Wandering the streets of Hanoi one morning we came across this recently (2011) renovated communal house which houses exhibitions of local handicraft and traditionnal music evenings to bring in a bit of money to help the deprived and further renovate the temple part of this old building. For 200 years the house was used as a silver mint and a centre for jewellery exchange but gradually fell into decay. The city of Toulouse in France has given a big helping hand.
The musical evenings are held twice a week on Sundays,Wednesdays and Fridays, which we watched and then tried our hand at using the traditionnal instruments. Must say that a 6-string guitar is a lot easier than their 3-string lute.
Reservations are not necessary and normally cost 10USD but that can be negociated down to 5$ if you feel like it, nobody will grumble. Ooh and there's free tea and biscuits as well.
You'll find it at 42-44 Hang Bac street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi. The photos are not very good as we weren't allowed to use flash.
Since it's off the beaten Path, I am going to show you the more interesting way to go.
Go up to West Lake Area, follow Xuan Dieu st and turn right when you meet with To Ngoc Van, keep going until you reach the end of this street (which you think it is the end but there is a way there - not paved yet, a dirt road (so far until at the moment I wrote this Aug , 2010, they havent paved this part).
Keep following this small dirt road until you meet a open view of West Lake and a lotus pond on the right hand side. Lotus season are from May to Aug.
Now a little bit information about lotus, if you can, stop at one of the bamboo tent next to lotus ponds to have a tea, it's the best. the tea a placed into a lotus at a certain time in early morning so the tea will absorb all the smell of lotus, this tea then will be taken out of the flower and here we go, lotus tea. Have a drink and smell the fresh air, look at lotus blossom. what can be better for an late afternoon in hanoi?
It's better if you go in the late afternoon when the heat is cooling off and the vendors start to set up their business of the night. Stop at one lady , take a chair and order anything she has to offer (normally is tea, beer, fruits, beef jerky, grilled dried fishes and squids).
In the evening this part of the city is very crowded with couples and young people, but in the afternoon it's much better to have a sunset view and clean air, get away from all the noise of Hanoi.
If you cant go into lotus season, other time in the year is still enjoyable. A lot of people come to fishing in the lake too.
Note that car cant come in, you better have a xe-om driver / rent a bike and explore yourselves/ walk/ or take a taxi until there is no road to go anymore.
Or, you can PM me to get another way that a taxi can take you in.
If you can help it, one of the best times to visit Hoan Kiem Lake is early morning when the surrounding park becomes a venue of tai chi aunts and uncles and other martial arts. But perhaps the biggest treat is the music created by an old man with his bamboo flute.
The entire scene is unbeatable: classic Far Eastern music amidst misty surroundings on a cold winter morning.
After this early morning musical treat, head to one of the many restaurants around the lake or the market for a filling breakfast of crusty croissants and super-delicious, super-sweet Vietnamese coffee.
Huu Tiep Lake, about a klm west of the Mausoleum is a nothing startling to look at.
ITS FAME IS............
The wreckage of an American B-52 Bomber, shot down during the Christmas period by North Vietnamese artillery in 1972 (when this whole area was undeveloped) has its remains still in the lake.
If you are a war veteran, then you may want to visit here, and try and picture what it was like in the past, when this area was not developed.
There's a partly submerged memorial plaque.
I came here on a city tour with my Cyclo driver.
LOCATION........just south of West Lake along Hoang Hoa Tham Rd., and a short walk down Lane 55 leading to the sight (a handwritten sign reads B-52 with an arrow).
St. Joseph's Cathedral to me, was a rather dull, uninspiring Church. The dull, dark Grey colour probably didn't help, nor all the power lines around it.
It opened in 1886, during the earliest days of colonial rule, and the Cathedral still holds mass twice daily.
During other hours, you can enter through a door on the side of the cathedral.
Pho Nha Chung
THE HISTORY MUSEUM is a stunning golden French/Vietnamese style building, (built in 1931) surrounded by a gorgeous garden area. A walk around the gardens, and you will see many sculptures, these are located on one side of the building, and there is also a Cafe here.
The exhibits here, cover Vietnam’s past....from prehistoric times .....from the Cham people onwards ....to the end of the Second World War.
There are a lot of objects and materials displayed in the museum.
