ho chi minh mausoleum
On our last day in Hanoi, we again ventured to see what the city has to offer – this time focusing on the western portion. As it was a sunny day (a rarity by Hanoi’s standards as it is one very cloudy city), we started early in the morning and made our way to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Most people make the mistake of assuming that this mausoleum, by virtue of its name, is located in Ho Chi Minh City. But actually, it is in Hanoi. The building faces Ba Dinh Square, which is one of the few places one gets to see such a wide open space right at the heart of the city. Compared to the Old Quarter, this part of the city featured large squares and wide boulevards that were more in keeping with modern communist capitals. From the outside, the memorial reminds me of the Anitkabir in Ankara, Turkey. It was closed when we visited so there was no chance to go in. Not that we wanted to, since all one gets to see inside is Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed corpse.
hanoi presidential palace
From here, we walked a few steps down the square to reach the presidential palace. It is another great example of French colonial architecture. The palace used to be the residence of the governor. At present, it is used by the Vietnamese government and unlike Saigon’s modern-looking presidential palace, is normally not open to tourists. All we could get was a peek through the gates.
Aside from housing the mauseoleum and the presidential palace, the Ba Dinh area is also home to museums such as the Museum of Ethnology. Several embassies are also within walking distance of the square.
entrance to the temple of literature
From Ba Dinh, it was around a ten minute walk to Van Mieu or otherwise known as the Temple of Literature. Of all the Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam is perhaps the most strongly influenced by Chinese culture. In fact, this makes Hanoi the most un-Southeast Asian among the major Southeast Asian cities. The Temple of Literature is a fine testament to this, having been built in honor of Confucius. The interior of the site is divided into several courtyards which reminds me of a much more modest version of Beijing’s Forbidden City. The compound also houses Hanoi’s Imperial Academy and in olden times, was used to educate the country’s scholars.
inside the temple of literature
panorama of the innermost courtyard at the temple of literature
After a relatively long walk from Ba Dinh to Van Mieu, we decided to take an early lunch at Quan An Ngon which is one of the most popular restaurants in Hanoi. Finally, after days of eating in Pho 24, we finally got to try something frequented by locals. Hanoi is quite well-known for its street food. While wandering the streets for the past few days, we’ve chanced upon roadside stalls selling everything from pho to cold desserts and even snails! For those curious to try but find the hygiene questionable, Quan An Ngon is a great alternative as it offers street food from all over Vietnam in a restaurant setting. We had the usual spring rolls, roast meat and vegetables. We also tried the Vietnamese Pancake or Banh Xeo which was a refreshing mix of veggies, crunchy rice flour and herbs wrapped in rice paper. All in all, it was a great lunch that more than makes up for a tiring morning wandering around town.
quan an ngon
After lunch, we walked all the way back to the Old Quarter passing by Hoan Kiem again. We went to Dong Xuan Market – expecting something like Ben Tanh Market in Saigon – but it was not anything like it. Still, it’s an interesting place to see a slice of local life away from the major tourist areas. There were rows and rows of stalls selling clothes and fabric in the upper floors, appliances, shoes, food and even pets in the ground floor. It was already mid-afternoon by the time we arrived at the market and we were more or less just killing time before our flight that evening.
puppets for sale
near dong xuan market
Travel tip: We went in August which is considered as non-peak season. Historically the wettest month of the year, it is also one of the sunniest. Rain showers can be strong but are mostly short — if sunshine is what you’re after, May to November are the best times to visit. Otherwise, if you prefer cooler but cloudy/foggy weather, consider going from December to February.