Of Bánh Mì, Turtles and The Giant Lotus- Part II

By Namira Hossain

Continued from last issue

 The lake has a very interesting legend tied to it where the emperor LêLợi defeated the invading Chinese army with a magical sword that was given to him by the gods, which he then returned to the Golden Turtle God. Turtles are considered in Vietnam to be symbols of longevity and wisdom and you can find many turtle statues all over the city of Hanoi. To commemorate this moment, a Turtle Tower stands on a tiny island on the center of the lake which is a catching sight, as is the bright red paintedHuc Bridge.

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After we devoured our sandwiches, we booked a tour for the next day to explore the city and returned to our hotel to rest up before dinner. The next day, we woke up bright and early for our tour. There were five of us travelling and we bundled into the car to see what Hanoi has to offer.

 

The first stop was the Temple of Literature, which is Vietnam’s first university established in 1076 to educate Vietnam’s royalty, mandarins and members of the elite. The university functioned for an incredible 700 years and its’ beautifully manicured gardens, fountains and architecture offer a fascinating glimpse into the ancient Vietnam. Even there, there are 116 carved blue stone turtles which were commissioned by the Emperor in 1484 to honour talent and encourage study. We walked all around this illustrious temple which is one of the several in Vietnam dedicated to Confucius and before we gathered in the car again to visit Ho Chi Minh’s house.

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The Presidential Palace is one of the most beautiful and opulent pieces of architecture in Hanoi and it was constructed in 1906. Now it is only open for official receptions and is closed off to the public. It is also very close to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum which we skipped because of the unbelievably long lines to enter. We wandered around the grounds and admired the beautiful lawns and the cars Ho Chi Minh rode in, which were still parked in the garage. His humble, traditional stilt-house is where he stayed from 1958-1969, and stands exactly as it was. The house only held his office room and his bedroom and nothing else. The kitchen and toilet were outside. Our guide also showed us various bunkers where the President and others would hide during bomb threats, and a loud bell that rang throughout the grounds to warn everyone. After this, we visited the HoànKiếmlake once more before dispersing for the day.
Another fun fact about Hanoi, is that on weekends, the main roads shut off for all cars, and you see children riding around on the streets in little scooties shrieking in glee as the wind touches their face. Next order of the day included more food – a walking street food tour which lasted three hours. Starting with sticky rice flavored ice cream, from an ice cream shop established in 1958, our guide Hannah and her trainee Lee were full of tidbits of information. We strolled through the twists and turns of the Old Quarter and tasted some Vietnamese favorites such as the pillow cake (the Vietnamese version of a samosa), pho ga (rice noodle soup with chicken), and of course a bánhmì. We ended the night with a Vietnamese egg coffee, a deliciously sweet concoction that was born out of a shortage of milk in 1940. We took some selfies with our guide and exchanged Facebook ID’s. With our bellies full and our minds at ease, we bade goodbye to our guides in front of a giant, pink lotus that was in the middle of a busy square under the star lit sky, as the motorcycles roared away on the street.