Ngọc Sơn means "Temple of the Jade Mountain" and is found in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi. You can reach the island on a red bridge which adds to the harmonious feeling of the temple. The House of the Moon and the temple entrance are located at the end of the bridge.
There are three buildings within the complex. The first is the study, the central one is dedicated to the scholar Van Xuong, and the third to Tran Hung Dao.
This temple is a little ways from the center of Hanoi, between West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. It’s the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and was built in the year 545. Its design follows Buddhist traditions and the octagonal tower has 11 floors (representing the 11 Buddhist states of enlightenment). There are also various funerary monuments in the garden. The complex was designated a national historic monument in 1989.
The One Pillar Pagoda is one of the most famous monuments in the city of Hanoi and is located in the Ba Dinh district near the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, Presidential Palace, and Stilt House, all of which you can visit during the same day.
The pagoda's current incarnation comes after a long series of reconstructions, the most recent of which happened in 1954 when it was burned by the French during their retreat from Hanoi. The original temple was built in the 11th century by the emperor Ly Thai Tong. This name might not sound familiar to you, but it's ubiquitous on street signs throughout the entire country.
The temple stands on a pond filled with lotus flowers. In fact, the goal of the architects was to build a temple which resembled a lotus flower. To access the sanctuary, climb the stairs leading to the altar.
When we visited, there were many people coming to pay their respects at the lotus shrine dedicated to the goddess of mercy. It's interesting to watch the people coming and going, offerings in hand, along the temple steps.
Known as the little Notre Dame, St Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi was built under French rule in 1886. It is neo-Gothic, and is the oldest church in the city. There are small gardens to the sides. It is very central, near Hoan Kiem Lake.
The Hanoi Opera House is a relic of the French colonial period and located in downtown Hanoi. Built in 1911, it was intended to be a replica of the Paris Opera.
It's a shame, but you can only visit it when there is some kind of performance. From the outside though, it stands in striking contrast to the surrounding buildings, with exception of the Hotel Opera Hanoi which dates to the same era. The opera house is home to the Symphony Orchestra of Vietnam and the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the heart of Hanoi, on the shores of Lake Hoan Kiem, before reaching the Temple of Literature, you can see a tower pointed like a pencil. That is the Thap But, the pen of heaven. The Chinese characters written on it mean Writing, Blue (or green), and Sky. I'd like to know what the legend behind it is...
This is the second and more distant of the so-called Western Pagodas, located about 30km. from Hanoi. We visited after seeing the Thầy pagoda in Sai Son.
The original pagoda was built between the 3rd and 6th centuries and was updated in the 9th century when Cao Bien transformed it into a "prison for a dragon whose power would be transferred to the Vietnamese people."
Additions carried out by the Tay Son dynasty in the 17th and 18th centuries gave the temple the shape of the Chinese character "San," as is the case at the Thầy pagoda as well. When we first arrived, we found a long 235-step staircase and a stand selling incense and offerings. At the top of the steps, we were struck by the curved roofs and the carved dragons staring down at us.
The most striking parts are the lacquered wood statues, the Quan Am, an ascetic Buddha, and the life-like and animated arhats in the back pavilion all laughing, scratching, and chatting among themselves.
While the temple is popular among tourists, we were alone during our visit. That, along with the gentle mist, made it all the more magical.