Thursday, 5 August 2010


“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” - Pearl Buck

Hanoi (or more properly Hà Nội in Vietnamese) is the capital city of Vietnam and has an estimated population of about 6.5 million making it the second-largest city of Vietnam, after the most populous, Ho chi Minh City in the South. From 1010 until 1802, Hanoi was the most important political centre of Vietnam. The city is located on the right bank of the Red River. October 2010 marks the 1000 year anniversary of the establishment of the city (see more of my photos here).

Hanoi has been inhabited since at least 3000 BC. One of the first known permanent settlements is the Cổ Loa Citadel founded around 200 BC. Hanoi was occupied by the French in 1873 and passed to them ten years later. It became the capital of French Indochina after 1887. The city was occupied by the Japanese in 1940, and liberated in 1945, when it briefly became the seat of the Viet Minh government after Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam. But the French came back and reoccupied the city in 1946. After nine years of fighting between the French and Viet Minh forces, Hanoi became the capital of an independent North Vietnam in 1954.

During the Vietnam War, Hanoi’s transportation facilities were disrupted by the bombing of bridges and railways. They were promptly repaired and the Old Quarter was to damaged. Following the end of the war, Hanoi became the capital of Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were reunited on July 2, 1976. By 2020 the Hanoi Capital region will have an area of 13,436 square kilometres with a population of 15 million.

We spent the whole day walking today and fortunately, the weather was great - around 30˚C and fine. We started off early in the morning form our hotel, on the shore of the large lake and walked to the Old Quarter. The traffic was horrendous and small scooters and Vespas were everywhere. We were amazed not to see any accidents as even on the street intersections controlled by traffic lights, the interweaving of cars, pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, buses, was a sight not to be forgotten. Crossing streets became a near death experience, as one didn’t know who had right of way or whether one should go or stay when the walk signal came on. Oh, and by the way there are these strange black and white regions on the road every now and then… Nobody seems to know that these are pedestrian crossings and pedestrians should have priority.

The Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. Each street then had merchants and households that specialised in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, food merchants, etc. The street names nowadays still reflect these specialisations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce. The area is famous for its small artisans and merchants, including many silk shops. Local cuisine specialties as well as several clubs and bars can be found here also. A night market in the heart of the district opens for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening with a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.

We saw the Old Quarter and the small lake, temples, churches, public buildings and shops. Markets and historic sites, hotels and guest houses. However, largely today was a familiarisation exercise with the “flavour” of the city. One of the highlights was the visit to the Ngoc Son Temple, located on a small island on the small lake. This Temple was constructed in the early 19th century on the foundations of the old Khanh Thuy Palace, which had been built in 1739. The temple is dedicated to Van Xuong, the God of Literature, although the 13th-century hero Tran Hung Dao, the martial arts genius Quan Vu and the physician La To are also worshipped here. The island is linked to the shore by a red, arched wooden bridge, The Huc (Sunbeam) Bridge, constructed in 1875 (seen in the photograph here).

Vietnam |vēˌetˈnäm; ˌvyet-; ˌvēət-; -ˈnam| - noun
A country in Southeast Asia, on the South China Sea; pop. 82,689,000; capital, Hanoi; language, Vietnamese (official).
Traditionally dominated by China, Vietnam came under French influence between 1862 and 1954. After World War II, the Vietminh defeated the French, who then withdrew. Vietnam was partitioned along the 17th parallel between communist North Vietnam (capital, Hanoi) and noncommunist South Vietnam (capital, Saigon). The Vietnam War between the North and the U.S.-backed South ended in victory for the North in 1975 and the reunification of the country under a communist regime the following year.
ORIGIN from Vietnamese Viet, the name of the inhabitants, + nam ‘south.’