Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2017-03-07 12:27 Tai Chi at roadside It was the Chinese New Year when we landed in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, as we had heard that the city is at its best during this time. Our guide suggested that we should begin our tour by visiting Ha Long Bay. Located 170kms away from the capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bay has thousands of lime stone hillocks and is famous for its scenic beauty. Known to have been inhabited by humans for more than 10,000 years, each island in the bay has thick tropical vegetation, with some islands having huge caves called ‘grottos’. Many movies have been shot here. Inside of Thien Cung Cave Confucius temple Water Puppet show Our curiosity sufficiently aroused, we left Hanoi very early in the morning to avoid the legendary traffic jams of the city. More than three hours later, we were at the Visitor Reception Centre, where one needs to book boats to go into the bay. We had lot of choices. There are houseboats with board and lodge facilities and there are boats which offer half or full-day sightseeing with lunch served. We opted for the half-day tour. As we started our journey, we were fascinated by the tall green hillocks in all shapes and sizes rising up from the sea. We first went to an island called Bo Hon, which has a 60x4-metre cave accessible only by a boat as the cave has a large lake inside. From there, we went to the largest cave of the bay - Dong Thien Cung. We climbed about 100 steps to enter a cave, which has spectacular stalactites and stalagmites formations. Coloured lights illuminate the awe inspiring cave which is spread over an area of 10,000-sqmts. After cruising along the bay for a little while, we shopped at a floating market. Since it started drizzling, we decided to leave for Hanoi. The next morning, we started our tour by visiting the mausoleum of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho as he is popularly called. Inspired by Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow, this mausoleum, built in 1975, has the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh kept in a glass box in a cooled Central Hall. We were amazed to see the body very much intact even now. Next to the Mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Ho Chi Minh’s house, which contains the objects used by the late president, a stilt house, single pillar pagoda, are attractions in this museum complex. One gets a beautiful insight into history of Vietnamese struggle here. The Presidential Palace is also in the complex, but is not open to public. Single pillar Pagoda Rock formation Plaque showing scholar names Lake Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Ha Long Bay Panoromic view Fighting Cocks rocks Later, we visited the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070, this temple dedicated to Confucius is the site of Vietnam’s first University, where for 400 years admission was restricted to only nobles. The university was later opened to all. The U-shaped complex has plaques dedicated to scholars who were given doctoral degrees. A garden path leads us to the main temple, which has a gold plated statue of Confucius. No one can miss the Han Kiem lake in the centre of Hanoi. The name of this huge lake comes from a story wherein a turtle grabs a golden sword of the king and goes into the lake. There is a tortoise tower in the middle of the lake and a small Chinese pagoda on its banks. During my morning walk around this lake, I saw hundreds of locals doing their traditional ‘Thai Chi’ exercise. Adjacent to the lake is the old quarter of Hanoi, with narrow roads, shops and restaurants, busy traffic, and full of people. I was reminded of the bustling markets of our own country. This is the biggest market place of Hanoi where roadside vendors compete for attention with small shopkeepers. One can buy anything here, but has to haggle over the price. Since Vietnam is a manufacturing hub for branded goods, lots of branded articles (including spurious ones) are available at throwaway prices. The renowned water puppet theatre is on the outskirts of this market. Water puppet show, a traditional cultural show of Hanoi, is most popular for the puppets which perform on water. This one-hour show attracts visitors from all over the world and celebrates life and legends of the Vietnamese people. Hanoi has number of monuments related to its long war. However, since I was going to Saigon, I decided to skip this. The National Museum of Vietnam History and Museum of Ethnology are frequently visited museums. Considering that Vietnam was closed to the outside world till the nineties, our visit was full of surprises and thoroughly enjoyable. Author at Thien Cung Cave exit Dr. D V Guruprasad (Former DGP) is presently the Chief Executive of the Gokula Education Foundation (Medical) which works in the field of education and health care.