Sunday, 27 September 2009

Celebration of Ly dynasty founding

Bac Ninh, Vietnam - A grand ceremony has been held at the Den Do Shrine to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the the founding of the Ly dynasty.

The ceremony began with performances of quan ho, a traditional type of folk music in northern Vietnam.

At 8 sharp, the drum beats signal the incense offering ceremony to Ly Thai To, who laid foundation for the prosperity of the Vietnamese nation and culture. This year's ceremony attracted more visitors than previous ones as this is one of the activities prior to the Great Anniversary of Thang Long in 2010.

After assuming the throne, Ly Thai To decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu (present-day Ninh Binh) to Dai La, which was later renamed Thang Long (present-day Hanoi).

The Den Do Shrine, dedicated to the 8 kings of the Ly, was built in the 11th century in Bac Ninh province. Through the ages the shrine had been renovated and expanded many times but was completely destroyed by the French invaders in 1952.

Since 1989 the shrine has been gradually reconstructed with concerted efforts of both the government and the local residents.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Blue of volunteers fill Hanoi bus stations and streets

As the 2009 University and College Entrance Examination (UCEE) is nearing, tens of thousands of students from various provinces are rushing to Hanoi to attend the exam. The volunteers with blue shirts are also ready to complete the Exam Assistance Programme successfully.

At Giap Bat bus station, the Song Ma voluntary team are enthusiastic about fulfilling their task in helping the UCEE examinees and their folks.

Nguyen Ngoc Tung, from the Hanoi University of Technology, said: "My team consists of 27 members from 15 different universities. Our task is to tell the way, direct examinees and their parents to the exam venues, introduce cheap and free lodgings."

When being interviewd, the examinees and their parents express their gratitude to the whole-hearted support and assistance of the preceeding students, which makes examinees feel more comfortable and relaxed before the decisive exams.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Temple of Literature destination of examinees

As a common practice, the Temple of Literature is the most popular destination of students ahead of any examination, in particular the university entrance exam.

Examinees rushed to the Temple to offer incense and pray for good luck.

Students visiting the Temple of Literature come from almost all provinces in the north of Vietnam.

Tuan from Hanoi told the reporter that he had touched the tortoise head and achieved good results in the high school final exam.

He believed that the old tortoises gave him good luck. This time, in the run-up to the important college entrance exam, he once came here in search of good luck.

Besides students, even pre-schoolchildren, who are to enter the first grade, also come here with their parents to look for good fortune.

When being asked, students said they are not superstitious but they still came to the Temple of Literature before the exam so that they feel better, more relaxed after days of stress.

Diep said: "I think the exam results mainly depend on our own efforts, visiting the Temple is just a means to relieve stress and refresh my self."

As observed thousands of students came to touch the old tortoises' head to pray for good luck.

Touching the tortoise before exams is believed to bring good luck to examinees.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Getting there and around

Getting there & away

Bus & minibus
Hanoi has several main long-distance bus stations and each one serves a particular area. They are fairly well organised, with ticket offices, fixed prices and printed schedules. You should consider buying tickets the day before you plan to travel on the longer-distance routes to ensure a seat.

In central Hanoi, Kim Ma bus station (cnr Pho Nguyen Thai Hoc & Pho Giang Vo) has buses to the northwestern part of Vietnam, including Hoa Binh (25, 000d, two hours) and Dien Bien Phu (120, 000d, 16 hours).

Gia Lam bus station (827 1569; Ð Ngoc Lam) is the place for buses to points northeast of Hanoi. These include Halong Bay (40, 000d, 3½ hours), Haiphong (35, 000d, two hours), and Lang Son (50, 000d, three hours) and Lao Cai (53, 000d, nine hours), both near the Chinese border. The bus station is 2km northeast of the centre – cross the Song Hong (Red River) to get there. Cyclos can’t cross the bridge, so take a taxi (around 30, 000d) or motorbike. More convenient is the Loung Yen bus station in the southeast of town, serving the same places, plus Cao Bang (80, 000d, eight hours) and Ha Giang (76, 000d, seven hours).

Giap Bat bus station (864 1467; Ð Giai Phong) serves points south of Hanoi, including Ninh Binh (28, 000d, two hours) and Hué (80, 000d, 12 hours). It is 7km south of the Hanoi train station.

