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Hanoi - The National CapitalThe area around Hanoi - the name means 'within the waters', a reference to the city's close relationship with the Song Hong, or 'Red River' and numerous surrounding lakes - has been the site of Vietnam's capital, on and off, for more than two millennium.
In the 3rd century BC, King Thuc Pan established the earliest Vietnamese capital at the citadel of Co Loa just north of the present-day city. More than 1,000 years later, when the Chinese were driven out and independence restored, General Ngo Quyen symbolically chose Hanoi as the site of the reborn Vietnamese nation. In 1010, the king Ly Cong Uan moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Hanoi now and named it as Thang Long. Subsequently, in 1802, the first Nguyen Emperor, Gia Long, transferred the capital to Hue - but this proved to be a short-lived move.
In 1902, France established Hanoi as the capital not just of Vietnam, but of all French Indochina. In 1954, the city became the capital of the communist north. From 1968 – 1972, Hanoi was bombed several times by American and in 1976, following the defeat of the south regime; Hanoi was pro-claimed capital of the reunited Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In many ways, Hanoi remains the heart of the Vietnamese nation.
A Growing Metropolis
At the end of the 19th century, Hanoi was still a relatively small town, centered on the Old Quarter and the administrative area within the Citadel.
While still not a Southeast Asian megalopolis like Bangkok or Jakarta, over the intervening 100 years, the Vietnamese capital has grown into a city of 3 million people, expanding southwards and westwards away from the Red River to encompass a broad region of Lakeland.
Here the French colonial rulers established their administrative and commercial quarters, and subsequently a free Vietnam built monuments to honor the struggle for independence and to the father of that independence, Ho Chi Minh.
Hanoi City Tour Itinerary I: The Old Quarter of HanoiHo Hoan Kiem - St Joseph's Cathedral - Old Quarter - Dong Xuan Market - Bach Ma Temple - Ngoc Son Temple - Water Puppet Theater
There's no better place to start your acquaintance with Hanoi than the city's bustling Old Quarter. Ho Hoan Kiem - Lake of the Restored Sword - lies in the centre of old Hanoi and holds a special place in the hearts of the Vietnamese.
According to legend, the Viet hero Le Loi was given a magic sword with which to fight the Chinese by the Divine Tortoise, which lives in Ho Hoan Kiem. After a 10-year struggle (1418-1428), Le Loi drove out the Chinese invaders and, as Emperor Le Thai Tho (1428 - 1433), restored the sword to its rightful owner beneath the tranquil waters of Ho Hoan Kiem.
Today the lake makes a delightful retreat from the bustle of central Hanoi. To the east of the lake, a path winds beneath shady trees, while to the west, groups of wispy-bearded old men spend their retirement playing chess. In the middle of the lake, a small pagoda, Thap Rua or Tortoise Stupa, stands on an islet. This Vietnamese folly erected as recently as 1886 - looks best by night, illuminated by fairy lights.
A Maze of 36 Streets of Hanoi
The visitor should proceed north along Le Thai Tho by the western edge of the lake. A slight diversion west along Hang Trong leads to St Joseph's Cathedral (NhaTho Lon). Consecrated in 1886, this is a neo-Gothic building of no outstanding architectural merit, but serves as an interesting souvenir of the French colonial period. By returning to the lake's shore and continuing north along Le Thai Tho, the visitor will enter Hanoi's fascinating Old Quarter, also known as 36 Pho Phuong, or '36 Streets'.
This area, which is almost entirely devoted to commerce, dates back to the 13th century when a group of 36 guilds established themselves here, each centered on a particular street. Today many of the street names still survive, although only a few are still readily identifiable by trade. In Vietnamese hang means 'merchandise', thus Hang Bac has come to mean 'Silver Street', which even today specializes in jewellery.
Other examples include Hang Chieu or 'Mat Street', Hang Ma or 'Paper Street', and Hang Thiec or 'Tin Street', all of which still market the specialty their name implies. By contrast, Hang Quat, which used to sell fans, now offers bright red flags, lacquer ware and candlesticks, whilst Hang Buom or 'Sail Street' - an area long associated with Hanoi's Hoa, or Overseas Chinese community - now specializes in imported foods and confectionery, with nary a sail in sight. Keep an eye on your watch as a stroll around this area can easily take up a half-day or more.
