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What to see in Hanoi - Part 5


West Lake

According to one legend, the place was originally thickly wooded and inhabited by a fox demon with nine tails. The monster was later killed by the Dragon King, the ancestor of the Viet people, who drowned it under floods of water, thereby creating a lake. Another legend , the Vietnamese monk Khong Lo (11th century), who rendered great services to the emperor of China, was allowed to take back to the country large amounts of bronze which he used to cast an enormous bell. Well the bell was rung, its sound was so powerful and carried so far so that the Golden Calf was thinking it was its buffalo-mother’s voice calling, hurriedly rushed south to her, and in its frantic search for her turned up mounds of earth and brought into existing an enormous hollow which filled with water and became a lake.



In the middle ages, many places and pavilions were built by the Ly, Tran and Le kings and the Trinh Lords. They stood on the banks of West Lake and also at the edge of Lake Truc Bach, separated from it by the Co Ngu causeway, now it was renamed the Youth promenade or Thanh Nien Street. Truc Bach means white silk woven at the Ivory Bamboo village. A pavilion was built there by Trinh Lords , where he relegated his neglected concubines. The poor women devoted their time to silk weaving. The product of their looms was a very beautiful kind of white silk.

The 17 kms road encircling the lake provides cyclists or motorbikes with the real pleasure of enjoying discoveries : Firstly, the Flower Villages which at the approach of Tet Co Truyen ( the Lunar New Year), supply the city-dwellers with the peach blossoms and dwarf tangerine trees as well as flowers of all kinds with famous village names such as Nhat Tan, Ngoc Ha, Nghi Tam; next, Quang Ba with its guava trees, Tay Ho with its “Palace of the God Mothers” (called “ Phu Tay Ho”), Xuan Tao with the temple dedicated to the child-hero of Giong, Trich Sai with Thien Nien Pagoda where is honored the patron saint of the weavers of black satin, Ke Buoi with very fame for its hand-made paper, Thuy Khe with the pagoda dedicated to Dame Đanh. Of course one should not forget the Taoist temple Quan Thanh with a giant bronze statue of the guardian god of the North named Huyen Thien Tran Vu, and Tran Quoc Pagoda standing on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake.


Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)

The name “Hoa Lo”, commonly translated as "fiery furnace" or even "Hell's hole", also means "stove". The name originated from the street name "Pho Hoa Lo" or “Hoa Lo Street” due to the concentration of stores selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street from pre-colonial times.

Hoa Lo prison was built in Hanoi by the French, in dates ranging from 1886 to 1889 and from 1898  to 1901, when Vietnam was still a part of French Indochina. The French called the prison “Maison Centrale” - a traditional euphemism to denote prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi's French Quarter. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject to torture and execution. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity from 460 inmates to 600. It was nevertheless often overcrowded, holding about 730 prisoners on a given day in 1916, a figure which would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. By 1954, it held more than 2000 people; with its inmates held in subhuman conditions, it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.



Well known widely by the nickname ‘Hanoi Hilton’ given to it by the Americans during the Second Indochina War, Hoa Lo Prison was originally established by the French colonial government in 1896 for the purpose of detaining political prisoners and formed part of a northern network of ‘unjust and cruel prisons’ which included Cao Bang, Son La, Lai Chau and Hai Phong. Many leading revolutionaries were incarcerated here during the French colonial period, including Phan Boi Chau, Hoang Trong Mau, Luong Van Can, Nguyen Quyen, Nguyen Luong Bang and five future General Secretaries of the Communist Party - Nguyen Van Cu, Le Duan, Truong Chinh, Nguyen Van Linh and Do Muoi. Between 1964 and 1973 the prison’s inmates included several captured American pilots, notably Senator John McCain and Douglas 'Pete' Peterson, America’s first Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Most of the original prison was demolished in 1996 to build service apartment and office complex named the Hanoi Towers (now Somerset Grand Hanoi Hotel), but the southernmost corner has been preserved and reopened to the public as a memorial to the revolutionaries who died here in atrocious conditions. Visitors can view the original cells, complete with leg-irons, along with a selection of bilingual (Vietnamese and English) displays illustrating the very horrors of life in the prison during the French colonial period.

Conditions were appalling; food was watery soup and bread. Prisoners were variously isolated, starved, beaten, tortured for countless hours and paraded in anti-American propaganda. "It is easy to die but hard to live," a prison guard told one new arrival, "and we will show you just how hard it is to live." The prison is really “A Hell on Earth”.

