Thang Long was the former name of Hanoi. It literally means “rising dragon” and this dragon is the same dragon that descended upon in Ha Long Bay, at least according to our guide, aptly named Mr. Vietnam. While Hanoi is famous for being a charming old-world timeless city, it was also the birthplace of many great empires, the remains of which has been inscribed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you have been to Angkor Wat, many other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Southeast Asia would pale in comparison. The Angkor Wat is still standing, better preserved than others, and still magnificent. However, the UNESCO also gives their stamp of approval of many less magnificent sites around the world to recognize their value to that country’s unique heritage. One of this is the Thang Long Citadel. Do not expect an Angkor Wat part 2.
We got to the citadel a little past 1PM and there were very few people. Understandably so because it was sweltering hot. After paying the entrance fee of a whopping 30,000VND (US$1.3, Php69), we walked the concreted pathway to the citadel’s gate. The park in front of the citadel was well-kept but there were no shady trees and it can get really hot in mid-day. While in front of the south gate, I noticed there were five doors — which I would find to be replicated in Hue’s Imperial Citadel. The center door is reserved for the king or the emperor. The two doors beside it are reserved for mandarins or civil servants, and the two other farthest doors are reserved for soldiers and their horses. Just like in Hue, the main door is perpetually closed.
Prior to our trip to the citadel, I have always thought the citadel is the UNESCO World Heritage site. I was quite happy to see it and tick it off my bucket list. However, the citadel is more than what meets the eye. Information in English around the citadel was scant but I was able to gather that the most valuable contribution of the Thang Long Citadel is what was beneath its ground. There are layers upon layers (actually four layers) of artifacts, structures, jewelries coming from different periods of time in Vietnamese history. More than the physical artifacts, also discovered were past streets and canals, signifying the existence of sophisticated urban planning. In addition, what makes the Thang Long Citadel also different from other citadels in Vietnam or the world is that it is built upon soil in the Red River Delta, which is susceptible to flooding.
Archaeological excavation is still ongoing at the citadel and the neighboring Ba Dinh Square. The citadel is just a part of the once glorious imperial cities (cities in plural form because while the location remained the same, different dynasties ruled from 1010). The gate itself is not the original gate but a gate that has been restored through hundreds of years in the past by different rulers. Some of the artifacts that have been properly identified and marked are on display in the several small museums inside the citadel compound. We noticed that the buildings inside the citadel have mixture of Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences, which reflect the many cultural influences of the city of Hanoi. The buildings inside the citadel have been added in different times during the city’s thousand year past. One building was even used by the military politburo during the Communist regime.
The Thang Long Citadel at 18 Hoang Dieu is not far from the Old Quarter. In fact it is just about 3 blocks from the west portion of the Old Quarters. There was a brochure given to visitors and it had extensive information about the citadel, its history, and its archaeological finds but it was all in Vietnamese. The citadel’s official website, http://www.hoangthanhthanglong.vn/en/ however, can give foreign visitors additional information about the citadel. The citadel opens from 8AM to 5PM everyday except Mondays.
Across the citadel is the Ba Dinh archaeological site. We tried to enter it but I was not sure if we need another ticket for it. There was only one person manning the entrance but there was no ticket for sale and he could not speak English. Ba Dinh is also the location of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and museum (at the back of the museum). Despite the heat, we paid homage to Vietnam’s father, Uncle Ho, but we did not go inside his final resting place because it was already closed to the public at that time. Ba Dinh is surrounded by shady lanes and numerous beautiful buildings because this is the political seat of Vietnam. Many embassies and government buildings are here. An afternoon strolling down the shady lanes, finally resting at the nearby Lenin Park, is an ideal afternoon for me in Hanoi.
Photos by Joel Lopez