Sunday, October 23, 2011


We arrived in Hanoi at night and sped into the city from the airport, caught up in bustle and mopeds and the strong smell of smoke from the post-harvest burns of the surrounding rice fields. Over the next two days, with only mildly disorienting jet-lag, we explored the city. It is truly beautiful: an exotic mix of 13th century old quarter, 19th century French colonial grace, 20th century communist grandiosity, and 21st century capitalist fervor.

First founded by Emperor Ly Thai To in 1010 AD, it was originally called Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) after the emperor defeated the occupying Chinese, who had held northern Vietnam under either direct or tributary control for nearly 1000 years, and who would invade countless more times after that. The city has many beautiful lakes, left over after centuries of dyke building contained Red River floods and opened up areas to development. The lake pictured above, Hoan Kiem, is home to huge turtles over 100 years old and this bridge dating from the 19th century which leads to Den Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain Temple). The temple honors the spirits of soil, medicine and literature as well as historical figure Tran Hung Do, a general who defeated the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. The layers and layers of architecture, history, and varied religious beliefs washes over Hanoi in a way that is both wonderful and hard to truly understand.

Scenes from the an 11th century temple near the one pillar pagoda. There is a blend of symbolism from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucian philisophy, ancestor and historical figure veneration, even animism. The most powerful and binding force, of course, is Mahayana Buddhism brought from China.

Ho Chi Minh is definitely the most venerated of all historical figures and the father of modern Vietnamese nationalism. His 1970's masoleum is not subtle. Vietman may have opened up and changed drastically since 1986 reforms wound down the government controlled collective economy and allowed capitalism to take root, but national pride is still not taken lightly here. The history museum covered each and every failed attempt at conquest over Vietnam over it's long history.

Scenes from the old quarter, the most intoxicating and eye opening part of town.

French colonial architecture.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Pha bo.

Here is a preserved merchant's house from the old quarter much as it would have appeared around the mid-19th century. Store frontage, kept narrow along the street to minimize per-linear foot taxes, leads back to a long series of rooms and courtyards that would have let light and fresh air into all parts of the house. It is genius in its practical design, and still stunning to look at. Very few of these houses remain as the city's density increased and courtyards were filled in with more rooms for habitation and the houses divided up into multiple family dwellings.

Not far from the Memorial merchant's house, this gem of a shop sells gorgeous (and legal for export) antiques. That is the owner's vintage Citroen out front.

Tucked away in another old "tube house" that still belongs to a single family was Cafe 11 Hang Gai, with multiple levels of private home, cafe, family alter (above) and gardens over four floors with a fantastic view of Hoan Kiem Lake and the surrounding city.


  1. This looks so magical. I wish i were there with you!!!!

  2. super jealous. I've been wanting to go to VN for years...great pictures too Chad xxx

  3. Love the frequent posts from your adventure. More Wade food photos please!

  4. This bears a striking resemblance to parts of Malaysia and Singapore. Looks like a lot of strong Chinese influences on the architecture and home interiors. Lovely little shop houses.