My Dinh bus station (768 5549, Ð Pham Hung) is another option in the west of town, which serves a range of destinations, including Halong City, Lang Son, Cao Bang, Ha Giang and Dien Bien Phu.

Tourist-style minibuses can be booked through most hotels and cafés. Popular destinations include Halong Bay and Sapa.

Many open-ticket tours through Vietnam start or finish in Hanoi.

Car & motorcycle
To hire a car with a driver, contact a hotel, travellers café or travel agency. The main roads in the northeast are generally OK, but in parts of the northwest they can be dire in the wet season and only suitable for a 4WD.

The average cost for a six-day trip in a Russian jeep is about US$300 per person, including the jeep, a driver and petrol. These old jeeps fit only two passengers and are pretty uncomfortable: they’re dusty and hot, or damp and cold, depending on the weather. For a smarter Japanese air-con 4WD, double the rate. The price usually includes the driver’s expenses, and it’s a good idea to clarify this.

If you plan to tour the north by bike, there are several good outfits that can arrange guides and rentals and help with itinerary planning.

The 125cc Russian-made Minsk is the best overall bike for touring the north – you’ll need this kind of power for the mountainous regions, and all mechanics know how to fix them. Quality of rental motorbikes can be extremely variable, so try to find a reputable dealer, especially if you’re planning long trips.

For the most reliable Minsk rental in town, make for Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure (926 1534; 1 Pho Luong Ngoc Quyen). Cuong rents out bikes for US$5 a day, including a full range of spares and a repair manual.

For more on the mighty Minsk, check out the official website of the Minsk Club ( Its motto is ‘In Minsk We Trust’ and the site is full of useful information on the motorbike and the mountains to explore.

The main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co; 825 3949; 120 Ð Le Duan; ticket office 7.30am-12.30pm & 1.30-7.30pm) is at the western end of Pho Tran Hung Dao; trains from here go to destinations south. Foreigners can buy tickets for southbound trains at counter 2, where the staff speak English. It’s often best to buy tickets at least one day before departure to ensure a seat or sleeper.

To the right of the main entrance of the train station is a separate ticket office for northbound trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) and China. Tickets to China must be bought from counter 13.

However, the place where you purchase the ticket is not necessarily where the train departs. Just behind the main ‘A Station’ on Ð Le Duan is Tran Quy Cap station (B Station; Pho Tran Qui Cap; 825 2628) and all northbound trains leave from there.

To make things even more complicated, some northbound (Lao Cai and Lang Son included) and eastbound (Haiphong) trains depart from Gia Lam on the eastern side of the Song Hong (Red River), and Long Bien (826 8280) on the western (city) side of the river. Be sure to ask just where you need to go to catch your train. Tickets can be bought at the main station until about two hours before departure; if it’s any closer to the departure time, go to the relevant station and buy tickets there.

Check with Vietnam Rail (Duong Sat Viet Nam; for current timetables.

Hanoi has fewer direct international flights than HCMC, but with a change of aircraft in Hong Kong or Bangkok you can get to almost anywhere.

Vietnam Airlines (943 9660;; 25 Pho Trang Thi; 7am-6.30pm Mon-Fri, 8-11.30am & 1.30-5pm Sat, Sun & holidays) links Hanoi to destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes include Hanoi to Danang, Dien Bien Phu, HCMC, Hué and Nha Trang, all served daily.

Pacific Airlines (974 5555; 193 Ð Ba Trieu) has daily flights to Danang and HCMC.

Getting around

Car & motorbike
Car & motorbike
For travellers well versed in the ways of Asian cities, Hanoi is a lot of fun to explore by motorbike. Most guesthouses and hotels can arrange new motorbikes for around US$5 a day. However, for the uninitiated, it is not the easiest place to learn. Traffic conditions are definitely not as orderly as home, and driving at night can be dangerous, particularly crossing the busy junctions with no traffic lights. Then there are the hassles of dealing with parking and possible theft. It’s also easy to unknowingly violate road rules, in which case the police will help you part with some cash.

Bus & tram
There are now more than 60 public bus lines serving routes in and around Hanoi. The buses are clean and comfortable, and the fare is just 3500d: only walking would be cheaper. Pick up a copy of the Xe Buyt Ha Noi (Hanoi bus map; 3000d) from recommended bookstores on Pho Trang Tien. It is all in Vietnamese but easy enough to follow with routes and numbers clearly marked.