1 Trang Tien Street. If you are coming from the direction of the Hanoi Opera House, follow the road on the left side of the opera house. You will arrive at the History Museum within 5 minutes. It is on the right side of the road.
OPEN...8-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm Tue-Sun
This Flag Tower was built in 1812, and was used by French troops as an observation tower and communication stations.
It was built on the southern end of the citadel, much of which was destroyed towards the end of the 19th century.
It has three platforms and a tower. You can walk inside and get some views over the city and the Army Museum's courtyard with its display of war vehicles.
The tower receives sunlight through 36 flower-shaped and six fan-shaped windows.
HOW TO GET THERE......
* By Cyclo...I went on my city cyclo tour
* Walk.....Using the Ho Hoan Kiem as the starting point, walk west along Hang Khay, which becomes Trang Thi after a while. Then you reach a split in the road; the right branch is Dien Bien Phu Street. Take that street, crossing the railway track and continuing on until you see the Army Museum on your right, and the triangular park with the statue of Lenin on your left. Cot Co Flag Tower is just behind the Army Museum.
The endangered primates are at CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
It is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation, breeding, research, and conservation of endangered primates, and to the protection of their habitats.
When I visited, there were only 15 varieties of Primates living there.
Some of them were the “Critically Endangered” grey-shanked douc langur, Delacour´s langur, Cat Ba langur and the “Endangered” Hatinh langur, black langur and Laos langur, Primates that you may not see anywhere else but here.
The center and the continuation of its work depends upon the donations of organizations and individuals.
The center also runs an “Adopt-A-Monkey-Program”.
You get the admission ticket at the park entrance, and then go back to the Entrance of the Monkey Centre, and the guide will let you in and show you around the enclosures.
ADMISSION IN 2008 was 10,000dong
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE CENTRE............www.primatecenter.org
In France this sort of bike (a brand name) is called “Solex”. This sort of bike with the engine above the front wheel, transmitting the movement from the (two cycles) engine to the wheel with a cast-iron roller was very popular in France from the fifties to seventies. It was always black, had a terrific design, was reliable (despite the weight on front), and was very easy to get in movement when it ran out of fuel; it could be used as a regular bike.
I was very surprised and happily delighted to see this one in the show window of a . . . furniture shop on the north end of Ku Pho Cho (Old quarter), on Hang Dau street.
Nowadays, this bike is a vintage bike, this one here very well renovated. . . .
Who does not like to be smiled at? V of victory? Probably the one of Viet Nam. These young persons greeted me on my day of arrival in Hanoi, when I walked around Hoan Kiem Lake; is it not nice to meet welcoming people like them? They offered me an apple and sweets, but speaking with them was really difficult; anyway, we found a way to communicate.
The young souvenir seller on Picture 2 was not at all upset or angry when I refused to pay for the photograph (many people in tourist frequented areas ask for photographs, taking them, or you, but for money; it was the first and last pay-photo experience).
The lady on picture 3 looked at me for a while, and when I made a sign I will photograph her, she acknowledged, with a head sign, so, there she is on VT.
Mother and daughter on picture 4 laughed a lot at the foreigner they met in a small park near Metropole Hotel; after 10 mn “conversation”, they decided I keep that one, and the young lady on picture 5 laughed even more, looking at us looking at the pictures and making big gestures (unusual in south Asia, as I know from my Asian experiences).
Tip here might be: smile, smile “with your heart”, people smile back, and it is wonderful!
After my visit to the Ethnological museum, I decided to walk back to the old city along the shore of Ho Tay Lake; there were light green coloured areas on the map and I thought green was for gardens, trees, fields. . . it was in fact areas where there are no streets for cars, but all is constructed, houses separated by narrow streets. High buildings, narrow streets, exactly what is needed to get lost! I walked for half an hour or so, in the little Ho Khau area, and looked at houses, few people, gardens. . . The pictures show a bit of these streets, with marks on the walls (for the postmen? Police? Electricity?), the high houses, old entrances, unknown (to me!) trees in gardens, tiny temples, and after having asked my way (the old person did not speak English but knew few words of French!), I finally reached Ho Tay lake. This half hour was very quiet, very relaxing in the small streets.
