Few truly historic buildings exist in Vietnam, which makes the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) extra special. First built as a Confucian temple in 1070 AD, it became Vietnam’s first university (Quoc Tu Giam) and operated as one for more than 700 years. Between ponds, gardens, and tranquil courtyards, it’s a haven in the heart of the Hanoi
The Temple of Literature is a surprisingly long and far from scenic walk from Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where many hotels cluster, so many visitors choose to travel by taxi or as part of a Hanoi day tour.
One of the city’s key highlights, the Temple of Literature is a common stop on Hanoi city tours, be they by motorbike, cyclo, or minibus. Don’t expect to cover all five courtyards and learn about the principles of Confucianism and Vietnamese education on a multi-stop tour; if you’re interested in the cultural history, a private tour may be your best bet.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Temple of Literature is a place of worship, so dress respectfully—cover your shoulders and knees.
- The small admission fee needs to be paid in cash.
- This is a tranquil place that deserves to be experienced at leisure, so avoid overbooking the afternoon with other activities.
- Look for the Temple of Literature on the back of the 100,000 VND banknote.
How to Get There
The Temple of Literature is well over a mile (1.5 kilometers) from Hanoi Old Quarter and the walk is far from scenic. You can travel by bus (route) numbers 02, 03, and 41), hail a taxi—or motorbike taxi—on services such as Grab, or haggle with a cyclo driver. Save time and energy by visiting as part of a Hanoi city tour with a guide.
When to Get There
The Temple of Literature can get busy over Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, and is a popular weekend destination for Hanoians year-round. It closes on Mondays and during the middle of the day; visit on a midweek morning or afternoon. During the exam season (roughly March until early July), students pray at the altars—for good grades, of course.
The Temple and the Turtle
Since ancient times, the humble turtle has been a symbol of Vietnam; out of four sacred animals (the dragon, the phoenix, the unicorn, and the turtle), it’s the only one that really exists. While the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake has passed away, turtles still hold up the commemorative stelae in Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. That’s why students touch turtles’ heads in an effort to get good grades.