A century on, travel guide becomes a time machine

Last update: 07:00 | 20/05/2017

VietNamNet Bridge – A classic travel guide authored early in the 20th century has been reprinted, offering readers the opportunity to travel back in time and experience yesteryear Ha Noi in minute detail.


Then: A tram in Hang Dao Street in 1920s. -- Photo

Nha Nam Books, in co-operation with Ha Noi Publishing House, has brought out a new edition of the original Ha Noi Chi Nam (Ha Noi Travel Guide), considered a thorough guide book in the early 20th century.

Authored by Nguyen Ba Chinh, the guide book was first printed in 1923 with clear information about Ha Noi’s tram routes, railway, roads, restaurants, hotels, pharmacies and tailors.

Apart from the wealth of information, the book also encouraged readers to follow the writer’s choices and recommendations.

“This is a new guide book written in the Romanised Vietnamese script, targeting Vietnamese people, travellers and enterprises as the demand for travel keeps increasing in such a beautiful city, which will be a big market soon,” Chinh wrote in 1923.

The book lists four tram routes in the city, all starting from Hoan Kiem Lake.

It notes: “A one-way ticket on leather seat costs 4 cents; ticket for a normal seat, 3 cents; ticket for children 3-7 years old, 2 cents.  A return ticket on leather seat costs 7 cents; on normal seats, 5 cents; for children 3-7 years old, 3 cents.

“The Tram Department sells monthly tickets for 2 or 4 routes.”

The guide book also lists distances between Ha Noi and other provinces, details of rail routes and information on how to buy tickets.

The book clearly sets out the rail route from Ha Noi to Yunan (China) and procedures to get a pass for both French and Vietnamese people. The readers were advised to submit the pass form to French authorities in the Ha Khau (border area with Yunan, China in the northern province of Lao Cai) three days before departure.

It also carried a reminder: “Passengers with weapons should show the weapons to the French authorities at the time they submit the pass forms. If they do not have permission from Chinese authorities at the border, they cannot bring weapons into Yunnan.”

“It’s a bit of an exaggeration to call this a historical or anthropological document as it is a travel guide,” researcher Phan Phuong Thao of the History Department, Ha Noi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, told Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

 “There are clearer documents stored at No 1 Archive Centre in Ha Noi. Yet in terms of a travel guide book for that time, the information is quite clear, concrete and precise. It’s a useful guidebook for both Vietnamese and French people.”

She noted further that Ha Noi Chi Nam lays out clear travel routes, highlights beauty spots within the city, on its outskirts and further.

The Ha Noi Opera House is introduced thus: “Locating at the head of Trang Tien Street, an outstanding, magnificent building is the so called ‘Municipal Theatre ’.

“The House was built in 1901, on the area of a lake. As many as 35,000 wooden pillars were installed, a 90cm-thick layer of cement and pebblestones was poured to make its foundation.”

Attention to detail

The book explains things like why the statue of Huyen Thien Tran Vu at the Quan Thanh Temple is covered with a yellow robe: “It was made totally of black copper. People dubbed it as statue of Black Copper Saint. The statue was given a royal robe by King Thieu Tri (1807-1847) during his trip to the north…

Though the temple was built a long time ago, trees have been planted and new buildings have been newly erected.”

“This detail is interesting,” said Pham Thanh Huong, an expert with UNESCO Viet Nam. “Today, the statue no longer wears a yellow coat. The information will help today’s tour guide to add more interesting details to their presentation on the temple.”

The information on Hoan Kiem Lake states that the Le Dynasty (1427-1789) used the lake as a site for training marine forces. That’s why the lake used to be called “Ho Thuy Quan” (Naval Lake).

The book tells the reader where she/he can get photographs taken, buy souvenirs, leather goods, jewelry, silk, cloth, etc.

In the part for restaurants and accommodation, the writer divides the establishments into three categories: westerners, Chinese and Vietnamese.

The list for western restaurants is led by Hotel Metropole.

The writer has clearly opted for big restaurants with tasty and hygienic food.

The 155-page book, costing VND50,000 (US$2.2) is available in book stores throughout the country.

Do Dinh Hong, director of Ha Noi Tourism Department said the department intended to publish a new guide book, which may contain the same subheads.

The accommodation list may contain 5-star, 4-star, 3-star, homestays and apartments.

The new book, to be published later this year, will also have information on venues for art shows. 


Sacred relic: Statue of Huyen Thien Tran Vu at Quan Thanh Pagoda. -  VNS File Photo


Then: Cover of Ha Noi Chi Nam by Nguyen Ba Chinh.

Trinh Nguyen


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