Local transport
There are several companies in Hanoi offering metered taxi services. All charge similar rates. Flag fall is around 10, 000d to 15, 000d, which takes you one or two kilometres; every kilometre thereafter costs about 8000d. Bear in mind that there are lots of dodgy operators with high-speed meters. Try and use the more reliable companies:

Airport Taxi (873 3333)

Hanoi Taxi (853 5353)

Mai Linh Taxi (822 2666)

Taxi CP (824 1999)

A good way to get around Hanoi is by bicycle, although the traffic can be daunting at first. Many guesthouses and cafés offer these for rent for about US$1 to US$2 per day.

Lonely Planet

Practical information

  • ANZ Bank (825 8190; 14 Pho Le Thai To; 8.30am-4pm Mon-Fri) On the western edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, this international bank has cash advances in dong and dollar with a 24-hour ATM.
  • Industrial & Commercial Bank (825 4276; 37 Pho Hang Bo) In a convenient location in the Old Quarter, it cashes travellers cheques at the standard 0.5% commission for dong, 1.25% for US dollars and 3% for credit-card cash advances.
  • Vietcombank Pho Hang Bai (826 8031; 2 Pho Hang Bai); Pho Tran Quang Khai (826 8045; 198 Pho Tran Quang Khai) The towering HQ is located a few blocks east of Hoan Kiem Lake and it has an ATM and offers most currency services. Several smaller branches are scattered around town, including a handy one on Pho Hang Bai, near Hoan Kiem Lake.

Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances
Back in the bad old days, Hanoi used to be the hardest place to travel in Vietnam, then in the late 1990s things improved massively. More recently it has become the capital of hotel and tour scams in Vietnam, so be sure to keep your antennae up. We have heard several substantiated reports of verbal aggression and physical violence towards tourists when deciding against a hotel room or tour. Stay calm and back away slowly or things could quickly flare up. Some Western women have been hassled by young men around town who follow them home, so it pays to hit the town in larger numbers. Walking alone in well-lit areas of the Old Quarter is usually safe, but stay alert in the darker streets, particularly in the early hours of the morning. When getting from one part of town to the other at night, particularly from late-night spots, it is more sensible for solo women, and even men, to take a metered taxi or xe om.

The biggest scams in town are inextricably linked. The taxi and minibus mafia at the airport shuttle unwitting tourists to the wrong hotel. Invariably, the hotel has appropriated the name of another popular property and will then attempt to appropriate as much of your money as possible.

Gay men should be aware of a scam going on around the Hoan Kiem Lake. It starts with a friendly stranger approaching a foreigner and suggesting a night out. This leads to a kar aoke bar and a private room for a few drinks and some songs. The bill arrives and it’s mira culously US$100 or more. The situation deteriorates from here and ends in extortion. Be careful and follow your instincts. Subtle variations on this theme involving Western men and local women have been going on for years, and few ‘victims’ think of it as a scam.

Lonely Planet

History of Hanoi


The site where Hanoi stands today has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in AD 1010, naming it Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon). There should be some spectacular celebrations in honour of the 1000th birthday of the city in 2010. The decision by Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty in 1802, to rule from Hué relegated Hanoi to the status of a regional capital for a century.

Down the centuries, Hanoi has been called many names, including Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital), from which the Europeans derived the name they eventually applied to all of northern Vietnam – Tonkin. The city was named Hanoi (The City in a Bend of the River) by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina.

Hanoi was proclaimed the capital of Vietnam after the August Revolution of 1945, but it was not until the Geneva Accords of 1954 that the Viet Minh, driven from the city by the French in 1946, were able to return.

During the American War, US bombing destroyed parts of Hanoi and killed hundreds of civilians; almost all the damage has since been repaired. One of the prime targets was the 1682m-long Long Bien Bridge, originally built between 1888 and 1902 under the direction of the same architect who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. US aircraft repeatedly bombed the strategic bridge, yet after each attack the Vietnamese managed to improvise replacement spans and return it to road and rail services. It is said that the US military ended the attacks when US prisoners of war (POWs) were put to work repairing the bridge.

Lonely Planet

Introducing Hanoi

Introducing Hanoi

Imagine a city where the exotic chic of old Asia blends with the dynamic face of new Asia. Where the medieval and modern co-exist. A city with a blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace, an architectural museum piece evolving in harmony with its history, rather than bulldozing through like many of the region’s capitals. Hanoi is where imagination becomes reality.

