A Bend in the River – The Dyke and The Bridge


IMG_1019_2Hanoi means ‘bend in the river’, although to most visitors the river seems to barely feature in the city scape of today, in stark contrast to when the city was founded by Ly Thai To in 1010. Junks would unload their goods at the confluence of the Red River and the To Lich River and so the market town of Hanoi grew. Over time, the To Lich river silted up while the Red River retreated further and further from the Old Quarter as a result of dykes and a reduced flow. It is hard to imagine that Hang Buom, ‘sail street’, ran right up to the dock in the 16th century or that up until the 1980s the raised dyke road, now Au Co/Nghi Tam, would not have had any buildings on its east side as it was built to stop the river flooding Hanoi. The old photos below show Nghi Tam and Truc Bach Lake near where the Sofitel now stands as well as Hoan Kiem Lake with Long Bien Bridge in the background.

When the French arrived, Hanoi was dotted with even more lakes and ponds than we see today. The city was built on a flood plain, much of which lies below the wet season river level. Without man’s influence, it would be an inundated marsh. The French set to work filling in many of the small ponds using the rubble from the old city wall, which they pulled down as they began to put their mark on the city in the late 19th century.

I wanted to share some of my favourite photos of two of Hanoi’s special features from the past. The former dyke, re-worked into the world’s largest mosaic for Hanoi’s thousand-year anniversary and the Long Bien Bridge, a relic from the French era, which later became a symbol of the Vietnamese people’s strength and perseverance. Despite repeated bombings, Hanoians kept repairing the bridge where they could so they were able to move supplies across.


The Long Bien Bridge was built between 1899 and 1902 and was a spectacular example of modern engineering in its day spanning 1.6 kilometres across the Red River (architects’ sketch of the original bridge above). During the American War, the bridge was bombarded heavily in 1967 and 1972. Seven spans of the bridge were destroyed and never replaced. Today’s somewhat misshapen bridge stands as a memorial to those difficult times. More details and historical photos of the bridge on this great blog here. The future of the bridge remains uncertain as it is in bad condition with much of the remaining metal rapidly corroding as you can see in some of my photos below. Despite this, it is still used for trains and motorbikes carrying goods which rattle across, while lovers like to pose for photos and hang padlocks as tokens on its aging structure.

Running perpendicular to the Long Bien bridge is the dyke road, now better known for its impressive mosaic. It was one of the major projects the city undertook for its millennial celebrations five years ago. The mosaic runs for 4 kilometres, making it the largest mosaic in the world, as officially acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records. Using ceramic from the ancient pottery village of Bat Trang the mosaic depicts scenes from Vietnam’s long history as well as more modern art.