Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, has to be one of Asia’s most fascinating cities offering a unique blend of oriental and western charm. It is a city of exotic brightly painted temples and pagodas, elegant ochre-washed colonial villas, bustling narrow streets and alleys, grand tree-lined boulevards and shaded lakes. First established as Vietnam’s capital in 1010, when it was known as Thang Long, the city’s name changed several times before it eventually became Hanoi in 1831.
The Temple of Literature, the site of Vietnam’s first university, dates back to 1070 and its peaceful gardens and pavilions offer a relaxing respite from Hanoi’s busy streets. Today Hanoi is still a city that attracts many of the country’s intellectuals as well as artists and writers.
Paintings by Vietnam’s new generation of artists can be seen for sale in the dozens of galleries that have sprung up in recent years in and around the city’s Old Quarter. It is here in the Old Quarter that Hanoi began life as a commercial centre over a thousand years ago. The original 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter are named after the goods once sold there such as silk, paper, silver, copper, herbs, cotton, fish and chicken. Nowadays the goods on sale are more likely to be T-shirts, sunglasses or embroidered table cloths but step back from the main streets and you will still find shops specializing in candlesticks, pagoda flags, engraved headstones and traditional musical instruments amongst others.
Just to the south of the bustling Old Quarter streets is Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis of calm right in the centre of the city. Old men, students and weary tourists stop to rest in the shade on the park’s benches while local residents begin their day with a lakeside tai chi workout. Some of the capital’s finest colonial buildings can be found in the area of Hoan Kiem Lake including the magnificent Opera House, History Museum and the Metropole Hotel.
A couple of kilometres west of Hoan Kiem Lake is the imposing granite structure housing Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The mausoleum overlooks Ba Dinh Square, the square where President Ho Chi Minh read Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence at the end of World War Two. Nearby is the lotus flower-shaped temple of the One Pillar Pagoda, first built in 1049, and the grand palace that was once the residence of the Governor-General of French Indochina.
Halong Bay, A natural wonder of the world and one of Vietnam’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, magnificent Halong Bay lies 160km to the east of Hanoi. Over three thousand jagged limestone islands emerge from the emerald green waters of Halong Bay. While some islands are no more than large rocks others are much more substantial and contain huge cathedral-like caves of stalactites and stalagmites. Most of the islands are clothed in thick green vegetation and ring with the sound of bird song in the early morning. Secluded sandy coves are everywhere and in the summer months the warm waters of the bay are ideal for swimming. Halong’s largest island, and one of the few that are inhabited, is Cat Ba which has some nice beaches and a national park on it.
The best way to appreciate the delights of Halong Bay is to cruise among the islands on a wooden junk. Fresh seafood can be bought from the local fishermen directly from their rowing boats and cooked up for a delicious lunch.
Huế is the capital city of Thua Thien Hue province. Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty..It is well known for its monuments and architecture.
The city is located in central Vietnam on the banks of the Perfume River, just a few miles inland from the Biển Đông. It is about 700 km (438 mi.) south of the national capital of Hanoiand about 1100 km (690 mi.) north of Hochiminh city, the country’s largest city, formerly known as Saigon..
Huế is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The seat of the Nguyễn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River.. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.
Roughly along the Perfume River from Huế lie myriad other monuments, including the tombs of several emperors, including Minh Mang, Khai Dinh and Tu Duc. Also notable is the Thien Mu pagoda, the largest pagoda in Huế and the official symbol of the city.
A number of French-style buildings lie along the south bank of the Perfume River.. Among them are Quoc Hoc High School, the oldest high school in Vietnam.
Hue is also famous for its severe weather with boiling hot days in the summer and ceaseless raining weeks in the winter. Hue people, therefore, have formed their own culture to overcome geographical and climatic difficulties. This culture, seen through food, characteristics, and other aspects in daily life, reflects the typical feature of Hue people.
Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city, and is located on the South China Sea coast, midway between Hanoi and Hochiminh City.
The city itself has neither the atmosphere of Hanoi nor the hustle-bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, but has its share of sights, and is close to the charms of Hoian and the imperial capital of Hue.
