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Hanoi, Vietnam: The Old Quarter
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Hanoi Old Quarter has a long history of 2000 years of development. In here, bustling life of Hanoians is reflected in the most vivid way with crowded streets of people trading with each other. The quarter consists mainly of 36 Old Streets divided and named according to their crafts in the past, and most of that system remains until now. This area is also the eternal soul of Hanoian cultural architecture, historic relics and religious center.
We had our flight to Vientiane, Laos in the afternoon. Instead of hanging around in our hotel, we decided to check-out early and explore the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Actually, of interest was also the French quarter, but since time was an issue, we decided to spend a couple of hours in the Old Quarter itself.
Our taxi, dropped us on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake. Ideally, a walk crisscrossing the lanes would have been ideal, we decided instead to book a rickshaw for an hour to take us through many of the 36 Lanes. Pictures will tell you more about the craftsmen and their crafts, street vendors and the locals going about their lives.
After an hour we were dropped at the starting point. The next hour we would spend exploring the life on the shores of the tranquil waters.
Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island. The temple attracts many visitors and was built in commemoration of the 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao who was renowned for his bravery in the battle against the Yuan Dynasty.
Homage is also paid to scholar Van Xuong and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu. The island on which the temple is built is known as Jade Island and is accessible by the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge which is a charming scarlet-painted wooden bridge of classical Vietnamese design. The pagoda is also guarded by two towering posts decorated with Chinese writing. The lake and temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi.
At the given time and location our taxi arrived. On our way to the airport we made a quick stop to view another Hanoi icon - The Long Bien Bridge.
Hanoi, literally name means “surrounded by river” is the city of ponds, lakes, rivers and bridges. If Hoan Kiem Lake with special green water and the red bridge named The Huc is the symbol of an elegant and charming ancient city; Red river and The Long Bien bridge may be seen as the symbol of courageous capital in wars.
The Long Bien Bridge was constructed from 1899 to 1902 during French occupation of the country. Though the bridge was designed by French, it was built directly by Vietnamese workers with indigenous construction materials like wood, cement and lime.
The bridge was formerly named Paul Doumer by the French, but Vietnamese have called it Long Bien or Cai River Bridge for a long time, and Long Bien becomes the most popular name of the bridge. Originally, Long Bien had 19 spans and it was the first steel bridge across Red river in Hanoi, and one of four greatest bridges in the world at the time it was built.
Long Bien was considered the symbol of architecture in the Far East. The bridge was a connection point to transport tons of rice from Northern and Northern Central area of Vietnam to Dien Bien Phu battle, and contributed to the win of Vietnam army against French in 1954.
More than 100 years with decades of war, Long Bien Bridge was bombed many times by air attacks by American army in 1967 and 1972; and many spans of the bridge were destroyed. The left spans still remaining today remind us of an unforgettable past. The bridge, hence, is not only a traffic construction, a nice architecture, but also a living historical relic.
Leaving history behind, we moved towards the airport. Vientiane was calling.
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