A mass of motorbikes swarms through the tangled web of streets that is the Old Quarter, a cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years and still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city. Hawkers in conical hats ply their wares, locals sip coffee and bia hoi (beer) watching life (and plenty of tourists) pass them by. Witness synchronised t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake while goateed grandfathers tug at their wisps over the next chess move. See the bold and beautiful dine at designer restaurants and cut the latest moves on the dance floor. Hanoi has it all: the ancient history, a colonial legacy and a modern outlook. There is no better place to untangle the paradox that is modern Vietnam.

The grand old dame of Asia, Hanoi lay in a deep slumber after Vietnam’s partition in 1954 until the effects of economic reforms kicked in four decades later. The city survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990s as an example of a French-conceived colonial city. Huge mansions line grand boulevards, and lakes and parks dot the city, providing a romantic backdrop to the nonstop soundtrack. There are still moments of Paris, as the smell of baguettes and café au lait permeates street corners.

Known by many names down the centuries, Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) is the most evocative, and let there be no doubt that this dragon is on the up once more.

Lonely Planet

Friday, 24 April 2009

Legend of the West Lake

The West Lake is the known as the largest lake in Hanoi with an area of more than 500ha. According to scientific investigations, the West Lake, as well as the Sword Lake, is a section of the Red River when it changed its stream direction. The West Lake is also knowns with many other names like the Fog Lake, Golden Buffalo Lake and Dam Xac Cao (Fox Corpse Lake).

Golden Buffalo and Fox Corpse are the names deriving from the imaginary legends.

Since time immemorial, there was a rocky mountain where lived a fox which did harm to the people. The Heaven was angry and ordered the Dragon King to flood and destroyed the mountain cave, killing the fox. The cave shrank and a lake was formed, the fox corpse floated. Thus, the people here called it Fox Corpse Lake.

As another legend goes, the name Golden Buffalo originated in the Ly dynasty. At that time there was a highly achived Buddhist monk called Nguyen Minh Khong, who was good at using magic and able to cure fatal diseases.

Hearing about him, China's Song king invited him to treat his son's disease. After sucessful in curing the king's son, he was allowed to take away anything in the king's store. He got nothing but all black bronze. Returning home, he offered all the bronze to the Ly king; the king then had a bell cast.

When the bell was rang, a golden buffalo from China ran to Vietnam. Coming at the forest north of Thang Long

Citadel when the bell stopped ringing, the buffalo was angry and destroyed the forest, the land became a lake. The king ordered to throw the bell into the lake so that the buffalo would not go up.

Since then, the buffalo lay silently in the lake and the lake got its name. It is said that anyone who has ten sons can call and take the buffalo home. One time, a person with ten sons came to called the buffalo. Suddenly the rope attached to the buffalo broke and the buffalo dived back into water. It was later found that, one of his son was a foster child.

The lake is also called the Fog Lake because there is fog hovering the lake surface every morning and afternoon.

In 1573, the lake was renamed West Lake to avoid the king's name and has been called so since.

Today, streets surrounding the lake, Tran Quoc Temple, West Lake Temple, Quan Thanh Temple have become interesting sites for any locals and visitors to Hanoi.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Cultural Day of Vietnamese Ethnic Groups begins

The Cultural Day of Vietnamese Ethnic Groups officially opens in Son Tay, Hanoi on April 18. The festival attracts more than 1000 artists from 29 provinces and cities.

This cultural day is not only a cultural event but also a landmark event leading to the Great Anniversary of Thang Long.

Since morning, thousands of visitors rushed to the cultural village to enjoy the festival atmosphere. Many were curious about what the ethnic groups were going to boast in this day. Those who came from afar brought cooked rice and bread to eat en route.

The traditional art performances attracted a lot of public attention. Ho Van Nhu, from the Van Kieu ethnic group said: "Our delegation has come to Hanoi since April 14, bringing here three performances Greetings to the New rice, Love Exchange and traditional costume performance. In three of them, Greetings to the New Rice is of most excellence, the whole village will slaughter a buffalo to offer to the gods from morningVi into the night."

Visitors had chances to meet girls and boys from different ethnic groups with a bit shyness. They were, however, very confident when performing on stage.

The "Dien Hong Cultural Festival" show will take place on an area of more than 1200 square metres in the hill foot, ending the cultural day on the evening of April 19.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Old timers

Two women from different generations who shared a passion for Vietnamese folk music joined forces to open the Ca Tru Thang Long Theatre.

