Our Second Day in Hanoi
For our second day in Hanoi we planned to take it easier than the first. Our plan was to head to Hoan Kiem Lake and afterwards immerse our selves into the Old Quarter of Hanoi, with its many shops, market and maze of narrow lanes. We had walked a long way sightseeing the day before, which we could still feel it in our legs so an easier day was warranted.
Stroll Through the French Quarter
Taking a different route through the French Quarter we headed towards the Opera House. The streets and pavements after the weekend were noticeably busier than the previous day. The locals were rushing to work on the sunny and already hot Monday morning. Some people still enjoyed a lazy coffee and breakfast in one of the food stalls. The street barbers with their make shift mirrors and street side chairs were also occupied with customers, getting a haircut and shave for the start of the week.
Hanoi Opera House
We passed some of the luxurious hotels and shops including famous designer boutiques, before we reached the large roundabout with the Hanoi Opera House at the far end. The French Colonial building towered majestically over the busy morning traffic. A block further on we stumbled onto a little park with an impressive fountain. The stone dragons were covered in moss and ferns and the main column was home to a self-seeded tree, this gave the fountain a unique charm. On the benches throughout the park sat woman with fruit and other goods. Behind the fountain was a beautiful mansion house, the entrance contained a roof that very much reminded me of the Paris Metro entrances.
Emperor Ly Thai To
Our route was then left along another park, with a statue of Emperor Ly Thai To. In front of the statue was an exhibition of photos from South East Asian countries. We walked through the rows and rows of pictures, choosing our favourite from each country. There were some local kids who did not seem interested in the display and chose the park as a play and skate ground.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Crossing the busy road that runs along Hoan Kiem Lake we reached the footpath that surrounds the lake. Between the weeping willow we caught glimpses of the Turtle Tower, the emblem of Hanoi, which we had already glanced at, on our walk to the Military Museum the day before. Hoan Kiem Lake features in a famous Vietnamese legend: Emperor Ly Thai To was sent a magical sword by heaven, which he then used to defeat the Chinese opposition. After the war a giant golden turtle seized the sword and disappeared into the depths of the murky lake to restore the sword to its holy owners. Kids, including Jerome will love the story and it is a great way to introduce the lake and Ngoc Son Temple to them.
Ngoc Son Temple
We could spot the temple with its scarlet red bridge at the Northern end of the lake. Walking towards the bridge and Ngoc Son Temple we were approached by locals trying to sell pop-up cards, fruit and other souvenirs, one of the hazards of tourist sights I guess.
The Entrance to Ngoc Son Temple
The entrance to Ngoc Son Temple is guarded by colourful pictures of a tiger and dragon by the main gate. To enter the grounds of the Temple we had to pay a small entrance fee (20.000VND) and visitors with inappropriate clothing could borrow a coat to cover shoulders and legs. It is always advisable to carry a scarf with you in case you need a cover-up when visiting holy sites around Vietnam.
Visiting the Temple Complex
Weaving our way around the tourists taking snap shots and selfies on the elegant bridge that connects the lakeshore with the islet called Jade Mountain we reached the Temple complex. The main building of the temple contains the prayer hall with an altar, piled with fruit offerings. The doors and woodwork are lacquered in red and gold and contained intricate woodcarvings. Despite the lively atmosphere and hoards of tourists, we found locals deep in prayers. The incense smoke was blown inside and added to the spiritual atmosphere. In the adjacent room Jerome discovered the holy turtle. The large animal is displayed inside a glass case and is said to be 900 years old. It was fished from the lake with serious injuries and died the same day. Some people believe that it is the turtle that grabbed the sword of the Emperor. Hoan Kiem Lake is still home to many turtles and some appear to be of old age but none so large as this one.
The Ritual of Burning Joss Paper
There is a terrace overlooking the lake on one side of the buildings, where we sat for a while sipping some cool water and looking out onto the peaceful lake and the Turtle Tower. On our way out we saw people burn money in a furnace. This practice can be found at many temples in China, Vietnam and Taiwan. It is believed that burning joss paper or ghost money will go to the spirit of the deceased to help them live a happy afterlife. In some cases, especially at funerals, large papier-mache items, like houses, cars and other valuables are also burnt to pass wealth onto the ancestors. These can often be bought at dedicated shops. Jerome watched a local burn some fake dollar bills. Chris then gave him a real 1000VND note, worth just a few cents, Jerome lit is from one of the burning bills and threw it into the furnace too.
Walking on towards the Old Town of Hanoi
Leaving Ngoc Son Temple via the scarlet bridge, we walked straight across the little park and turned left on Hang Dau. This street is attractive to the tourists with its many shoe shops that line either side. Even we were tempted to spend some money but more on the shopping temptations and the Old Quarter in my following post.
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