Tube Housing in Hanoi
The Old Quarter is also remarkable for its traditional 'tube houses' - long, narrow commercial buildings designed to combine shop front, storage space and living quarters - which may be as narrow as 2m (6ft) across, but as much as 50m (164ft) deep.
Designed in this fashion in the 15th century to minimize taxation on shop frontage, they have survived only in Hanoi's merchant quarter and in the ancient town of Hoi An. The best way to see the Old Quarter is to ramble almost at random, seeking out the most lively 01 fascinating sights, yet moving in a generally northwards direction towards the busy Dong Xuan Market (Cho Dong Xuan).
The largest market in Hanoi, Dong Xuan is named after an ancient hamlet long since absorbed within the city. Built in 1889 by the French administration to replace the older Cau Dung or 'Eastern Bridge' market, Dong Xuan was destroyed by fire in 1994, but has since been rebuilt and retains its original facade.
Bridges And Fortifications Leaving Dong Xuan to its bustling fruit and vegetable merchants, continue north until you reach the railway line, then turn east along Pho Gam Cau until you reach the great embankment which holds back the Red River in time of spate.
The long railway bridge spanning the river at this point is the famous Long Bien Bridge (4), (Cau Long Bien) which was completed in 1902 and originally named after the then colonial gov-ernor of Indochina, Paul Doumer.
During the Second Indochina War, Long Bien Bridge was of great strategic significance, pro-viding the only communications link across the Red River to China. Defended by anti-aircraft guns and SAM missiles, the bridge was repeatedly bombed by the Americans and doggedly repaired by the Vietnamese - hence the strange irregularity in the framework of rusty metal pylons and struts that support its 1,700m (5,500ft) span.
Garrison Gate of Hanoi Citadel
Turn south from the bridge along busy Tran Nhat Duat and proceed to Hang Chieu, the third turn ing on the right. This leads back into the Old Quarter by way of Cua O Quan Chuong, the Gate of the Commander of the Garrison', built in 1749 and now the last of Old Hanoi's forti tied gateways.
Ancient Temples of Bach Ma
From here it's just a short walk to the revered Bach Ma Temple (Den Bach Ma or 'White Horse Temple') on Hang Buom Street. Founded in the 9th century by King Ly Thai in honor of a white horse guardian spirit that appeared to protect the Old City fortifications, the temple in its present form dates largely from the 18th century and fairly gleams with red lacquer and gilt.
Even a brief glance is enough to suggest strong Chinese influence, and in fact Bach Ma was once associated with the veneration by the local Hoa community of Ma Vien, the Chinese general who defeated the Trung Sisters and subjugated Vietnam in 43AD.
The route continues south through the narrow streets of the shoe bazaar emerging at the northeast corner of Ho Hoan Kiem. On a small mound nearby stands a tall, tapering stone column in the shape of a brush pen.
This Writing Brush Pillar, which proclaims in Chinese characters ta tien qing or 'writing on a blue sky', was designed by the revered 19th- century scholar Nguyen Van Sieu.
Close by, the graceful, red-lacquered curve of The Hue, or 'Sunrise Bridge', leads to a small island and to Ngoc Son Temple (Den Ngoc Son or the 'Temple of the Jade Mound'). This elegant building was founded in the 14th century and was originally a Confucian temple. In the 16th—18th centuries, it served as a pleasure pavilion for the Trinh Lords of northern Vietnam, while in the 19th century it was reconstituted as a Buddhist temple.
The temple is now primarily associated with the cult of deified warriors, most notably Tran Hung Dao, the general who defeated the Mongols at the Bach Dang River in 1279.
Hanoi's Art Galleries
Cross back over the Hue Bridge and note the dilapidated concrete Martyrs' Monument erected to honor those who died fighting for the winning side in Vietnam's Indochina wars.
Nearby, on the east of Pho Dinh Tien Hoang, is a fine old temple converted to serve as an art gallery, which certainly merits a visit. Indeed, the shop fronts along the northern and western sides of Ho Hoan Kiem are dotted with art galleries.
No other city in Southeast Asia has a better or more eclectic collection of galleries, offering everything from traditional Vietnamese art to European-style paintings - the influence, in particular, of Vietnam's French and Russian ties being readily apparent.
This is a good area to stroll and shop in during the early evening, especially as there are numerous small restaurants and cafes where iced beer and excellent Vietnamese coffee are available. Young couples, too, favor this lakeside area for early evening trysts - generally executed with an elegant discretion.
