people and cultures – inspiring journeys
sharing meaningful discoveries in Asia

VIETNAM – a booming destination with great cultural diversity

– Read below for:
– Hanoi

– Things to see and support,  Places to Stay

Click on Links Below for:
– Halong Bay

– Sapa Highlands

Central Vietnam:
Hoi An and My Son

South Vietnam:   Ho Chi Minh City
and Mekong Delta
– Vietnam Visa Info:
– Train Travel in Vietnam:


Hoan Kiem Lake is considered the spiritual center of Hanoi. Founded in 1010 by Ly Tho To, the first ruler of the Ly dynasty, the city was at that time called Thang Long, or “Rising Dragon.”
By the 15th century, another legend tells of Emperor Le Loi boating on the lake and a Golden Turtle God surfaced asking for the emperor to give him his magic sword. So the lake got its name Hoan Kiem- meaning the Lake of the Returned Sword and in the middle of the lake is a temple dedicated to the golden turtle which remains the guardian spirit of Hanoi today.

Stepping off the busy streets, the lake is a great place to relax and socialize. Early mornings, locals come to do Tai Chi and you can spend the rest of your day overlooking the lake, people watching while having coffee or ice cream.
There is so much to reflect on Vietnam history and the Vietnamese identity which struggled through 1000 years under Chinese rule, French colonialism and then the American-Vietnam war.
A interesting book to read is  Vietnam Now by  journalist David Lam who returns to Vietnam some 30 years after the war offering an insight to life of the not so distant past and present.

The Old Quarter is just off the northern tip of Hoan Kiem Lake is a fascinating area to explore. It is very worthwhile to join a guided walking tour to learn about the unique social system and lifestyle. Craftsmen who migrated over time set up their own guilds on each street dedicated to one trade.  Each guild has 1 or 2 religious structures to honor its own patron saint or founder.  There are so many interesting hidden spaces you would never find on your own.

Taking a cyclo ride is a great way to feel the pulse of the city. Explore the market places and contemporary art scene. With its heritage architecture, lakes and boulevards, Hanoi has become one of Southeast Asia’s most sophisticated cities.
And Hanoi’s Street Food is also fabulous and is a whole within itself.

Places to visit off the Old Quarter:
Temple of Literature– founded in 1070 as the first University and dedicated to Confucius.

KOTO – Know One Teach One
a hospitality training school for street kids and underprivileged youth with their restaurant close to Temple of Literature.

Craft Link – supporting traditional artisans throughout Vietnam
their outlet shop located next to KOTO Restaurant:

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
will give you an appreciation of how the Vietnamese come to pay respect to their founder of independence, Uncle Ho.  Walk back into the gardens to see the original simple house on stilts where Ho Chi Minh had once lived.

One Pillar Pagoda is also short walk away and is dedicated to Quan Am, the goddess of mercy. This small pagoda over a pond of lotus blossoms was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1049.  Lacking of a male heir, the Emperor once had a dream in which Quan Am appeared seated on a lotus flower. Soon after, the emperor found a wife and had a son so he erected this pagoda to honor Quan Am.   The pagoda had been destroyed by the French but restored and today many locals come to make wishes to have a child.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum ( also known as the Hanoi Hilton)
After liberation from the French who originally built this prison, the new Vietnamese revolutionary government used this place to detain American pilots during from 1964 -1973.

The Women’s Museum   is very worthwhile to visit to understand the role of women who are honored for their courage in their fight for Vietnamese freedom.

The Fine Arts Museum  is a beautiful introduction to a civilization far removed from the war images.

Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi:
excellent introduction to the ethnic minorities of Vietnam and a must visit for anyone venturing up around Sapa:

Water Puppets!

These famous puppets come out and perform several times a day.  The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is opposite Hoan Kiem Lake and just off the Old Quarter.
Telling folk stories, these puppets were originally performed in the flooded rice paddies and today the puppeteers stand in waist deep water behind the screen.  Kitschy and one of those fun not to be missed experiences.  See more on:

Hanoi Opera House
a replica of the Paris Opera House.
Check out their schedule of performances for a wonderful cross cultural evening.

West Lake Area:
This growingly trendy area along expansive West Lake is a nice place for Hanoians to relax over a meal.  Prime property includes new cafes and condos.  It is also an area to visit some interesting temples and pagodas.
Phu Tay Ho Temple offers an introduction to local devotion where Confucianism and Taoism with worship of ancestor and animistic deities is practiced alongside Mahayana Buddhism.  The nearby Chua Pho Linh Buddhist Pagoda is especially nice during the chanting times.

Accomodations Hanoi:

There is endless choice of accomodations throughout the city and Vietnam offers some of the best value in small hotels.

My favorite Hanoi neighborhood is just off the main Old Quarter frenzy in the area of Au Trieu and St. Joseph’s Cathedral.  Nice cafes including the Paris Deli for those croissants  and also a short walk to Hoan Kiem Lake.

Splendid Star Grand – very friendly family hotel with a new wing-lovely touches with reasonable rates on a small quiet alley behind the cathedral. click on Splendid Star Grand!

Luxury and Timeless setting:

The Metropole Sofitel – close to Hanoi Opera House.
A treat for High Tea!

Click on Links Below for:
– Halong Bay

– Sapa Highlands

Central Vietnam:
Hoi An and My Son

– Vietnam Visa Info:
– Train Travel in Vietnam  :

– For a wonderful local guide based in Hanoi with his own travel company,
   Contact Mr. Lam Le who can update on all the latest!

Copyright 2006 by all rights reserved.