Running from the historic Hàng Đậu Water Tank to the Botanic Gardens, Phan Đình Phùng has a reputation as Hanoi’s most beautiful road. We took a leisurely walk from one end of the street to the other, and would have a hard time disagreeing.
Our walk began at the Hàng Đậu Water Tank, built in 1894 by the French, shortly before the construction of the nearby Long Biên Bridge. Until this point, Hanoians had been taking their water from the river and the city’s numerous ponds, so this water tower, prominently situated in the middle of a major intersection, represented a major step forward. It was recently saved from demolition, and is today protected as a historic landmark.
As we embarked upon our stroll, we almost didn’t notice the most amazing thing about Phan Đình Phùng. We were standing on a sidewalk! An actual sidewalk, not one of the usual, narrow strips of concrete used mainly by food vendors and motorbikes. It was broad, well-maintained and even shaded from the sun by an unbroken line of towering Dracontomelon trees.
As it marches toward the east, Phan Đình Phùng brushes the northern perimeter of the city’s citadel complex. In the past, visiting envoys on their way to the emperor would pass through the Cửa Bắc, or North Gate. The French made this the focus of one of their first attacks while conquering Hanoi, and you can still see some ancient French graffiti inside its walls. On the second floor, there are displays regarding two of Vietnam’s more important military generals, both of whom committed suicide after failing to stop the European invaders.
Across from the gate, the French erected one of Hanoi’s most important Catholic churches, in 1932. It was called the Church of the Martyrs, but because of its location it soon became known as the Cửa Bắc church. We were walking past on a Sunday morning, shortly before Mass, and were shocked by the number of Europeans streaming into the church.
Phan Đình Phùng continues its shaded, pleasant path past the church, until ending at the city’s Botanic Gardens. Dating from 1890, this was another project of the French. It’s basically like any other park, with the notable difference of an entry fee. The fee is negligible, something like 50 cents, but it’s enough to keep the park mostly empty. This garden was the perfect place to conclude an entertaining walk. We sat on benches facing the pond to enjoy that rarest of Hanoi delights: a moment of peace and quiet.
Photos Of Hanoi’s Most Beautiful Road