Another cold and rainy morning in Hanoi, it’s about time that I move away from the comfort of Old Quarters and divert to other places in the city. Another non-ideal weather for a stroll and yet it doesn’t make sense to spend so much time daydreaming while staring at Hoan Kiem Lake.
Few blocks away from the Old Quarters and to learn more about Vietnam colonial past, Hoa Lo Prison Museum is usually the first recommended stop. Demolished in 1990’s with remaining part converted to a museum, Hoa Lo Prison was a prison referred to as Maison Centrale by French colonists for political prisoners when Vietnam was part of French Indochina and was referred to as “Hanoi Hilton” by captured Americans during the Vietnam War.
The museum exhibit shows the contradictory lives of prisoners on two different era and it is for every visitors to decide for themselves if the museum depiction is bias or not- the guillotine and the cruelty suffered by Vietnamese prisoners during the French colonial era and the “summer vacation” vibe said to be enjoyed by the American prisoners during Vietnam War.
The next place I visited is one of my favorite in Hanoi for a number of reasons, though the top one must be seeing young Vietnamese fresh from their school graduation ceremony, celebrating a milestone in their life with a class photo inside the Temple of Literature.
Built in 1070 and one of the many temples in Vietnam dedicated to Confucius,though the most prominent among them because of the integration on its location the first national university in the country, the Imperial Academy.
There are a lot of things to admire about the Temple of Literature- the hallways of giant red doors and pillars, the side passages between courtyards, the architectural mixed of wood and tiles, the stone tablets decorated with tortoise heads, the huge Confucius statue, the old Imperial University uniforms and photographs, all these mixed with how the temple remains to be an important place of tradition for students to visit as ritual for good luck when they are about to take college entrance examination and how the very same students might return one day at the temple to celebrate their university graduation.
Apart from the Hán characters calligraphy, the small shop inside the Temple of Literature also sells water puppets, a Vietnam traditional art. The water puppets are made of wood, they are small yet can weigh up to 30 pounds.
The Temple of Literature is actually located at the southern part of what once known as the Thang Long Citadel or Hanoi Citadel. Though what remains of the citadel is not as grand as the one in Hue, it is worth to peek around the remaining area surrounding the Hanoi Flag Tower.
A visit to the city oldest pagoda is also a good way to appreciate this lovely city even more.
Located at the small island in West Lake linked by a causeway to the main road, the Tran Quoc Pagoda architecture combined with historic relics and huge bodhi tree must be more picturesque during sunset or any given day with fair weather condition.
The West Lake of Hanoi is equally beautiful as Hoan Kiem Lake of the Old Quarters. The small cafe across the lake is good place for a cup of hot Vietnamese coffee while studying the city map for other places to see in between reading Peter Matthiessen’s The Cloud Forest on another cold and rainy Hanoi afternoon.