Family Trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay in Vietnam
It was 40 years ago this year that our country got dragged into a war that ended badly. Many lives were lost. Families displaced. The Vietnam War might be an event that many want to forget happened, but today, as a result of this war, there is at least one good thing that followed. For those who live near a Vietnamese community, our lives have been enriched by the friendliness of their people and the flavors they brought to our cities.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where Vietnamese food is widely available and authentic. I have become good friends with those whose families came to the U.S. as a result of the war and have been introduced to the deliciousness of their food culture. Not a week passes that I don’t have a bowl of pho or a bánh mì sandwich or plate of chicken and rice.
When my in-laws invited us to join them on a trip to Vietnam, I quickly cleared the calendar. Our children were 10 and 5 at the time, and we went to Hanoi and Halong Bay. We took a guided tour which included our family of four, my in-laws, our tour guide Tuan and a driver. Here is a sample of the things we did during the four days we spent in the fast moving capital of Vietnam.
The Old Quarter is my favorite place in Hanoi. The area is perhaps a bit too chaotic for some, but if you want to feel the heartbeat of Hanoi, this is where you will want to explore and spend your time.
It’s located just a few blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake, and the narrow and windy streets are separated by the merchants and artisans who specialize in different trades such as silk, pottery, and food. I enjoyed wandering this neighborhood formerly known as the 36 Districts. Shop here. Eat here. Stay close to here. Only 10- to 15-minute walk away is Hilton Hanoi Opera.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) is on the edge of the Old Quarter. It’s a popular focal point where locals socialize. Like Central Park is to New York City, Hoan Kiem Lake is to Hanoi. It’s an oasis from the hustle and bustle of this constantly moving city. It’s also a nice walk in the evening when the temperature cools down a bit. Nearby, you will find local attractions such as Hanoi Opera House, French Quarter, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater.
These puppets that dance on water is a tradition that dates back as far as the 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam. We watched a show, and it was entertaining. As an urban dweller who is normally surrounded by concrete freeways and asphalt roads, the image of puppets dancing around on water depicting rice fields and more agricultural surroundings is actually enchanting. It’s a show for all ages.
Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House
We toured the house where Ho Chi Minh was said to have lived from 1958 until his death in 1969. It is situated near the Presidential Palace. Ho Chi Minh is remembered as the “father of the communist revolution” and portrayed as a celibate man married only to the cause of the revolution.
The stilt house tells the story of simple man who lived a simple life for his country. Indeed, Ho Chi Minh was successful as a Communist revolutionary who led North Vietnam to defeat the French Union in 1954. This led to the end of 100 years of French colonization. For this, Vietnam celebrates him as a hero.
While not everyone in the world shares the same fondness and memories of this man, the effects and lessons resulting from colonization and war need to be remembered. As Abraham Lincoln once said about slavery, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
Ho Chi Minh Presidential Historical Site and Mausoleum
We respectfully passed on entering the Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh’s body lies against his wishes. He wanted to be cremated. A long line of respectful visitors waited for a chance to see their liberator.
Temple of Literature and Ancient National University
Another interesting site we saw was the Temple of Literature which was originally built in 1070 by King Lý Nhân Tông. Six years later, Vietnam’s first university would be established. Today, this area is a beautiful park with five courtyards and a lake to memorialize its history.
For those who are able to read Chinese, it’s interesting to see Vietnam and China’s past relationship through literature and religion. This university centered around the study of Confucian teaching, Chinese literature, poetry, and history. Below, the names of those who taught and passed the Royal Examination are carved into stones as an ancient Hall of Fame.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
There are plenty of pagodas and temples to see in Vietnam, but this one was special. For the history- and culture-minded, our tour guide explained the significance of the Tran Quoc Pagoda. It is Hanoi’s oldest pagoda and located nearby is a surviving Bodhi tree planted from a cutting of the original tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which the Buddha sat and achieved enlightenment.
We took a side trip out to Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of Nature. It’s about three hours away by car. It’s not that far, but a world apart from the rapid developments of the city. If you go to Hanoi, don’t miss the chance to visit Halong Bay. Ride a junket. Enjoy a meal on the boat and even spend the night on one. We did an overnight visit at Halong Bay, and I wished we had stayed longer. The karst topography of the area is beautiful, and the cave tour was a highlight.
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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to over 10 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…