Water Puppetry in Hanoi
After some refreshments, be certain to round off the day by visiting the fascinating Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre at 57 Dinh Tien Hoang, just opposite the eastern end of the Hue Bridge. Unlikely though it may sound, this is a truly remarkable art, being uniquely Vietnamese and genuinely impressive.
Water puppetry - known in Vietnamese as roi nuoc - originated in the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam more than 1,000 years ago and, as an art form, still remains unknown virtually everywhere else. The puppets are carved from the hard, water-resistant wood of the fig tree to represent both traditional rural lifestyles (farmers, buffaloes, ducks, and officials) and mythical creatures (dragons, phoenixes, unicorns).
Standing concealed behind the watery stage, themselves waist-deep in water, the puppeteers use a complicated but invisible system of pulleys and poles to manoeuvre their wooden charges. The special effects are very clever indeed; rice sprouts from the water at an accelerated pace and smoke and fire issues from the dragons' mouths.
Walk On Water
Meanwhile, a motley assortment of puppet people and puppet farm animals appear to walk on water as they live out their everyday lives farming, hunting, fishing and flirting while attempting to avoid various kinds of misfortune. All the while a traditional orchestra playing flutes, drums, xylophones, gongs and stringed instruments provides appropriate accompanying music. Performances are usually held 8-9pm every day except Monday. Shows are popular, so it is wise to book tickets in advance.
Hanoi City Tour Itinerary II:Tran Quoc Pagoda - Quan Thanh Temple - Ho Chi Minh's House and Mausoleum - On Pillar Pagoda - Cot Co Flag Tower - Temple of Literature - Bich Cau Temple - Ambassadors' Pagoda - Maison Centrale (Hanoi Hilton) - Opera House
A good place to start a tour of Downtown Hanoi's lakes, temples and pagodas is the Tran Quoc Pagoda (Chua Tran Quoc), picturesquely situated on an island to the west of the causeway which separates Truc Bach Lake from the larger Ho Tay, or West Lake. From Tran Quoc it is easy to appreciate the key role which the shifting waters of the Red River have played in the shaping of the Vietnamese capital over the centuries.
Tran Quoc - 'Defend the Nation' - Pagoda is one of Vietnam's oldest temples, possibly dating back to the 6th century Early Ly Dynasty. A stone stele of 1639 still preserved in the temple grounds records that it was relocated here in the 15th century to protect it from the encroaching Red River.
A Taoist Temple
From Tran Quoc walks or takes a taxi south along Thanh Nien road causeway. To the east lie the still waters of Truc Bach or White Silk Lake. During the 18th century, the Trinh Lords built a summer palace here, which was later transformed into a place of detention for errant royal concubines, who were obliged to weave a particularly fine white silk - hence the name of the lake.
Turn east on leaving the causeway and enter the grounds of Quan Thanh Temple (Den Quan Thanh) built by the founder of the Early Ly Dynasty, Ly Thai To, in the early 11th century. The temple - rebuilt several times, most recently in 1893 - is dedicated to Tran Vo, Guardian of the North, who protects the city from malevolent influences. An image of this Taoist god, accompanied by his symbols of power, the turtle and the snake, cast in bronze by Trum Trong in 1677, stands nearly 4m (13ft) high on the main altar. A statue of the celebrated master craftsman stands to one side.
Ho Chi Minh Complex - Lang Bac Ho
Located on Duong Hung Vuong Boulevard, Hanoi Botanical Gardens and the present Presidential Palace (Phu Chu Tich), the latier a beautifully restored example of French colonial architecture originally constructed in 1906 as the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina.
Although closed to the public - nowadays it is used to receive visiting heads of state - it is possible to walk through the palace grounds by a clearly indicated route to visit Ho Chi Minh's House or Nha San Bac Ho (Tue-Sun 8-1 lam and 1.30-4.30pm), an unassuming residence raised on stilts where Ho Chi Minh spent the last decade of his life. The house is airy, with a neat garden beside a small pond. On the first floor, Uncle Ho's bedroom and study are preserved as he left them - clean and somewhat spartan.
Immediately to the south lies the symbolic heart of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Tuesday to Thursday 8-11am; usually closed October to December) facing the National Assembly across Ba Dinh Square. It was in this square that Ho Chi Minh read the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence on 2 September 1945, and it is here that his body was kept several years after his death on 2 September 1969.
