VIETNAM EDUCATION MEMORIAL | Sharon Henry
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi aka Quoc Tu Giam is an excellent place to visit for respite when the bustle of the Vietnam capital becomes overwhelming. It’s one of the best, cool things to do in Hanoi – literally. The temple is dedicated to Confucius the philosopher and is popular with Vietnamese students seeking good luck blessings.
Getting around in Hanoi is easy and one of the many things we love about the city is most tourist attractions are within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. From our hotel the Temple of Literature was a 15 minute walk through scooters, street vendors and skinny buildings.
That cacophony of street life in Hanoi, however, seemed to magically evaporate upon entering the temple’s gateway, which led into a leafy courtyard, and seemingly another world. It’s a fine example of Vietnamese architecture with a Chinese influence.
See details below for the Temple of Literature opening hours, entrance fee and dress code. For more ideas to fill your diary in Hanoi click here.
First University In Vietnam
From the onset you can’t help feeling a sense of awe that 1,000 years ago, before some countries were even discovered, Vietnam was building its first university. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi was constructed in 1070 and is one of Vietnam’s most significant historic sites with stone steles relics recognised by UNESCO.
It was originally the National University in Hanoi, Vietnam which began in 1076 under the Ly dynasty and further developed in the 15th century under the reign of the Le dynasty. It was the biggest educational centre in Vietnam under the feudal regime and trained thousands of scholars.
Temple of Literature In Hanoi
Students first admitted to the Quoc Tu Giam in 1076, were of royalty and the aristocracy (Mandarins). They were taught Confucianism the ‘ethical behaviour of a gentleman,’ a theory founded by Chinese philosopher, Confucius to whom the temple is dedicated. Courses covered literature, poetry, calligraphy and mathematics and the exams were said to be notoriously difficult.
The university closed in 1779 and is now a memorial to education and literature. A part of the Vietnamese youth culture is students often travel here from across the country for good luck blessings before taking their exams. Preferring not to rely purely on study and revision!
We realised from our first day in Hanoi, speaking to the many young people who approached us to practise English, that Vietnamese people hold education in high regard.
Amongst our fellow visitors to the Temple that day were families with young children, perhaps instilling from an early age the value of education.
Good Luck Blessings For Exam Results
The day we visited a group of Vietnamese students arrived bearing a colourful bunch of balloons that contrasted beautifully with the white, traditional Aoi Dai dresses the girls were wearing. Perfect for photographs which they happily posed for before being bestowed a blessing. Their exuberance was infectious and we felt it was own our good luck blessing to have seen them.
We were also lucky to see a young Vietnamese couple possibly there for a pre-wedding photo shoot, and snuck in a few shots of our own. Both were wearing traditional dress, very fitting to their surroundings, they made a lovely picture.
The Stone Stelea Tortoise Shells
The temple has five courtyards each with its own ornate entrance and we leisurely traversed one to the next. The centre section features a pond called the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity,’ which funnily enough was full of murky water. It’s featured on the 100,000 dong note.
Flanked on either side are rows of stone tortoise sculptures stood under pagodas. The tortoise is considered sacred to the Vietnamese. We’re quite partial to them ourselves, given our 184 year old much loved Jonathan the tortoise on St Helena.
Festival Flag of the Five Elements
In Vietnam tortoises, dragons, unicorns and phoenixes are the country’s four holy creatures that symbolises power, wisdom and longevity.
There are 82 stone tortoises in total around the Well of Heavenly Clarity. On the back of each one are ‘stelae’ or tablets engraved with the names and birthplaces of 1,307 graduates who earned doctorates here between 1442–1779. The stelae was introduced in 1484.
It used to be custom for students to rub these tortoises’ heads for good luck, but today in the name of preservation the practice is now discouraged.
Swaying over the pond were two gigantic flags, the Vietnam flag and a colourful, square one we had noticed throughout the city. We’ve since found out the striking concentric design is the festival flag of the Five Elements, which is hung at places of historic or cultural interest. Each colour represents the elements of wood, fire, metal, earth and water; basis of the universe according to ancient Chinese philosophy.
Missed The End
The ‘Sage Sanctuary’ follows next. A spacious, “red” courtyard; red pillars, roofs, lanterns and decor. If you close your eyes it’s easy to imagine scholars of yore assembled here, studious and obedient in becoming model gentlemen.
Across the courtyard we found the, ‘Great House of Ceremonies’ where a bearded statue of Confucius the Philosopher sits in the company of four of his disciples. Altars to each have offerings of flowers, confectionery and money where people stand to pray. There was a hush about the place and coils of incense added a haze to the temple’s reverent atmosphere. Like the rest of the complex it was extremely photogenic.
At that point we thought we had come to the end of the temple grounds but apparently we missed the last courtyard to Thai Hoc, not realising until later. We hadn’t noticed any obvious entrance to that section. Although, by then the midday heat had taken its toll and we were pooped.
We headed back through the cooling garden courtyards and gathered our wits before stepping out of the temple’s sanctuary back onto the mêlée of Hanoi.
Opening Hours, Entrance Fee & Dress Code
The Temple of Literature entrance fee costs 30,000 VND (less than 1 British pound). Children under 15 have free entry. There are a few interpretation boards in English dotted around and an information brochure is also available which includes a map – use it wisely unlike us!
The dress code is conservative, be respectful that it is a place of worship. No shorts, miniskirts, or tank tops.
Opening hours: 7.30am to 6pm during summer (April to October), 8am to 6pm in winter (October to April). Open every day except Monday and national holidays.
The entrance is on Quoc Tu Giam street, adjacent to Van Meiu street and Ton Doc Thang street.
If you’re looking for cool things to do, the Temple of Literature in Hanoi gets a thumbs up from us. Don’t forget your camera.