The regions surrounding Da Nang was founded by the Cham practicing Hindus most possibly 3000 years ago, serving as the capital city and centre of the Hindu Champa Dynasty. Vietnamese invasion into the region in the 17th century significantly halted Cham development and during the Vietnam War, vast monuments and buildings were bombed. Given Danang was the first point of colonial invasion, many vestiges of French architecture are present in the historic buildings. Until recently, this growth was mostly outward and infill, but now there are high-rises going up. There are many remnants of the “American War” leftover in Da Nang. Each bridge has a different builder, whether they be French, American, or Vietnamese. On the way to the popular tourist spot; China Beach, the ruins of a military base remain in the form of helicopter hangars, although these are now more easily spotted at the airport, which serves both civil and military flights.
The city is often overlooked by tourists but is one of the most friendly to backpackers in all of Vietnam. China Beach, a former R&R destination for American G.I.’s, is now home to a small community of guest house owners, marble statue shops, and other various trades. Some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in Vietnam are found here, among some of the friendliest people.
Hội An or rarely Faifo, is a city on the coast of the South China Sea in the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is located in Quang Nam province and is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
The city possessed the largest harbour in Southeast Asia in the 1st century and was known as Champa City. Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Cham controlled the strategic spie trade and with this came tremendous wealth. The boats still used today in Hoi An probably] have the same hull shape as those used by the Champas for ocean voyages.
The former harbour town of the Cham at the estuary of the Thu Bon river was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries, where Chinese from various provinces as well as Japanese and Indians settled. The bridge (Chùa cầu) is a unique covered structure built by the Japanese, the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side.
Today, the town is a tourist attraction because of its traditional architecture, crafts such as textiles and ceramics preserved and visitors are exploited. Many bars, hotels, and resorts have been constructed both in Hội An and the surrounding area. The port mouth and boats are still used for both fishing and tourism.
Ho Chi Minh City, better known by its former name of Saigon, is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of five million, it is crowded, noisy and dirty, yet it is also exciting and historic, the essence of the nation.
Located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city’s name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty ensued.
Today Ho Chi Minh City has a cosmopolitan and energetic atmosphere, and having actively welcomed the new capitalist principle, the business-minded spirit of the people is much in evidence. Although relatively modern, it has still managed to hold onto its Asian character, and fine restaurants, smart hotels and chic bars line the sidewalks crammed with noodle stands, markets and shoeshine boys. The buzzing of motorbikes and scooters merges with the cries of street vendors and the urgent business of stall owners, selling barbecued dog, writhing snakes and tropical fruits. The sight of a family of four balanced precariously on a scooter, a squealing pig strapped onto the back of a bicycle, bowed heads topped by pointed lampshade-style hats and orange-clothed monks are just some of the vibrant images the city has to offer.
Although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City’s French colonial charm still remains, evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. It is not for the attractions that one visits Ho Chi Minh City however, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta.
Vietnam’s ‘rice basket’, the Mekong Delta is a watery landscape of green fields and sleepy villages, everywhere crisscrossed by the brown canals and rivulets fed by the mighty Mekong River. Its inhabitants – stereotyped as friendly and easygoing – have long toiled on the life-sustaining river, with their labours marked by the same cycles governing the waterways.
The delta, which yields enough rice to feed the country with a sizable surplus, was formed by sediment deposited by the Mekong. The process continues today, with silt deposits extending the shoreline by as much as 80m per year. The river is so large that it has two daily tides. Lush with rice paddies and fish farms, this delta plain also nourishes the cultivation of sugarcane, fruit, coconut and shrimp. Although the area is primarily rural, it is one of the most densely populated regions in Vietnam and nearly every hectare is intensively farmed.
The uniquely southern charm with its welcoming introduction to life along the river is the real draw, and visitors can explore quaint riverside towns, sample fruits bartered in the colourful floating markets or dine on home-cooked delicacies before overnighting as a homestay guest. Other highlights include visits to local orchards, flower markets and fish farms. There are also bird sanctuaries, rustic beach getaways like Hon Chong and impressive Khmer pagodas in the regions around Soc Trang and Tra Vinh.
Those seeking an idyllic retreat will find it in Phu Quoc, a forested island dotted with pretty beaches, freshwater springs and empty dirt roads (ideal for motorbike adventures). Good diving and white-sand beauty have led to its growing popularity, with a mix of cheap bungalows and five-star resorts along an uncrowded coastline.