First off: this is NOT a "palace"- at least not by typical standards. It's really more of a tiny, reproduction village- or maybe you could call it a compound. You will not find this attraction listed in Lonely Planet (not sure about Frommer's.) In fact, we knew nothing about it until it was recommended to us. It is basically a collection of traditional Vietnamese buildings (about 30 houses, shrines,temples, a water puppet theater, and so on) contained within a walled compound and connected with lovely paths, stairs, ponds, courtyards, and walkways,all of it there to serve as a background for the 'largest private art collection in Vietnam.' Thanh Chuong was both a talented artist and an ardent collector of traditional Vietnamese art, and examples of both his art and that which he collected fill every building. This attraction was recommended to us by an expat who lives in Hanoi, who told us it was a lovely, peaceful place. She also told us that we would not find it full of tourists- and she was right! We were the only Westerners there. She kindly arranged for us to hire a car and driver to take us there from Hanoi ( about US$70, return trip; the driver waited several hours while we wandered around. Included among the buildings are a pagoda, a number of shrines and temples, a typical home of a merchant, and even a very small, humble building that looked like nothing more than an outdoor kitchen. A few of the buildings (the houses, for example) are simply outfitted with the furniture that a typical owner would have put in it; others serve as both storage and display space for a mind-boggling array of ceramics, statues, paintings, woodcarvings, metalwork - pretty much any type of art you could imagine. You will find Thanh Chuong's works displayed among antiques, striking an interesting contrast. You can wander through this little compound for as long as you wish, following the various paths and walkways,entering various courtyards, and keeping your eyes open for the many little objects tucked in among all the landscaping. We likened it to an Easter egg hunt, there were so many little statues and objects in the gardens, trees, and landscaping, and even inside the buildings, you have to take your time and look carefully, there is so much to see. There are no tour guides, although every guest receives a booklet describing the buildings and the contents (ours was in English) as well as information about the artist who built this place. The compound is built into the side of a hill, and commands a gorgeous view of a small body of water. Climb to the top of the pagoda or one of the museum buildings, and you get a breathtaking view for miles around you. You can sit on a bench by one of the koi ponds, meditate in one of several shrines, or enjoy a glass of coffee or tea in the cafe. There is also a restaurant, but we did not eat there, so can't review. This little compound is well-worth the almost-one-hour drive from Hanoi but is only about 15 minutes from Noi Bai airport, so it would be ideal to work a trip in on the way to or from Hanoi. Warning: there is exactly one WC - a single toilet - that we saw and it did not have toilet paper, so be sure to bring your own!
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