Hanoi – other possibilities

The cathedral welcomes many worshippers - on holy days, large crowds spill over the paved areas and roadSt. Joseph’s Cathedral
Built in European neo-Gothic style St. Joseph's Cathedral dominates a small square in the heart of Hanoi's tourist area facing a street of restaurants and boutiques.

It was one of the first buildings erected by the French colonists, and was completed in 1886 – many of the materials and most of the craftspeople were imported from France. Most of the stained glass windows are original and good examples of the craft.

Mass is held twice daily (5am-7am and 5pm-7pm), but visitors can enter through a side door when the main doors are closed.

The Hanoi Citadel
The Hanoi Citadel complex is in the process of being released by the Army - two buildings are now accessible, and more are to follow. A visit is recommended!

Originally known as the Dai La Citadel, King Ly Thai To renamed it Thang Long (Ascending Dragon – the old name of Hanoi) Citadel when he chose it as his capital in 1010. Over many centuries various monarchs moved the capital to other places and their successors moved it back again to Hanoi often modifying and rebuilding elements of the Citadel several times.

In 1888 the defeated Nguyen Dynasty surrendered the Hanoi Citadel to the French colonialists. Hanoi's Watchtower is located in the grounds of the Army MuseumHanoi became a colonial city 66 years until the French were expelled in 1954. During their occupancy, the colonists broke down the walls of Citadel and destroyed most of the buildings inside. The old Watchtower remains, and offers an excellent view of the whole complex.

In 2003, excavations on the site of a proposed new National Assembly building unearthed the remains of King Ly Thai To’s Palace, and with it a wealth of relicts, foundations building, wells, kilns and other remains that shed new light on the early history of Thanh Long and the complex relationship between the cultures of Vietnam and China. The future destiny of the site is not yet clear, but the archeological treasures that have been discovered are being catalogued and put on display.

The French-colonial Presidential Palace is carefully preserved aa part of Hanoi's architectural heritageThe French Quarter
A misnomer, really! During the earlier years of colonization, building development was on ‘concession’ land ‘leased’ by the Vietnamese authorities, the first near what is now the Opera House and another near the railway station.

However, this face-saving pretence was soon abandoned and French administration, military officials and civil servants built more or less where they wished, tearing down existing buildings if necessary.

The result is a rich heritage of magnificent mansions, villas and public buildings throughout Hanoi’s central area. For anyone interested in architecture, a visit to some of the best examples is a must! Early civil constructions such as the Opera House and St. Joseph’s Cathedral were smaller replicas of their equivalent in France. To build the Cathedral, a miniature of Notre Dame, one of Hanoi’s oldest pagodas was destroyed to make the foundations .

Now used as Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the building is an excellent example of the late period of Colonial architecture - note the Asian influencesBy the early years of the twentieth century, the style began to diverge from the French mainstream by incorporating Vietnamese and oriental elements to create a distinct architectural genre.

A stroll around the centre of Hanoi takes in buildings such the Opera House, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Palace and the Chinese Embassy. With a Haivenu specialist guide, you'll gain an comprehensive overview of Hanoi’s colonial architectural heritage.

A view across Lenin Park with its lake in the background - the circular building is the Vietnam CircusLenin Park
Like most Vietnamese cities, Hanoi is thin on public open spaces. The nearest equivalent is Lenin Park, a large lake surrounded by lawns and trees located south of the city centre. Compared with its equivalents in other large cities, it’s tiny. New York’s Central Park extends over 341ha, London’s Hyde Park measures 255ha, and Le Bois de Boulogne in Paris is a whopping 865ha. Beside these, Lenin Park is small beer – a mere 50ha, and most of that is water.

However, it’s a good place for a stroll, and there’s usually plenty going on. Jogging, badminton, impromptu games of ‘da cau’ (a game involving keeping a sort of shuttlecock in the air using only the feet), chess, maj-jong and snogging on the benches under the trees are all popular pursuits. If you don’t mind travelling in a giant plastic swan, a boat on the lake is a pleasant diversion.

There’s the Vietnam Circus building, a small amusement park and a few statues and memorials, but the main pleasure is the cool shade of the trees on a hot day, and a partial respite from the roar of traffic.

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