Lots of tourists visiting Montmartre in Paris get solicitations to pose for a portrait they can take home as souvenir; in the streets of old Hanoi the same can be done, and on Hang Gai or Hang Manh streets, the painters work on the sidewalks; do not expect to see super artists, but in any case they draw and paint with skill and apparently their customers are mainly local tourists, but foreign tourists may get portrayed too!
Painting is an important activity in Hanoi, and if you like exotic or some original paintings it is worth to walk in the evenings on some streets (Trang Tien, Hang Gai. . . ) where a number or galleries exhibit works of local painters, some working “online” in the shops or galleries; it looks a bit like industrial production in some cases, and with artificial light, I wonder how they manage to render colours of landscapes or skies; some paints can be purchased for less than 20 US$, but prices vary in wide ranges, and art has no price, it is only a matter of sensibility and taste, and what some consider as ugly daubing is looked as masterpieces by other (well, for my taste there were interesting and nice small naïve paints, but nothing I would have paid lots of money for). There is always something to see in the streets of Hanoi, day or night.
Walking down Nha Chung street, on the right side going south you will see a big building with a big gate, usually open during day times; walk in, it is quiet there after wandering around in the busy streets around the cathedral; You are in the diocese garden.
Mid December people were preparing for Christmas, and decorating the surroundings of the palace; the bonsai on the sides of the entrance alley are already decorated; St Christophorus, standing in the main yard was supervising the operations, people were decorating a replica of the Lourdes cave (or is it the Holy Sepulchre?), it was a real pre-Christmas atmosphere! A little chapel was open, quire austere after the heavy decoration of the pagodas, a real peace in there for a few minutes. And, going out have again a look at the bonsai.
I pushed a door at the bishops offices, but it was closed. . . .
Nha Chung street, south of the cathedral.
Chua Sai pagoda
Walking back to the city, from the area of Trich Sai, on the west shore of Ho Tay lake, I came across the Sai Pagoda (Chua Sai).
Some sorts of garden dwarves welcomed me at the entrance, in a nice garden, with basins surrounded by orange trees.
Only local people here, coming for praying and meditation; I was very moved when a monk woman offered me a tea in a room nearby a prayer room, and when I left, she offered me star fruits and cooked rice (I did not look like a beggar!!!!); again communication was with eyes, and very few words; she is on the third picture.
Chua Sai is very ornate, lots of statues, flowers, I am more used to austere places, when I visit places of prayer or meditation. I just admired the place, looked at the strange statues (picture4), where I could recognise Buddha and a sort of a Shiva. I do not know who all these statues (picture 5) represent, what they mean, all this richness is very impressive. I spent one hour there, walking in the garden, drinking tea, looking at the temple, watching people pray; yes it is good for interior peace.
West shore of Ho Tay lake, North of Thuy Khue Avenue
Ba Da pagoda (Chua Ba Da) is hidden in the old streets of Hanoi, and walking in the morning before my day’s work I stepped by chance on this pagoda, looking at the houses and walls and, noticing several monks entering a small gate. . . . . . I followed them.
I am always moved when entering places of living spiritualism (I mean where religion is still practised, not the museum-churches, temples or mosques), where people are living their faith (I have not that sort of faith!), places where people feel something above them, where they pray in one word!
Pagoda of resistance: a small board at the entrance explains that this pagoda was a base for anti-French activists during the Liberation War. This pagoda has been built in the 15th century and reconstructed in the 18th century. The building itself is not remarkable, some rooms where the monks gather, have a tea, discuss of serious matters of the world. . . . and there is the temple itself, where are some copper or bronze plated Buddha statues and places where people leave pictures, artefacts, strange atmosphere; an old monk offered to be my guide and gave me an incense stick to light on and fit on an altar. (He also asked for some little money later. . . . ); we could only communicate with glimpses and gestures. . . . .
A copper plated Buddha on the main picture , on the second picture, a monk woman I followed to enter, my “guide on the third picture, photographs on an altar on the fourth picture and a view of a prayer room of the pagoda on the fifth picture.
I apologise, as I do not know about Buddhist religion and I may use inappropriate words for describing pagodas and temples.
Na Tho street, southern side.
Old city, between Hoan kiem Lake and the cathedral
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