walking Hanoi + the Temple of Literature


Hanoi, Vietnam. to me -- it's the golden yellow buildings with green trim, bundles and bundles of electrical wires running overhead, a flood of scooters rushing by, and eating a steaming bowl of pho on the side of the street while sitting on a plastic stool so tiny that your knees are in your ears.

between all the trekking and cruising we did in Vietnam, we based ourselves in the city of Hanoi. we stayed in the gorgeous Old Quarter and spent several days wandering the streets and shops by ourselves. but on our last full day in Vietnam, we booked a walking tour of the city to be sure we saw everything Hanoi had to offer.

our guide let us pick and choose which sights on the itinerary we wanted to see. [which was great, rather than waste time being dragged to things that weren't of interest to us.] we started off at the Ho Chi Minh complex, walking past the mausoleum and presidential palace. in truth -- we didn't spend much time here. lines for the famous One Pillar Pagoda were insane so we just breezed past that as well.

at this point in our trip, we were all pretty exhausted. I would recommend taking a tour at the start of your time in Hanoi [which we had attempted to do but were foiled by the weather.] it wasn't much better on the day we did our tour -- it was alternating between blazing hot and torrential downpour, and we were all dripping sweat. but there was one place we very specifically wanted to see: the Temple of Literature.

the Temple of Literature is set in a sprawling green space, a welcome relief from the grimy concrete streets of Hanoi. it was familiar -- I've been to many Confucian temples in Taiwan -- but still foreign. sadly, the temple is not filled with books a la a mega "Beauty and the Beast" style library collection. but it is the site of Vietnam's first university, and many students and scholars still come here to pray.

our guide took us through the temple, explaining the history and significance of all the buildings and courtyards... and I'm sad to say I barely remember a thing about it. one of the problems with not blogging "in the moment" is that you tend to forget so many of the little details of what you see.

but what I do remember: the feeling of being in this place. it was peaceful, intellectual, and a lovely break from the chaos of the city.

I remember touching the belly and feet of the statue above, as thousands of visitors do. I remember our guide telling us about the four holy beasts in Vietnamese culture -- the dragon, the tortoise, the unicorn, and the phoenix [the last of which our guide was named after.] and I remember buying some kind of sweet rice cake snack from a lady selling them on the street outside the temple.

it's true that I could google the berita on this temple for you -- give you the guidebook highlights. but maybe, the details aren't always so important.

eventually we left the Temple of Literature for the chaos of Hanoi outside it's walls. there was more rain, hordes of scooters, and even egg coffee at the famous Giang Cafe in the Old Quarter. but my favorite memory of the tour was our peaceful wanderings through the gardens of the temple... even if I'm sketchy on the details.

walking Hanoi + the Temple of Literature