It is easy to delve right into the heart of Hà Nội, with museums displaying tales of the past and preserving the traditional lifestyle on display near the colourful nightlife of the Old Quarter area.
The capital of Việt Nam, the country’s second most populated city, bears the scars of the Indochina War at its numerous war museums and displays, but also shows the benefits of its time as the capital of French Indochina through its charming colonial architecture.
Most buildings are designed in the French style, welcoming tourists with stories of the past, but tall, modern-style buildings also show off the ever-growing country’s development.
The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum is perhaps Hà Nội’s must-see site, located right in the heart of the city and obvious by the long queue of locals and visitors lining up to see the body of the late president Hồ Chí Minh in its glass coffin.
Just 50m from the museum on Điện Biên Phủ Street is the presidential palace, full of memories from the adored leader’s 15 years of living and working at the site.
While a giant yellow building, once home to the Indochina governor general, may capture the eye with its obvious European background pointing to Việt Nam’s past, it is a traditional stilt house on the grounds which attracts the most visitors.
When Việt Nam achieved independence in 1954, Hồ Chí Minh refused to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons – although he continued to receive state guests there – and built the modest Vietnamese house and carp pond to live in until his death in 1969.
The house is said to represent his simplicity, modesty, gentleness and dedication to the nation and the people.
Visitors can also see the French cars used by Hồ Chí Minh and the Politburo meeting room where he chaired meetings and received guests.
The whole site is full of an abundance of flowers from the gardens around and millions of tourists and locals have flocked to the grounds over the years to learn about the national liberation hero.
Another 200m away is the Exhibition Hall, which displays more than 300 pictures, documents, newspaper articles and television reports on individuals and groups who have followed Hồ Chí Minh’s moral example.
Close by is the Army Museum, covering a massive 10,000 sq m.
The museum exhibitions present Vietnamese military history from the first period of founding the country to the Hồ Chí Minh era.
One of the well-known ancient monuments on the grounds of the museum is the Hà Nội Flag Tower, classified as a national historic cultural monument.
The construction of the tower began in 1805 and was completed in 1812, sitting at a final height of nearly 31m and featuring a circumference of 180m.
Thousands of photos in the museum show the Vietnamese efforts to fight against France and the US in the 20th century.
The images reflect the cruel reality of war, with pieces of airplanes, tanks, heavy artillery, mortars, maps, bombs, military weapons and the personal belongings of individuals associated with war.
All displays are accompanied by English translations.
The museum is open weekdays except Monday and Friday, and tours can be arranged at most travel agencies.
After a long day of exploring the country’s history, a bit of time spent eating, drinking, shopping and learning about daily life in Ha Noi may be on the cards at the city’s Old Quarter.
The Old Quarter came into being at the time King Lý Thái Tổ selected Thăng Long as the country’s capital in 1010.
In the streets’ 1,000 year history, it was the 15th century that first saw them become the crowded and energetic hub of today.
Not a lot has changed since then; people still crowd the sidewalk to eat and drink on small chairs after sunset.
Several old-style narrow streets allow an exciting experience crossing the street, with non-stop motorists passing by.
The local traditional food on the sidewalk is sure to provide a new taste experience, set against the endless “peep peep” of motorbike horns.
Tourists who love shopping can splash a bit of cash at the night market and take home some souvenirs from handicraft shops along the streets.
The Old Quarter is easy-going for drinking beer, with most bars easy to find and close to one another.
The night-owl has a number of choices – Temple Bar for the dancer, Acoustic Live Cafe for the music-lover, or Tạ Hiển Street for a more relaxed drink and chat.
Most bars close at midnight, but some stay open long after the police have gone.
Drinkers thirsty for a late-night beer can carry on along Thanh Yên Street, popular with backpackers who were still partying past 3am.
Never head home from Hà Nội without seeing the famed Water Puppet Show, a unique Vietnamese traditional performance art focusing on the daily lives of the country’s famers.
The show has served audiences since 1969, performed by Thăng Long theatre artists, and is now open for daily shows.
Hà Nội doesn’t have tuk-tuks like Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, so stick to metered taxis.
By OUNKHAM PIMMATA (*)
(*) Ounkham Pimmata is working with Vientiane Times as one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange programme, in partnership with the Việt Nam Forum of Environmental Journalists
Source: Vientiane Times