The mausoleum, a monolithic grey structure built in the Soviet Union style, was constructed from 1973 to 1975, using marble, granite and rare woods brought from all over Vietnam. Visitors may enter and view Ho Chi Minh's embalmed body, but only briefly as military guards keep the line of visitors moving swiftly along. It is essential to dress correctly. Cameras and bags must be left behind.
A Unique Pagoda
On leaving the mausoleum, continue south for about 200m (656ft) before turning west along Chua Mot Cot, the road named for Hanoi's famous One Pillar Pagoda or Chua Mot Cot, a small but elegant wooden pagoda built by King Ly Thai Tong (1028-54) of the Early Ly Dynasty.
According to tradition, Quan The Am Bo Tat, better known as Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, appeared to the heirless king in a dream. Seated on a lotus throne, she handed him a baby boy. Soon after Ly Thai Tong married a young peasant girl who bore him a son and heir. To commemorate this event and give thanks to the Goddess, Ly ordered the construction of Chua Mot Cot, in the shape of a lotus flower, in 1049. The single column on which the pagoda rests in a tranquil lotus pond represents the 'stem' of the temple.
The bo tree behind the temple was planted by President Nehru of India during a state visit in 1958 and is said to be an offshoot of the one under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The attractive facade of the nearby Dien Huu Pagoda opens onto a quiet garden courtyard - a good place for a contemplative moment, though many Vietnamese visitors come for the acupuncture treatment with which the temple is associated.
Close by - indeed so close that it dominates both pagodas - is Ho Chi Minh Museum (daily 8-11am, 1.30-4.30pm), which opened on 19 May 1990, the centenary of Ho's birth. Exhibits concentrate on Ho's life, the development of the Vietnamese revolution, and displays of the great leader's personal effects.
The Hanoi Flag Tower
After visiting the museum, head back east along Chua Mot Cot Road until you reach Dien Bien Phu, a long boulevard of shady trees and ginger-bread colonial buildings, nearly all of which have been restored in recent years.
After about 500m (1,640ft), opposite the Lenin Monument, stands the Army Museum (Tue-Sun 8-11lam, 1.30-4.30pm) or Bao Tang Quan Doi. This merits a visit, providing well-presented displays of Vietnamese military history, essentially during the struggle for independence and the subsequent war in the south.
The museum courtyard - which is full of weaponry from the Indochinese Wars, including a Russian MIG 21 fighter - marks the southwestern corner of the Citadel, formerly the centre of administration in pre-colonial times and today a restricted military area in the heart of Hanoi.
Fortunately Cot Co Flag Tower, which is perhaps the most interesting feature of the Citadel, is open to the public and well worth the climb for the views over the city to the Red River and the Long Bien Bridge.
From Cot Co head south past the Lenin Monument and the Chinese Embassy until you reach busy Nguyen Thai Hoc. Turn west and walk a short distance to the National Fine Arts Museum (Tue-Sun 8am-noon, 1.30-4.30pm) which offers displays of art history from Dong Son, through the Kingdom of Champa and the pre-colonial Vietnamese dynasties, to more recent - but fast disappearing - Socialist Realism.
Just across Nguyen Thai Hoc, heading due south, is the smaller Van Mieu Road which leads to the Temple of Literature 14 or Van Mieu, one of Vietnam's foremost cultural treasures. Founded in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong of the Early Ly Dynasty, the temple was originally dedicated both to Confucius and to Chu Cong, a member of the Chinese royal family credited with originating many of the teachings that Confucius developed 500 years later. The site was chosen by Ly Dynasty geomancers to stand in harmony with the Taoist Bich Cau Temple and the Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda, representing the three major fonts of Vietnamese tradition.
In 1076, the Quoc Tu Giam, or 'School for the Sons of the Nation', was established at the same location when King Ly Nhan Tong (1072-1127) founded Vietnam's first university. The tradition of Confucian education flourished at the Temple of Literature, with the custom of offering a cloak to successful candidates beginning in 1374, while in 1484 the first stele bearing the names of doctoral graduates was erected.
After 1802, with the establishment of the Nguyen Dynasty and the transfer of the capital to Hue, the Royal University was moved too. Van Mieu continued to function, but the Quoc Tu Giam buildings were turned into a shrine to the parents of Confucius called Khai Thanh.
