The Road Ahead : August September 2007
AUG/SEP 07 37 Ho was a man of simple tastes who refused to live in the grandiose structure that ser ved as the former residence of the governors-general of French Indochina. Another landmark in Hanoi is the Temple of Literature, founded in 1070 as a Confucian temple. In 1076, the temple established Vietnam's first university, the Quoc Tu Giam (or national university), where the ranks of Vietnam's mandarin class were educated. The names of the laureates of the university are car ved onto stone steles which are placed on top of stone tur tles. Some are still intact today. A tour of Hanoi's old quar ter should begin at the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre, where musicians dressed in traditional Vietnamese costumes blow on bamboo flutes, pull on strangely shaped stringed instruments, and beat bronze drums, gongs and xylophones. Accompanying this strange cacophony of sounds is a water puppet per formance where ducks, snakes and dragons flit above and below the water in a nimble ballet. Tales of dragons and kings, fishing villagers and old Vietnamese legends transcend language barriers. Although Hanoi's old quar ter can be negotiated on foot, there is nothing better than riding through the narrow streets on a three-wheeled, bicycle-powered rickshaw (cyclo), many of which are pedalled by elderly riders. The old quar ter is a chaotic maze of ancient merchant shop-houses dating back nearly 500 years. Many of the tall, skinny buildings have evolved from market stalls. Most date back to the 15th Centur y and are only two metres wide. Street names reflect a time when the area was divided up amongst the 36 ar tisan guilds. Today, many streets are still dedicated to those original crafts or their modern equivalents. There are streets with silver work shops, bamboo shops and shoe stores. One street has nothing but cramped shop-front kiosks selling silk clothing packed to the rafters. Another street has rows of funeral and festival shops full of bright red banners and incense sticks. Women hawkers wearing traditional, wide-brimmed hats navigate the streets balancing heavy shoulder-carriers filled with vegetables or bread. Hanoi's roadside cafes are a forerunner to the contemporar y alfresco cafe. People squat on low plastic seats by the side of the road helping themselves to piles of steaming rice, fresh vegetables and bubbling noodle soups. Pedestrians navigate the city streets on foot, walking slowly while motorbikes and cars veer around them. The motorbikes carr y an assor tment of riders: girls in traditional dress, families wearing face masks and even a man with his two pet German Shepherds. The cyclos glide past the Hanoi Opera House, a 1911 French colonial building with stately balconies that overlook the city. The Hanoi Press Club is another charming throwback from the colonial era, with interiors reminiscent of the 1920s. These days, it ser ves at an upmarket lunch destination for expatriates and visitors. When dawn breaks, join the locals for some exercise at Hoan Kiem Lake. Wedged between Hanoi's busiest commercial streets, it provides a venue for joggers and tai chi practitioners. At this early hour the Ngoc Son Pagoda, on an islet linked to the shore by an arched bridge, takes on an air of tranquillity that was common before motorbikes invaded the city. "...there is nothing better than riding through the narrow streets on a three- wheeled, bicycle-powered rickshaw (cyclo)..." Hot time Hanoi BOOK WITH RACQ RACQ Travel books holidays to Vietnam. Call one of our experienced travel consultants on 1300 888 449 for more information. MAIN PHOTO: Ho Chi Minh's former house. INSET: Cyclos are ever ywhere.
June July 2007
October November 2007