Country Overview > Tourism

Hanoi and Surroundings

Hanoi - a mixture of discreet charm and excitement

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 A tour in HANOI is to steep yourself in history, tradition, and legend in a capital that has been inhabited continuously for almost a millenium. Visitors often note that the city is quieter, greener, and "cooler" than other big cities of Vietnam. Indeed, Hanoi itself, and the Northern Vietnam, have quite clear four seasons, and October to March are lovely pretty cool months whilst other towns southward just have dry and rainy times. It probably influences in the mentality of the inhabitants and the city seems attract more intellectuals and artists, while Saigon is great for entrepreneurs and hustlers.

Hanoi's present architecture is mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, and the French-built section of the town is largely intact. Yet, the city preserves many old religious temples and shrines dedicated to the nation's heroes or deities, who supported the farmers to cultivate and protect the fertile land on the Red River right bank and gather the first commercial guilds to form what later became an exciting urban town. Hanoi street life now is fascinating. In the early morning, you can see people both young and old practicing "tai chi quan" or martial arts in the parks and joggers along pretty lakes. Outdoor barbers with mirrors simply hung on the street walls and women selling great French baguettes and flowers are also at every street corner. If you go for a walk, the motorbikes and cyclos may make you wonder a bit which directions they move on, but as soon as you get a chance to try one of them, you could say they are not so risky like they seem to be, as the local drivers have extremely special skills to avoid one another (!). Thus a deliberate Cyclo tour for one or two hours is so far the best way to visit the Old Quarter, 90% of which are narrow and short streets.

During the two Indochinese Wars in 20th century, Hanoi had been heavily damaged, but there is virtually no evidence that now and the particularly thin, tall, often awkward-looking buildings that you see on streets are not a result of bombing, but are created by landowners who own only a thin slice of land so build up rather than out. Hanoi has a number of lovely parks and big Lakes which inspire the ancient architects to build graceful temples nearby, and Museums with precious exhibits of Vietnam's Fine Arts, Ethnology, History and Recent Wars that attract not only historians but foreign visitors and local people.

Finally, the Hanoians are reckoned the warmest and most approachable in the country. Though English is not as commonly spoken as in Saigon, most of the shopkeepers have learnt English quite enough to discussion on the commodities and price, and many of the older generation have a working vocabulary of French. Regardless of language, people will attempt to chat with you irrespective of whether you can understand them. Many of the cyclo drivers speak some English and often have very interesting pasts that they are now willing to discuss with foreigners. At times in Hanoi, you could be sitting in a café sipping excellent coffee that Vietnam plant in the Central Highlands for domestic use and export, eating great pastries that is a pleasant trace of the French time, chatting in French to an old beret clad gentleman, whilst as you look out the window you can see posh French-style villas in the shadows of fig trees or malabar-almon trees. Then you can really wonder just what country you really are in. In a single word, Hanoi is a city to be savoured.

Hanoi Old Quarter

The Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. Each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce. The area is famous for its small artisans and merchants, including many silk shops. Local cuisine specialties as well as several clubs and bars can be found here also. A night market in the heart of the district opens for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening with a variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.

Sapa

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Sapa is an incredibly picturesque village that lies on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the Chinese border in northwest Vietnam, 380km away from Hanoi. Along with Halong Bay, it is the “other” major excursion from Hanoi. It is called “the Tonkinese Alps”  where you can see many hill tribe people, their villages, rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fansipan, the highest peak of Vietnam.
 
Sapa is preparing itself for the continuing tourist boom considerably well. Behind Sapa, towards Phong Tho is a high pass forming part of the Hoang Lien Mountains that were known to the French as the Tonkinese Alps. This range includes Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143m, which view at dawn could be spectacular.