Nevertheless, in 1947, at the beginning of the First Indochina War, French shells demolished both Khai Thanh and the Houses of the Disciples in the Courtyard of the Sages. The Vietnamese clearly learned a lesson from this disaster, for during the Second Indochina War; many precious objects at the Temple of Literature were put into storage, while the stelae were buried in sand and surrounded by a reinforced concrete wall as protection against stray American bombs. In 1988, as a result of liberalization, the statues of Confucius and his disciples were restored to the temple and the complex opened to the public.
Entry to the complex is through Van Mieu Gate. The layout, modeled on that of the temple at Qufu in China's Shandong province where Confucius was born, consists of a succession of five walled courtyards. The first two courtyards, joined by Dai Trung Mon or 'Great Middle Gate', are carefully maintained gardens of tranquility where locals come to paint, read or converse quietly in the shade of the trees.
The third courtyard is reached via Khue Van Cac or 'Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature', a fine double-roofed gateway built in 1805. The visitor will find the Garden of Stelae - 82 stone memorials mounted on the backs of tortoises, each listing brief biographical details of graduates of the Temple of Literature dating back
The French - who demolished numerous historical buildings in the region when building their new administrative quarter at the turn of the 19th century - appreciated the unique significance of the temple complex and made it a protected historical building in 1906.
to the 15th century - a total of 1,306 scholars. In the centre of the courtyard is a walled pond called Thien Quang Tinh, which translates into 'The Well of Heavenly Clarity'.
The Inner Courtyards
Entry to the fourth courtyard, or Courtyard of the Sages, is via Dai Thanh Mon, or 'Gate of the Great Synthesis'. It was here, in the Great House of Ceremonies, that in times past, the king would make offerings at the Altar to Confucius while new university graduates would kneel and prostrate themselves to pay respect.
Behind the Great House of the Ceremonies is the Sanctuary with statues of Confucius and his leading disciples including Manh Tu or Mencius Flanking the courtyard to the east and west were once altars to the Houses of the Disciples of Confucius, but these were destroyed in the shelling of 1947 and have been replaced by a shop, a small museum and administrative offices. This courtyard is still used for chess games using people as live chess pieces, and for ceremonial dances, during the Tet festivities. The fifth and final courtyard once housed the Royal'University and, following the transfer of the capital to Hue in 1802, the Khai Thanh shrine to Confucius' parents. Again, and most unfortunately, these buildings were destroyed by shelling in 1947. At present, the fifth courtyard contains the Lieu Hanh Shrine, dedicated to the goddess who is one of the 'Four Immortals' honored by Vietnamese tradition.
Bich Cau Temple
About 250m (820ft) southwest of Van Mieu on Bich Cau Street is Bich Cau Taoist Temple (Dao Quan Bich Cau), the third temple in the symbolic geomantic triangle of the Ly Kings, together with Confucian Van Mieu and Buddhist Chua Mot Cot. Bich Cau was re-dedicated to the Immortal Ta Uyen who helped King Le Thanh Ton inflict a crushing defeat on the Kingdom of Champa in 1471.
Bich Cau consists of three buildings - a Taoist temple in the centre, a smaller Buddhist temple to the right, and living quarters for religious functionaries to the left. Inside the main Taoist shrine stands an altar to Ta Uyen, with the Immortal in the middle flanked by statues of his wife and son.
From Van Mieu head east along Nguyen Thai Hoc, turn south down Duong Le Duan and take the third turning to the east along busy Pho Tran Hung Dao. You are now entering the commercial heart of downtown Hanoi, most of which was built by the French and now gradually going high-rise.
One small pagoda of distinction survives in this bustling business area, however - take the second turning north along Pho Trang Hung Dao and, at 73 Quan Su Street is the Ambassadors' Pagoda 0 (Chua Quan Su). Little of the original 17th-century structure survives - the pagoda in its current form dates mainly from 1930. Once a reception house for ambassadors from Buddhist countries (representatives of other nations enjoyed less favored status), today it is an active and popular Buddhist establishment.
From Chua Quan Su head north a short distance to cross Pho Ly Thuong Kiet, turn eastwards and take the first road on the left along Pho Hoa Loa.
On the west side of this small cross street stand all that remains of the Maison Centrale much- feared prison built by the French in 1896 where thousands of Vietnamese political prisoners were held during the colonial period.
