats.


More dragons.

Yet more dragons.

At the foot of the mountain.

While on the Perfume Pagoda trip we were also taken to the beautiful Thien Tru (Heaven Kitchen) Pagoda.

Heaven Kitchen Pagoda.

Heaven Kitchen Pagoda.

Heaven Kitchen Pagoda.

Heaven Kitchen Pagoda.

Heaven Kitchen Pagoda.

Posted by irenevt 06:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi. Comments (2)

Southern Land. Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam. 1999.

Elegant School Girl.

I wrote this page for Virtual Tourist several years after our visit to Ho Chi Minh, so it was written from long-term memory not as a fresh experience.

Our trip to Ho Chi Minh was a short Cathay Pacific Holiday package. We spent only about two days in Ho Chi Minh City itself and also took two fantastic day trips. One was to the Mekong Delta; the other was to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We booked both at the wonderful Cafe Sinh and could not believe what amazing value they were.

Typical Street Scene, Ho Chi Minh.

Within Ho Chi Minh we visited the war museum, the history museum, the zoo, the Hotel Rex and several temples. We ate delicious food and drank delicious beer. My own personal favourite thing was just wandering the streets which were teeming with life. People moved tables and chairs onto the street and ate their meals by the roadside. There was activity everywhere. The roads were an insane jumble of bikes, motorcycles and a few cars. Crossing the road was a battle of nerves. The secret was to keep going at a steady pace in a predictable manner. That way the traffic just went around you. Losing your nerve, changing your speed or suddenly trying to go back would result in accident or death. I also remember the elegant young school girls cycling in their wonderful white dresses known as ­ao dai.

My husband in the History Museum.

Temple in Ho Chi Minh.

Our Cathay Pacific Holiday Package included a free day tour. We started off by visiting the Museum of History. The Museum of History is housed inside a beautiful yellow building built by the French in 1927. The actual museum first opened in 1979. Among other things the museum displays items from Vietnam's ethnic minorities.

History Museum.

We also visited the very interesting but very depressing War Remnants Museum. The Vietnam War is famous and we were interested in learning more about it. This museum is very interesting, but also very sad with many horrific photos of the victims of the war. The museum mainly focuses on the war with the Americans with a few things related to the war against the French. The museum has 8 rooms. Outside in a courtyard there are tanks and helicopters and other remnants from the war. A word of warning some of the photos in the museum especially of victims of agent orange and napalm are very distressing.

War Museum.

War Museum.

The War Museum.

Our day tour also went to the zoo. The animals here lived in very cramped conditions. It was not a nice place. I will not include any photos.

In our own time we also visited the Hotel Rex though we did not stay here, we just had a look around, because it is famous. The Rex Hotel was initially built as a French garage in the early twentieth century. Then in 1959 the Rex Hotel was expanded into a 6 storey trading centre. During the Vietnam War the American Information Service was located at the hotel and the hotel became popular with U.S. officers. It was also the venue for daily press briefings to foreign correspondents ­ these were nicknamed the 5 o'clock follies. In 1973, the building was renamed the Rex Trading Center. It housed three cinemas, a cafeteria and a dance ­hall. Since 1975 the property was upgraded into an international hotel. The Rex Hotel was one of the first state­ owned five­ star hotels in Vietnam built and run by the Vietnamese. Address: 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The Hotel Rex.

We did two day trips from Ho Chi Minh. One went to Tay Ninh and the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Tay Ninh is the home of Caodaism. Caodaism is a monotheistic religion, officially established in the city of Tay Ninh, Southern Vietnam in 1926. The religion's followers engage in practices such as prayer, worship of ancestors, non-violence, and vegetarianism and the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death. There are around 2 to 3 million followers of this religion. We visited the Caodaist temple in Tay Ninh. Adherents to the religion dress in bright colours either white, yellow, red or blue. We observed their religious ceremony from a balcony in the temple.



Our day trip to the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh also included a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Viet Cong fought against the Americans in the Vietnam War. To fight against their enemy they created a series of hidden underground tunnels from which they could launch sudden, surprise attacks. Life in the narrow, extremely claustrophobic tunnels was very unpleasant. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, scorpions, spiders and rats. Most of the time, guerrillas would be in the tunnels by day working or resting and then come out only at night to search for supplies or engage the enemy in battle. During times of heavy fighting the Viet Cong could be underground for long periods. Malaria was rife in the tunnels. The tunnels are so narrow that they have now been widened for tourists. Despite my claustrophobia I went into the tunnels. Big mistake. My God I was relieved to get back out. Several horrific traps laid out by the Viet Cong to kill or capture American GIs are also on display. I found this area quite fascinating in a macabre sort of way.

Cu Chi Tunnels.

Cu Chi Tunnels.

Also on our trip to Tay Ninh and Cu Chi we also visited a lovely Buddhist temple in Chau Doc. Chau Doc is best known for a massacre. On July 11th 1957 anti­-Diem insurgents stormed a bar in Chau Doc and killed 17 people who were drinking inside.The victims were tied up and then machine gunned. The crime was apparently carried out by communists opposed to the Diem government.



The best part, in my opinion, of our entire stay was our day trip to the Mekong Delta. We started by driving to My Tho. My Tho is a town which was founded in the 1680s by Chinese refugees fleeing Taiwan when the general of the Qing Dynasty, Shi Lang, defeated the remnants of the Southern Ming Dynasty in 1683. This town had a market which was a photographer's dream. It rests on the My Tho River.

My Tho Market.

My Tho Market.

My Tho Market.

My Tho Market.

The River at My Tho.

My Tho Market.

My Tho Market.

After visting My Tho we boarded a boat and set out to explore the Mekong Delta. It was Hogmanay; we had lunch in a little restaurant on an island and the local children played us Auld Lang Syne on their traditional musical instruments. As a Scot, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with homesickness; something I thought I would never again feel. We later visited an island specialising in honey products, then one specialising in coconut products. Finally, we drove back to HCMC past motorcycles laden down with families and chickens and flooded paddy fields filled with ducks and water lilies.

Mekong Delta.

Mekong Delta.

In Ho Chi Minh itself we had an enjoyable meal in the Lemongrass Restaurant. I remember an attractive building, enjoyable food and picturesque musicians playing almost unobserved in the background. I looked this place up on Tripadvisor hoping to find a photo like mine to confirm I am writing about the right place. I found mixed reviews from fantastic to tourist trap. I do not specifically remember my meal here but I have extremely positive memories about all the food I had in Vietnam - I love garlic and lemongrass. Address: 4 Nguyen Thiep.

Restaurant Musicians.

Posted by irenevt 05:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged chi ho minh Comments (2)

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