The Hanoi Hilton was depicted in the eponymous 1987 Hollywood movie named The Hanoi Hilton. Hanoi Tower was built on the site of the infamous prison "Hanoi Hilton"; the entrance to the remaining parts of the prison visible in the foreground of Ha Noi tower. By 1996, most of the walls of the Hanoi Hilton had been torn down to make way for new construction. Portions of the walls were still retained for historical reasons. The Vietnamese also have really bitter memories of the prison, for many communist revolutionaries were kept and tortured there. In 1998, the old front of the prison was painted and restored and the remaining portions of the prison were turned into a tourist site. Some of the cells have been opened and considerable information about Vietnamese prisoners is available here. The information about the U.S. prisoners of war is really unreliable. There is now a Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, called the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, which opened in 1999. It was built decades after the Vietnam War was over, but Hilton carefully avoided reusing the dreaded name Hanoi Hilton.

Hoa Lo Prison is a historical attraction to many local and foreign visitors. You should pay a visit to the prison to experience the history with your own eyes.


Ancient House at 87 Ma May St

Located modest new buildings painted with flashy billboards, flashy, the house at 87 Ma May in Old Quarter is very  simple but unique.  Ma May Street located north of Hoan Kiem lake, the house at 87 Ma May bold architecture of the Kinh States with designed tubular, roof tiles, narrow width, has more class separation. Outside the store, instead of wood-frame wall system with handy sliding doors. Inside a rooftop sun for a light or rain water to water. Behind two home goods space and as a place to cook.

All separate living in Hanoi ancient family usually takes place on the second floor. Go up a small wooden stairs, you will see a church space with tables and chairs for seating. Separated from the bedroom by the sun to ornamental provides relaxing close to nature. Things in the house are mainly traditional rattan furniture and the same jars, hammock, visitors as the return to the ancient Thang Long.



The house at 87 Ma May Street was built in the late nineteenth century, in 1954 a merchant selling herbs buy over and over again to change the other. By 1999, the house was restored and certified national historic monument in 2004. Currently, it becomes interesting tourist destination for the visitors and international friends. In addition to cultural activities such as Thang Long Ca Tru, it also showcases multifaceted and promote our country’s traditional crafts such as silver encrusted, paper paintings wind , lacquer, Dong Ho painting village or national instrument of the commune.


Vietnam Museum of Ethnography

Address: Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay District, Hanoi



Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country, which is composed of 54 ethnic groups. With a view to preserving and presenting the cultural heritages of these ethnic groups, the Vietnamese Government decided to establish a museum of ethnology in Hanoi. Hence, the today’s Vietnam Museum of Ethnology was constructed on  the land of 9,500 square meters on Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay District, around 8 kilometers from the city centre.

The mission of the Museum is to collect, document, research, preserve and exhibit the cultural and historic patrimony of the nation’s different ethnic groups. In its future planning, the Museum intends to present the cultures and civilization of other countries in South-East Asia and in the region as well.

Since the opening day, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology has been attracting a huge number of domestic visitors and foreign ones as well as ethnographers and researchers from all over the world. To date, the Museum has collected 15,000 artifacts, 2,190 slides, 42,000 photographs, 237 audiotapes, 373 videotapes and 25 CD-ROMs, to be displayed for all visitors. Besides a famous tourism spot, it is also a centre for ethnographic research employing many experts on the different ethnic groups. Coming here, visitors may find out that the Museum has successfully recreated the daily life together with the religious rituals and the symbolic festivals of each ethnic group in Vietnam. All displayed objects mingle and supplement one another to create a colorful and diversified picture of Vietnamese culture.

The indoor permanent collection occupies the majority of the exhibition space. However, there is a separate area for the temporary exhibits. The permanent collection is concretely  divided into 9 main sections, each of which includes objects displayed in glass cases and dioramas:

1. Introduction

2. Introduction of the Viet group (Kinh)

3. Introduction of Muong, Tho, Chut ethnic groups

4. The ethnic groups belonging to the Tay, Thai, and Ka Dai group

5. The ethnic groups belonging to the H’Mong-Dao group, Tang Group, and San Diu, Ngai ethnic groups

6. The ethnic groups belonging to the Mon-Khmer group

7. The ethnic groups belonging to the Nam Dao

8. The ethnic groups of Cham, Hoa, Khmer

9. The exchange and mingle among different ethnic groups

An open-air exhibition in the museum’s spacious and peaceful ground features ethnic houses from all over Vietnam. The outdoor exhibition area is only large enough for the most popular architectural styles to be presented. Already presented are the Ede long house, the Tay stilt house, the Yao house half on stilts and half on earth, the Hmong house whose roof is made of Pomu wood, the Viet house with tile roof, etc. Between the houses, there are trees indigenous to the area of each house, zigzagging paths and a meandering stream crossed by unique small bridges. The outdoor museum is of much captivation to most tourists not only for the cultural values but also for a natural landscape. Some even said: “Walking around here makes me feel like I were in a beautiful park, very relaxing!”

The museum is open during the daytime (08:30 a.m – 17:30 p.m) from Tuesday till Sunday (except only Monday and the Lunar Tet Holiday)

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