Today it is better known to Western visitor as the Hanoi Hilton - a wry sobriquet given by US prisoners-of-war held here during the Second Indochina War. In recent years, the greater part of the old prison has been torn down to make way for a glittering high-rise tower and little but the ochre-colored main entrance and a small museum remains of the original building.
More War Relics
From the Maison Centrale, head north across Pho Hai Ba Trung to Pho Trang Thi and continue east past the southern shore of Ho Hoan Kiem. This is the busy heart of downtown Hanoi, and a good place both to eat and shop. Here, make a small detour north along Ngo Quyen to see the former Residence of the Governor of Tonkin. Built in 1918, this attractive colonial building now serves as a State Guest House for important visitors.
The main attraction in this area, however, lied at the eastern end of Pho Trang Thi - the restored Opera House, now known officially as the Municipal Theatre (Nha Hat Lon). This fine building, modelled on the neo-baroque Paris Opera, would be much admired in any major European capital. During colonial times, the Opera House was regarded as the jewel in the crown of French Hanoi and the most sophisticated expression of French culture in all Indochina.
To the east of the Opera House, near the Red River embankment, are a number of museums including the Revolution Museum, the Geology Museum and the History Museum (Tue-Sun 8.15-11.45am, 1.15-4.30pm). Founded in the 1930s by the prestigious Ecole Frangaise d'Extreme Orient, this unusual building in Franco-Vietnamese style holds an interesting collection of artefacts from Vietnamese, Cham and Khmer history.
Excursions from Hanoi
Co Loa - My Chau Temple - An Duong Vuong Temple - Perfume Pagoda - Thay Pagoda - Tay Phuong Pagoda - Bat Trang - Van Phuc - Dong Ky - Soc Son Pagoda - But Thap Pagoda - Hoa Lu - Museum of the Nationalities of Vietnam
There are a number of significant and interesting sites around Hanoi that are well worth visiting. Taken collectively, however, they do not constitute a single tour, being scattered at all points of the compass and at varying distances from the Vietnamese capital.
The best solution for those wishing to explore the area is to stay in the capital and travel by hired car or taxi to the various destinations, perhaps combining two or three in a single day if they all happen to be in the same general direction.
Co Loa is also known as the Snail Citadel is just 20 km from Hanoi.
The first known independent Viet Kingdom was established in 258BC when Thuc Pan, Lord of Au Lac, overthrew the 18th and last ruler of the legendary Hung Kingdom, proclaimed himself King An Duong and established his capital at Co Loa, 25km (16 miles) north of present-day Hanoi.
Today there is little left of the original city, but a half-day trip to Co Loa Citadel is worthwhile for your excursions in Hanoi, both for the historical site and for a chance to see the attractive and relatively prosperous farming villages amid which the Citadel is set.
King An Duong built his capital within three concentric ramparts which spiraled like the shell of a snail - Co Loa means 'Old Snail' - and they are still discernible today. Close by the Citadel's for-mer south gateway, a venerable old bo tree shades My Chau Temple (Den My Chau), dedicated to An Duong's daughter, the princess My Chau; inside is a headless stone statue said to represent her.
About 100m (328ft) further on, An Duong Vuong Temple (Den An Duong Vuong) is dedicated to King An Duong, a 16th-century bronze statue of whom rests on the main altar, while a subsidiary altar is dedicated to the magical Golden Turtle Kim Quy. The terrace of this temple rests on six lacquered pillars that support a long roof with gracefully upswept eaves.
The Perfume Pagoda
A day trip from Hanoi to Perfume pagoda is easy and worth. The justly famous Perfume Pagoda (Chua Huong) is set in the Huong Tich Mountain (Mountain of Fragrant Traces) some 60km (37 miles) south of Hanoi. The name in fact is the collective one given to a number of Buddhist temples and shrines largely established by the Trinh Lords in the 17th and 18th centuries. This area, comprising about 30 sq km (12 sq miles), was the site of some bitter uprisings against the French colonialists and, as a result, several buildings were destroyed in the late 1940s. Fortunately, the area retains much of its scenic splendor.
The most enjoyable way to go is by boat from Duc Khe wharf on the Yen River, a trip to Perfume Pagoda easily organized through any tour company in Hanoi.
The river trip through outstandingly beautiful countryside takes around 2 hours, after which it is necessary to walk about 4km (2/ miles) to the temple complex (about 90 minutes). This excursion from Hanoi will easily take up an entire day.