Ca tru is an ancient form of chamber music – normally featuring a female vocalist, percussionists and a lute-player – that originated in northern Vietnam as a form of entertainment for the royal court nearly 1,000 years ago.

As with many of Vietnam’s most precious traditional arts, it has experienced some lean times in the latter half of the 20th century but in recent years there have been extensive efforts to re-invigorate the genre. The latest champion of the cause is the Ca Tru Thang Long Theatre on Tong Dan street in Hanoi, which is the result of a collaboration between the Museum of Vietnam Revolution, where it is located, and Nguyen Lai Trading company.

Rather than simply providing a space where revivalists can play to limited number of purists, the theatre is also partly an exhibition space where audiences can find out more about this traditional form of music with a display of pictures, photos and other items. In the showroom you can also find silk from Van Phuc village, ceramics from Bat Trang village and lacquer decorative items from Ha Thai village.

“My theatre is the first in Vietnam to organise professional ca tru shows. The theatre is well appointed with modern sound system and lighting,” says Nguyen Lan Huong, the 28-year-old director of Ca Tru Thang Long Theatre. After years studying the traditional arts, Huong was impressed by the efforts being made to restore ca tru by clubs in the provinces of Ha Tinh, Thanh Hoa, Hung Yen, Bac Ninh, Thai Binh and Haiphong as well as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

“But performances were not as regular and professional as other traditional folk genres or performance arts such as cheo, tuong or cai luong,” says Huong. “I dreamed of a special theatre for ca tru ever since I was lucky enough to meet the singer Bach Van and now my dream has come true!” An experienced ca tru singer, Bach Van is now the art director of the theatre and is delighted to be able to share her passion for ca tru with younger generations.

“At present, our theatre has 15 young and talented performers. We have also received great assistance from musicologists, cultural experts and old ca tru artists, who are now over 80 years old but their voices and performances are still perfect!” says Bach Van.

“We can recreate the true essence of ca tru with its beautiful rhythms and poetry without having a young lady serving liquor to customers like in the past!” she adds, alluding to ca tru’s reputation as a geisha-like form of entertainment in the 20th century. “We aim to both preserve and develop ca tru as well as build a better society,” adds Lan Huong. “Part of the theatre’s profits is for training potential ca tru artists.

But we will also provide funds for orphans and children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend vocational training centres so that they can find a good job and contribute to society.” The theatre’s MC, Van Anh is hopeful that the theatre will attract a young audience.

“Ca tru music sounds strange to the uninitiated. Clicks and clacks accompany centuries-old ballads,” says Van Anh, who learnt how to sing and play ca tru tunes as a young girl in Haiphong. “It is not the kind of music that inspires toe tapping or humming. But it can transport you to anotJustify Fullher age, once you start to recognise the art’s fine subtleties.

It can be really intoxicating.” The theatre seats 100 people for each performance. There are three 45-minute shows with 10 different dances and songs daily at 4.45pm, 6pm and 7.15pm. Tickets cost VND35,000 per person.

The origins of ca tru

The origins of ca tru are still the subject of debate. One story goes that a woman named A Dao created the genre, when lulling the enemy into a false sense of security with her sweet singing (ca tru is also sometimes referred to as Hat A Dao).

Another theory is that a woman named Dao Thi, a talented musician beloved by the Ly Dynasty (1009 – 1225), introduced an embryonic form of ca tru music to the imperial court, influenced no doubt by Chinese taste in music. By the 15th century it had become a hobby for aristocrats and scholars and performances could be heard at communal halls, inns and private homes throughout the land.

During a ca tru performance, the musicians – collectively known as giao phuong – stay seated. The singer, always a woman, is called a co dao and she will also play the phach – short drumsticks played off a small block of bamboo. A musician accompanies the singer on the dan day, a long-necked three-stringed lute with 10 frets.

There will also be a drummer, playing a small drum known as the Trong Chau. However by the 19th century ca tru had become a geisha-style form of entertainment. Attractive young female singers would entertain men in a relaxed environment, sometimes serving drinks, snacks and possibly opium.

As a result of these sordid associations after the August Revolution of 1945, ca tru was suppressed as it had come to represent the maltreatment of women for the entertainment of ruling class men. Ca tru quickly faded into obscurity and arguably as an art form it has never truly recovered.