Photo essay: The Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed.

Stunning, breath taking, awe-inspiring… none of these quite do it justice, nor do my photos. But hopefully they’re enough to pique your interest and encourage a visit if you ever find yourself in Hanoi 🙂

 

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Through my eyes: waterside in Hoi An

So much happens by the water in Hoi An.

Boatmen and women chasing tourists down for a river ride.
Locals selling hammocks and fruit.
Children running around barefoot and giggling.
Slack-jawed tourists pointing their cameras in every which direction.
A few long fisherman and women throwing out and pulling in nets.
Lunch and cigarette breaks.
People rushing, people patiently waiting…

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Through my eyes: Colours of Hoi An

Because my lovely husband took me to House of Hoi An for a delicious birthday dinner this week, and the bright colours in the restaurant took me right back…

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Through my eyes: Faces of Saigon

Time to go back to Vietnam for the morning…

Early in the morning, this lady was already out and cooking in a narrow alley behind a larger street. With the piles of plates lined up on a small plastic table to the side, I assumed she was preparing for the morning breakfast rush…
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These ladies had a lot to say. I may not speak or understand Vietnamese, but I know two women having a good gossip session when I see it! They were so animated and excited, so I’m guessing that who or whatever the topic of conversation was was pretty juicy.
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The market stalls selling fresh meat, fruit, veggies and herbs seemed to be mostly the domain of the women. They’re the bosses. They basically run the country. This lady was no exception – again, it was early in the morning and she was getting set up to sell.  Also, the ladies of Vietnam somehow manage to make matching two piece summer suits actually look good. Even with gumboots.
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This guy had not a care in the world. I’m not sure he was totally aware of his surroundings either. He sat in this empty doorway as the cars and motorbikes flew by, at the start of a busy working day, and he rolled and smoked his cigarette with a look of complete peace and oblivion on his face. Had a massive car accident occurred right in front of him, I’m still not sure it would have been enough to rouse him from his trance…
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And this lady. I have mixed feelings about her. On one hand, she grilled up some damn delicious pork skewers for us in the middle of the busy marketplace, and served them up hot off the grill with some very tasty sauce. On the other hand, she decided to play the “screw-the-foreigners” game, and charged us VND 40,000 for each individual pork skewer, rather than the VND 40,000 for the whole plate on the menu card. Sneaky. But, that’s the way it rolls over there! Lesson learnt.
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Hoan Kiem Lake & Tortoise Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

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As far as city centres go, this is up there as one of the most beautiful. The enormous Hoan Kiem Lake sits in the centre of the city (both physically and spiritually), and is a hub of activity, day and night. Each time we found ourselves getting a little overwhelmed in Hanoi (which was more often than I’d like, due mostly to the heat and frustration in finding anything in a city where certain things are only sold on certain streets), we found ourselves pulled back to the lake.

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Morning tai chi, midday lunch breaks, evening ice creams. Groups of school-aged teens giggling and older ladies gossiping, men sharing stories and dogs marking their territory. Shady spots under the trees lining the banks of the river and sunny spots on the grass. It’s pretty beautiful and so peaceful, which is odd in such a crazy city…

 

The name of the lake translates to “lake of the returned sword” or something similar, because of the legend surrounding it. It’s said that after Emperor Le Loi was given a sword by the golden turtle god, endowing him with great strength, to be used to win Vietnam’s freedom back from the Chinese in the early 1400s. Not long after the war, Le Loi was said to have been on the river again, in his boat, when the turtle god appeared again to take the sword back. The turtle swam to the depths of the lake with the glowing sword in its mouth, never to be seen again.

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Almost 500 years later (while Hanoi was under French rule), the tower you can see in the photos above and below was built by a musician to commemorate Le Loi and what he did for Vietnam. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, though, he was secretly working for the French, and the tower he built was to serve a double purpose of being the resting place for his fathers’ body. While it may have been built by a traitor for his own purpose (the body was removed once discovered) in a style that wasn’t typically Vietnamese, it still stands as symbol of patriotism and unity, traits that are still very strongly associated with the Vietnamese people.

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Through my eyes: making tracks in Hanoi

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I’ve seen some odd things on my travels, and tend not to be too surprised anymore when I see people doing things that are really different to how we do things at home, but this one still took my breath away.

The rail tracks that run through Hanoi literally run through Hanoi. As in, they’re set in what just looks like a slender alley-way between rows of homes and shops, with very little room to move on either side. That was all well and good, until I skipped my way across the tracks to take some photos, and noticed a family finishing up their breakfast. In the middle of the tracks. I’m talking, little plastic stools and table set up with bowls and chopsticks actually on the tracks, and small children running back and forth across them, and no one batting an eyelid.

We crossed that railway several more times during our stay in Hanoi, and I got less and less worried about oncoming speeding trains each time I guess you can get used to anything…

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Through my eyes: Faces of Hoi An (part 2)

This lady was set up in the little shade those trees provided, selling cold drinks. The heat of the sun was extraordinary that day, and it wasn’t just me feeling it – we walked by just as she took a cold drink for herself.
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These guys were leaving school for the day; they were among the last out of the blue gates, making their way down the street. On either side of the school gates were street food stalls set up, and groups of the older children congregated there for something to eat, while the younger ones seemed to just head straight off home.
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This lady was among the fray in the market. With sections for seafood, meat, herbs, spices, noodles, eggs, and whatever else was left to throw together, describing it as chaotic would be an understatement. But this lady just sat there, quietly tending to her baskets of fish…
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We’d seen this dog wondering around for a few days, easily recognisable by its beautiful face and little white socks. This particular day, it was the beautiful turquoise colour of the shop front that caught my eye first, and then I noticed these guys just sitting together, watching the world go by.
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If this wasn’t the most beautiful little face I saw in Hoi An, then I just don’t know! We were wandering around the marketplace just on closing time, and made our way up the stairs and onto the balcony over looking the street below. We saw a little rooftop courtyard where this little girl was playing, alone. Singing and dancing and giggling and moving rocks and leaves around on the floor into patterns. I took a photo from where I was standing on the stairs on the way back down when she saw me, ran over and smiled. Children are amazing; they don’t see colour or race, they just see someone to smile and wave at 🙂
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