Thursday, May 2, 2013

Exploring Hanoi Old Quarter

We visited Hanoi in late April. From Noi Bai International Airport, we took more than one hour to reach our our hotel- Hanoi Old Centre Hotel. The hotel is located at the heart of Old Quarter, one of the most prominent tourism area in Hanoi. Old Quarter is believed to be inhabitated by Vietnamese some 1000 years ago, starting from the time of King Ly Thai.

Of course, we can't expect that the streets remained the same as 1000 years ago. Now, it is a township with concrete buildings and narrow streets. However, a few very old historical relics survived as well. In a round trip, we visited Ngoc Son Temple, Thap Rua (Turtle Tower), the Opera House, Vietnamese Women's Museum, St. Joseph Cathedral, and Ly Quoc Su Pagoda.These places are nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Starting at 2 pm, the tour took about 3 hours.

Hoan Kiem Lake (or Guam) is in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter. It looks like a peaceful oasis in the middle of traffic sandstorm. Turtle Tower medidates on a patch of dry land in the lake (upper left). The surrounding area is well landscaped with people resting, relaxing, jogging, or even drawing beside the lake. The legend of Hoan Kiem Lake and the history of Turtle Tower is available at One of my Vietnamese friends stated that Turtle Tower is the most symbolic monument in Hanoi. If that is true, then, Hoan Kiem is definitely a must visit site in Hanoi.

Turtle Tower was built in 1886 as a tomb. Now, it serves as a tower to honour the magic turtle which is guarding Le Loi's sword. The legend told that King Le Loi crushed mighty Chinese army with the magic sword originated from the sea. A magic turtle later claimed back the sword from him. Some believed that the sword is still being kept in the lake (Hoan Kiem, 还剑 means returning the sword).

Ngoc Son Temple is located on the northern island of Hoan Kiem Lake. The temple is connected by a wooden bridge (upper left). The entrance fee of 20,000d per person was collected at the entrance (upper right). Built in 18th century, the temple has strong Chinese influence (lower left).The name Ngoc Son means 玉山 in Mandarin, or Jade Mountain. A 6-feet-long giant turtle specimen is displayed in the temple. The giant turtles are still populated in Hoan Kiem Lake. As the lake endures heavy pollution, more conservation work have to be done to keep the turtle happy and far from extinction.

The legend of Hoan Kiem is carved on the entrance of Ngoc Son Temple.

Panoramic view of Ngoc Son Temple. The temple attracts many foreign and local visitors.

Hanoi Opera House is located at the southeast of Hoan Kiem Lake. We found the building is nothing but a vivid structure with rich French Colonial Architecture. Well, we left the building after taking a group photo there. If you wish to catch some performances there, you can visit Official Site of the opera house.

Our next stop, Vietnamese Women Museum, 500 meters away from Hanoi Opera House. The museum is housed in a contemporary white building. It is catchy in the middle of beige colonial themed street. The entrance fee was 30,000d per person. The museum is open from 8 am - 5 pm, seven days a week.

The museum was built to honour the women's contribution to Vietnam. From costume of wedding, the tools for farming and fishing, to the fire arms that the women of Vietnam used in the fight against the intruders, the three-storey-museum was much more bigger than what we had expected. It cannot be considered as an impressive museum, but it can definitely keep us occupied with more than 20,000 objects exhibited. We stayed in the museum for one hour. More information about the museum is available at the Museum Official Website.

Tired, we decided to take taxi from Women's Museum to St. Joseph Cathedral. The journey took 5 minutes, with the fare of 18,000d.The cathedral is opened to public for prayer after 5 pm.

Built in 1886, this majestic Gothic cathedral is a house of worship for Catholics. The stain glass windows are breathtaking.  There are several lemon tea shops outside of the cathedral which worth trying.

We passed by Ly Quoc Su Pagoda on our way back to our hotel from St. Joseph Cathedral. The pagoda is located some 50 meters north to the cathedral. Dubbed one of the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, we found that the existing building there was actually built after 1954. The old one was buried deep under the flow of time.

In this afternoon tour, we actually made a big circle around Hoan Kiem Lake, clockwise. Our trip was blessed with a good weather. We learnt a lot of information about Hanoi from our HanoiKids tour guides. The tour was really helpful for us to familiarize with the places, especially when we went out on our own at night for shopping later. The information about attraction in 36-old-street is available at

Next, our second day in Hanoi. We visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Presidential Palace, Temple of Literature, and Hanoi Citadel. 


  1. Those hydrangeas took my breath away!!!! Thanks for sharing your photos.

    Hotels in Hanoi Old Quarter

    1. Hydrageas?? Thank you Nguyen Xuan. Your article is helpful.

  2. I hope you will come in future Anise Hotel Hanoi. . Tell: (+84)4 3927 4670 / (+84)9 8252 8589

    1. Dear Hue Nguyen, thank you for your invitation. Will consider staying with Anise Hotel in future. To all our readers, please visit tripadvisor for more reviews at