Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Friday, 16th September 2016

Discovering Hanoi's hidden Imperial Citadel

The Imperial City of Thang Long has had a fascinating history, but only reopened to the public in 2012. This was after being added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 2010.

It represented the epicentre of military power in Vietnam for more than a millennium and went on to prove important in the American War. As archaeological digs at the site continue, many more of its secrets are surfacing, adding to its fascination.

Wandering around the citadel’s grounds is a relaxing way to spend some time in what is often a frenetic city. Visitors can take everything in from the ancient palaces, pavilions and imperial gates to the 1960s command bunkers and communication equipment.

Visiting the citadel

Upon entering the site, visitors walk along a promenade lined with bonsai trees, but it’s worth taking a closer look, as there are various miniature statues hidden beneath the branches. These represent the daily life of Vietnam as it would have been lived within the citadel.

The Doan Mon Gate demonstrates where the Royal Palace would once have stood. It was destroyed by the French and the Dragon House built in its stead. The gate gives an idea of what the opulent palace would have looked like, but the citadel is a site of layered history, with elements disappearing and others appearing over the years.

Structures that can still be seen include the Princess’ Palace and Old Gate of Hanoi. Also noteworthy are a set of steps embellished with stone dragons dating back to the 15th century. They would once have formed the access point to the Kinh Thien Palace, which is now long gone.

The D67 command bunker

Perhaps it is not surprising, considering the history of the citadel, that it was this site that was selected to house a bunker for General Giap while bombing raids were being carried out during the most recent war. The hideout was constructed underneath the northern section of the palace among its foundations.

Entering the bunker is achieved through the façade of what looks like a run-of-the-mill house, but inside it is anything but, as it hides a vast network of tunnels. Visitors can descend a flight of stairs to find themselves in a space lined with 60-centimetre thick soundproofed walls and maps and communication equipment still in place.

This is where the government met during the war and a long table, complete with chairs, is still in place. It’s fascinating to think of the discussions that were conducted at it and the strategies that were agreed upon.

Related news stories:
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Top 5 desserts to try in Vietnam (5th January 2016)
In focus: Vietnamese cuisine (24th September 2014)
Eat your way through Luang Prabang?s night market (26th May 2016)
Why has Laotian food not been widely exported to the rest of the world? (2nd April 2015)