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Hanoi Highlights–Travels with Uncle Ho















The images of Hanoi are going to haunt me. So much that is visual…… The old quarter, the many motorcycles, labyrinthine streets,  remnants of past glory and the mysteries of Asia. While pretty run down and undeveloped by many standards,  I picked up good energy and hopeful feeling about the future.

Here are some highlights of our experience.

The Temple of Literature. 

No trip to Hanoi would be complete without visiting the Temple of Literature–an outstanding architectural complex established in 1070.  I think it is best visited with a guide who can explain what it is all about.

It’s a small space, five courtyards, walled and guarded in the midst of what is now a very busy part of Hanoi with taxi’s, motorcycles and many people racing about involved in daily live.

But a thousand years ago when this was the main university of this part of the world, I suspect it was quiet and serene. While called Temple, it was the university–worshiping education and knowledge.

Honoring Confucius, the temple  was very competitive.  Only the best and the brightest men (women not allowed) got in and they had to work very very hard.  A few passed the tests and then went back to their villages, honored and revered, soon to become Mayors or village leaders.


 Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. 

 No photos here.  Our cameras were taken away by officious guards.  Instead, we were lined up two by two and marched down a road and into the inner sanctum of an imposing and  ugly building where the body of the great Uncle Ho, as he was known to the people, resides.  The photo below of a beautiful yellow structure is a government palace.  We were not allowed to tour.

Military personnel in white uniforms, rivaling any Buckingham Palace guard for showing no expression, guided and intently watched our somber progression.  The body, well, not to be irreverent, looked like a figure from Madame Tussaud’s.

When we asked our guide about it, he lowered his voice, looked around and then took us to a less populated area and said, “Well, there are lots of theories about the body but…..this is what I know.”

We were reminded that we were in a communist country and asking nosey questions about their former leader might not be politically correct.

The rest of the grounds were interesting.  The stilt house that Uncle Ho lived in,  his car collection (labeled Used Cars) and many beautiful bonsai trees were all worth the trip.



 The Old House Museum.

 I added this to the schedule because I am always interested in housing…..and wanted to see how the Vietnamese lived.

The museum (of sorts) we saw was the typical tube house of a Vietnamese merchant before all their troubles occurred.  Because they were taxed by the width of the frontage on the street, the houses were  very narrow but very deep..

Typically the front has the shop and then the lower level includes an open courtyard, seating area, kitchen and bathroom.  The upstairs has a gathering room (men only) with an alter and the bedrooms.

Interesting, when the communists took over after the Viet Nam war, they converted these lovely homes into spaces for four or five families to live.

I was a little sorry I hadn’t asked our travel agent for an art and architecture tour.  Seemed like a lot of different styles and it would been interesting to view with an expert.  Worth asking about if you go.



 Water Puppets

  Seeing a Water Puppet show is a bit of a must do  in North Vietnam.  It originated as a form of entertainment in the villages at harvest time festivals. The water part makes sense when you think the lives of these people revolved around rice paddies and water.

Villages stories were told and today even modern messages are expressed.  For example, we saw a segment about a modern motor cycle crash, designed to show children the potential consequences of motorcycle racing.

We were fortunate, thanks to our travel agent Backyard Travel, to meet with a 7th generation Water Puppeteer and Artist, Phan Thanh Liem, who put on a private show for us and showed us his work room.  For more about him and water puppetry, go to this web site.

We saw how the puppets were made and learned a lot about the history.  Came home with one too.







Food in Vietnam. 

. We did a street food tour with Tu Van Cong , a food blogger and writer.  Lots of fun and interesting.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Judy Bereza
    Jan 31, 2013 Reply

    How fascinating! Even though I will probably never visit Hanoi, I now have a vivid impression of it. Thank you for uncovering the real, everyday experiences of the Vietnamese.

    • posted by
      Jan 31, 2013 Reply

      Thanks for your comment. Sitting on the train in my warmest coat I own. Brrrrrrr enjoy your warm weather.

  2. posted by
    Brenda Stringer
    Jan 31, 2013 Reply

    Great post, Susan. Would love to visit VietNam and you just made me want to see it even more. Brenda

  3. posted by
    Peggy DePersia
    Jan 31, 2013 Reply

    Am always fascinated by the many forms that theater has taken since ancient times. It seems people have always been compelled to deliver the stories and mythologies of their time and place in these theatrical dramas. They draw one in….in a very concrete way. Thanks, Susan.

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