Four days in HANOI
By : Henry Lito D. Tacio
“Under French rule, Hanoi became one of the most attractive cities in Asia and there is still charm in its broad, tree-lined boulevards and shady parks. Most of the visible scars of the wartime bombing have disappeared, but years of neglect and overcrowding have given Hanoi a rundown look. This is slowly being reversed by the construction boomlet which has erupted under the economic reforms launched in 1986.”
That was what I read in the All-Asia Travel Guide a few days before my trip to the city which some journalists called as the “Paris of the East.” Last year, the TripAdvisor listed Hanoi as one of the world’s top ten best destinations.
The trip was part of the prize I won in the 9th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards. Other journalists who joined the trip were Sun Star Pampanga’s Ian Ocampo Flora, Manila Bulletin’s Rizaldy Comanda, Baguio Midland Courier’s Hanna Lacsamana and Cherry Ann Lim, a reporter of Sun Star Cebu and the only one from Cebu, whose story won the Agriculture Story of the Year.
Three award-winning photojournalists also came: Business Mirror’s Mauricio Victa, who was elevated to the Hall of Fame for winning five awards already; Frank Cimatu of Baguio Chronicle, and Dave Leprozo, Jr, of Manila Standard.
Radio was represented by Ronde Alicaya of DXCC RMN in Cagayan de Oro City while television had Davao’s Ruben Gonzaga, the host of ABS-CBN’s “Agri Tayo Dito.”
For four days, the group had fun time bonding, eating and exchanging notes and ideas. But the best times was visiting the historical sites and places which left most of us in awe and enthrallment. Consider the following:
Hoa Lon Prison: It is commonly translated as “fiery furnace” or “stove.” The French called it Maison Centrale literally, Central House, a traditional euphemism to denote prisons in France.
Most Filipinos remember it as the prison cell of American pilots who were captured during the war. The prisoner of wars called it “Hanoi Hilton.” Among the famous inmates were Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995), and Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008).
Hoan Kiem Lake: This charming lake has a small island on which the Turtle Pagoda stands. It marks the spot where, according to legend, a turtle rose from the water bearing a magic sword with which Le Loi, a 15th century Vietnamese hero, drove out the Chinese invaders. This must be the reason why it is also called as Sword Lake.
Ngoc Son Temple: It means “Temple of the Jade Mountain.” It is connected to the lakeshore by an elegant scarlet bridge built in classical Vietnamese style. Buildings of the temple include the Pen Tower (Thap But), the ink-slab (Dai Nghien), the Moon Contemplation Pavilion (Dac Nguyet) and the Pavilion against Waves (Din Tran Ba).
Ba Đình Square: This is the place where President Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. When the president died, the granite Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was built to display his embalmed body. It remains a major site of tourism and pilgrimage.
Presidential Palace: This famous building was constructed by Auguste Henri Vildieu, the official French architect for French Indochina. When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons. Eventually, he built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house and carp pond on the grounds. He lived in the said house until his death in 1969.
The Chua Mot Cot (or One-Pillar Pagoda): Many Vietnamese believe the pagoda looks like Buddha sitting on a lotus flower. It was first built in the 11th century to honor Buddhist advisers who supported Ly Thai To, the founder of ancient Hanoi.
Fine Arts Museum: A temple of Confucius, it hosts the “Imperial Academy,” Vietnam’s first national university. Built in 1070, it is one of several temples in Vietnam which is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. It is said that many of the country’s scholars took their examinations here and their achievements are recorded on stone stele.
On our third day, we went to one of the most scenic spots of Vietnam the Ha Long Bay which is located 164 kilometers east of Hanoi. It took us four hours to get there but it was worth the trip.
Ha Long Bay is located in the Gulf of Tonkin, within Quang Ninh Province, in the northeast of Vietnam. Covering an area of 43,400 hectares and including over 1,600 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans, it forms a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars and is an ideal model of a mature karst landscape developed during a warm and wet tropical climate. The property’s exceptional scenic beauty is complemented by its great biological interest.
The Lonely Planet wrote: “Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible. The geological explanation of karst erosion may be more prosaic, but doesn’t make this seascape any less poetic.”
Our last day was spent on shopping spree at the Old Quarter. When the French occupied Hanoi in the late 19th century, they demolished many of the old Vietnamese buildings and replaced them with imposing French-style villas. Today, the area is home to some of Hanoi’s fanciest restaurants and hotels.
Together along with the journalists were some staff of the PMFTC Inc.: Bayen Elero, Dave Gomez and Didet Danguilan.