Travel: Venerable Hanoi: Vietnam’s historic capital

Heading into Hanoi’s historic heart, we admire the mosaic wall bordering the highway. Many sections depict iconic scenes, which include giant dragons, turtles, storks and exotic flowers

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As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe and has placed travel on hold indefinitely, there will come a time when we emerge from this crisis and travel once again.
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Extending a Uniworld Cruise itinerary, we head to Hanoi.

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After a long flight, our holiday begins on our hotel suite’s balcony above one of Hanoi’s two lakes.

Spreading before us is a spectacular nighttime view of the city.

When room service brings bowls of steaming Pho, we savour this fusion of Chinese, French and local cuisine — discovering a delicious way to fuel our Vietnamese adventure.

Delving into history, we investigate the 11th century Temple of Literature and Vietnam’s first university. Once heralding royalty, a bronze bell hangs atop the white, three-story gateway.

Prominent courtyards enclose peaceful shady lawns, ideal for scholarly studies. Another, encloses a large rectangular pond lined with bonsai trees and grey memorial stones.

Names of esteemed writers, sages and doctors are etched on these stelae.

In another courtyard, a dragon-handled incense burner stands before artifact storage halls, the House of Ceremonies and red-columned temple. The temple’s two tall bronze cranes stand atop turtles.

Told of the gift of long, happy lives, shipmates stretch out to simultaneously rub one crane’s chest and its turtle’s back.

Statuettes of Confucius and his four main disciples sit on tables behind worshippers’ offerings of cookies, oranges and beer.

Beyond, glass cases display students’ inkwells, books and robes — one encloses a gilded rendition of the beloved Hoan Kiem turtle.

Our next stop is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, where white uniformed guards direct us into the long line-up.

Here, our guide recounts Ho’s endeavours to liberate Vietnam from French colonists, Japanese invaders and U.S. interventionists.

Filing solemnly past his embalmed body, we see Ho looks at complete peace.

Quietly exiting, we proceed to a monumental yellow mansion, once French Indochina’s administrative headquarters and later, North Vietnam’s presidential palace.

Proving too grandiose, Ho moved into humbler quarters beside the garage. Loving his humility, the Vietnamese fondly called him “Uncle Ho.”

Our day ends at Hoa Lo Prison, now a museum, well reflecting over a century of Vietnamese struggle for independence.

From 1896, France jailed and guillotined rebellious nationalists here. Dim communal cells exhibit sculpted grey prisoners shackled together on long platforms. Plaques describe their desperate conditions and failed escapes.

During the 1965-1973 U.S. intervention — aka Vietnam War — Hoa Lo incarcerated attacking bomber pilots. These American officers dubbed this prison the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Heading into Hanoi’s historic heart, we admire the mosaic wall bordering the highway. Many sections depict iconic scenes, which include giant dragons, turtles, storks and exotic flowers.

At Hoan Kiem Lake — home to the legendary lake turtle — we transfer onto open-air electric cars to fully experience Hanoi’s narrow 13th century lanes.

Thanks to government and UNESCO support, heritage low-rise buildings remain, sustaining this historic district’s bustling shops, galleries, tiny cafes and boutiques.

Navigating amid motorcycles, scooters and bicycles, we pass shops selling gorgeous silks, mysterious vegetables, spices and quirky keepsakes.

Celebrating Tet holidays, red and yellow lanterns adorn several blocks. In many spots, individuals are burning faux money to revere ancestral spirits.

Our extra days in Hanoi have revealed Vietnam’s determination, artistic culture and reverence for wisdom.

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