Just 25 km from Hanoi center, a trip conmbine several places nearby Hanoi such as: Thay pagoda, Tay Phuong Pagoda and Duong Lam village is really worth for your Hanoi visit. Similarly well worth visiting is Thay Pagoda (Chua Thay), about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Hanoi. Thay or 'Master's Pagoda', also known as Thien Phuc Tu or 'Heavenly Blessing Pagoda', is dedicated to Thich Ca or Sakyamuni Buddha (the Gautama Buddha, bom in 536BC). To the left of the main altar stands a statue of Tu Dao Hanh, the master after whom the pagoda is named. To the right stands a statue of King Ly Nhan Tong (1072-1127), who is said to be a reincarnation of Tu Dao Hanh and during whose reign the pagoda was founded.
Thay Pagoda contains more than 100 religious statues, including purportedly the two largest in Vietnam - clay and papier-mâché giants which weigh more than 1,000kg (2,2051bs) each. Tu Dao Hanh is said to have been a master water pup- peteer, and demonstrations of this ancient skill are given at the temple during the annual festival on the fifth to seventh days of the third lunar month.
Tay Phuong Pagoda
Tay Phuong Pagoda (Chua Tay Phuong) is also located near by the Thay Pagoda in Hanoi. The pagoda lies some 6km (4 miles) to the west - hence its name, which means West Pagoda. Perched on top of a hill said to resemble a buffalo, Tay Phuong is a small pagoda dating originally from the 8th century, which is notable for its collection of more than 70 fine jack-fruit wood statues, including figures from both the Buddhist and Confucian pantheons.
Hanoi Handicraft Villages
The Red River Delta is well known for the skills of its artisans, and several small villages within easy reach of Hanoi are traditionally associated with particular crafts. About 13km (8 miles) southeast of the capital on the left bank of the Red River, Bat Trang is renowned for its blue and white ceramics - a tradition thought to date back to the 15th century when Muslim traders first introduced cobalt. There are approximately 2,000 families in Bat Trang, managing more than 800 kilns. The specialty of the 30 or so acknowledged 'master potters' is reproduction antiques.
Other craft villages in the Hanoi region include Van Phuc, about 8km (5 miles) southwest of the capital on Highway 6 to Hoa Binh, famous for its silk production; So, a noodle-producing village about 12km (7'A miles) further out on the same road; and Dong Ky, a wood-carving village about 15 km (9 miles) northeast of the capital on High-way 1 to Bac Ninh. Visitors are most welcome at these craft villages, and most tour companies in Hanoi are able to arrange half- or one-day tours.
Soc Son & But Thap Pagodas
If you are flying out of Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport and need to kill a little time in the vicinity, consider visiting Soc Son Pagoda (Chua Soc Son), dedicated to Thanh Giong, a legendary hero who defeated the Chinese during the time of the Hung Kings. The temple, set beside a tranquil lake against pine-clad hills, is about 35km (22 miles) to the north of the capital, on Highway 3 to Dong Anh, just north of Noi Bai. But Thap Pagoda (Chua But Thap) is another quiet and seldom-visited temple, which dates from the 17th century and is on the south bank of the Duong River, about 25km (16 miles) east of Hanoi to the south of Bac Ninh.
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital
finally, mention should be made of two important attractions somewhat further afield. Hoa Lu was the ancient capital of Vietnam under the Dinh (968-80) and Early Le (980-1009) dynasties. Set amid spectacular karst outcrops in central Ninh Binh province, some 94km (58 miles) south of Hanoi, are two historic temples. The first temple, Dinh Tien Hoang, was restored in the 17th century and is dedicated to the Dinh Kings. Inside are statues of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and three of his sons. The second temple, Dai Hanh, is also dedicated to the memory of the Early Le Kings.
Tam Coc & Bich Dong Caves
Used as an enchanting backdrop in the French film Indochine, Tam Coc means 'three caves': Hang Ca, the first is 127m long; Hang Giua is 70m; and Hang Cuoi is just 40m. From the wharf we can take a rowboat on the Ngo Dong River to properly see Tam Coc A typical visit to all three caves takes around three hours; during this time we can admire the beautiful area of which is called Halong Bay on land. Nearby Tam Coc cave is Bich Dong offers a similar experience with fewer people. It also has a picturesque pagoda consisting of several small temples inside a large cave.
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