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Temple of Literature, Art Museum and Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi
By Emma Gardiner
7 August 2010

After a false start where a cab dropped us off out the front of what looked like the Department of Defence, comical map-pointing and the harassment of several long suffering reception desk staff, we eventually locate the Temple of Literature, a 1000 year old temple devoted to Confucius.

After fighting our way past a flock of hawkers and getting fleeced on some old fashioned fans in the process, we wander around inside after paying a 20,000 VND entry. It turns out that the fans come in very handy as it’s extraordinarily steamy; so humid that my face looks like it’s sprung a leak and is dripping sweat. Mmm … ladylike.

The temple is built in several parts and houses some very large stone turtles with scrolls or ‘steles’ on their backs. Nerd facts: the turtles are thought to symbolise the giant turtle that carried the world on its back and the scrolls bear the names of all the graduates from the Confucian university that was established in Hanoi in 1076.

At the very end of the compound, there is a room full of large, ornate statues of Confucius and his posse, lots of glitzy flowers, gold bowls and burning incense. We bow reverentially, not really knowing what we’re bowing about, and shuffle off to the gift shop to stock up in Ho Chi Minh postcards. It seems he is quite the rockstar in this part of the world.

After the temple, we head across the street to the Art Museum. For a mere 20,000 VND, we spend a blissfully quiet and cool couple of hours wandering through the French colonial style building gazing at ceramics, textiles, lacquer work, sculptures and paintings that date back as far 12 BC.

The contemporary rooms are my favorite. I find it fascinating that Vietnamese artists were influenced by the same schools of painting as everyone in the West. How was that possible in a closed communist country? How did anyone even find out about Cubism, Surrealism or Futurism?

Back out into the sweltering August afternoon and off to stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, the heart of this far northern city. After a wilting walk, we come across Tran Quoc Pagoda that has a bodhi tree grown from cutting of Buddha’s original bodhi tree in India. There are men fishing of the little walkway into the polluted looking water. Dead fish float past and little boys hassle us to buy postcards.

We wander around the temple where Buddhists are praying with flowers and incense. In one section of the grounds, there is a casket on a plinth decorated with funeral wreaths and yellow silk garlands. There is no apparent source of refrigeration and it’s at least 32 C. I discreetly sniff for signs of death but find only still, hot air.

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Keywords: Din, Hot, Hanoi

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