There is a weekend market in Sapa during which the town fills up with hilltribe people selling their wares. If you want to see these tribes as they "traditionally" live (as opposed to flogging jackets to tourists), either go for a hike or head over to Dien Bien Phu from Sapa. This stretch has the most traditional people you will see in the whole of Vietnam. It seems that most tourist groups pile into Sapa during the weekend for the market. However, travelers have reported that during the week is a much better time to catch a glimpse of the real Sapa avoiding from a big hassle of tourists.

You can hike in the surrounding area and visit a number of fairly traditional predominantly Mong hilltribe villages. Further afield is the colourful Red Zao, Dzay, Tay and Xa Pho people. A home stay in the Tay village would be unforgettable experience.

Ha Long Bay

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Halong Bay attracts approximately 90% of the tourists who come to Vietnam. It's a beautiful bay comprising 1,500 square km situate on the Gulf of Tonkin Gulf on the South China Sea. Though it forms part of the ocean, its waters are calm and unusually emerald. It has nearly 2,000 islands. The enchanting land masse of the Bay is of limestone and dolomite, and there are many grottos and caves for visitors to enjoy. Tourist who have visited Guilin (China) and Phuket (Thailand) often compare these sites with Halong Bay due to their similar shape and geographical structure. However, upon visiting this Vietnamese wonder, all agree that Halong Bay is much larger and more diversified.

It is so magnificent, that after a very short period of consideration, UNESCO acknowledged Halong Bay as a World Heritage site in December 1994. This is the 2nd of the four listed World Heritages of Vietnam.
In 1991 a scene of the French movie INDOCHINE was shot at Halong Bay. This very popular film is about the life of a French woman who lived in Vietnam during the French domination in Indochina from mid-19th to mid-20th century. The leading role is played by Catherine Deneuve. As the film made its way around the world, not only French-speaking tourists began to make the voyage to Halong Bay, but the world now includes this spectacular seascape on its itinerary.

Before it became so popular, it was pretty difficult to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi, 170 km away. In 1995, it took no less than 6-hours of driving with 2 river ferry crossings, with inconvenient getting in and out of busses. But still, despite this inconvenience, tourists always included Halong Bay as part of their itineraries.

Today, you can drive directly to Halong Bay without the need to take any ferries and in three hours or even less if the traffic is not too heavy. But tourists love to stop along the way to look at the paddy fields, the daily life of farmers, the clay workmen, the greenbean town and the ceramic town that are now situate on the way.

There is a saying amongst Vietnamese about Halong Bay: "You have never really been to Vietnam if you have not visited Halong Bay." How true!

Bat Trang Ceramic Village

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The Bat Trang ceramics village, a 500-year-old village, is located about 10 km northeast of Hanoi on the left bank of the Red River.

The villagers chose the area because they found porcelain clay - a good material to produce high quality porcelain and ceramics. The land is also easy to access by a water way as it lies next to the Nhi or Hong (Red) River.

Bat Trang ceramics were sought for by people of all walks of life from royal families in Thang Long (Hanoi) city to farmers. Since the 15th century, ceramic house-utensils made by the Bat Trang village were also among the tributes to Chinese kings.
According to artisans in the village, Bat Trang ceramics have been mainly decorated with paintings of dragons and phoenixes, parallel sentences, floral designs, images of people and landscapes, which all reflect the Vietnamese people's daily activities and spiritual life.

Bat Trang, in the several past centuries, mainly made worshipping objects, then produced house-utensils, including bowls, plates, vases, cups and pots. The village has recently diversified its products, producing many items of fine art ceramics and high quality porcelain.

Bat Trang ceramics have also been shipped to many countries, such as Japan, the Republic of Korea, the US and EU member countries. Many ancient ceramics of Bat Trang are being kept in major museums in the world, such as the Royaux museum in Belgium and the Guimet museum in France.

Tam Coc & Hoa Lu

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Tam Coc means three caves, which takes about two hours driving from Hanoi (110 km) to the South, and visitors may say that distance is not a matter after seating in a boat rowed by one or two local persons in Hoang Long river and see the first limestone mountains, which will run along their riverway for several kilometers.

The boat will be rowed, through three caves on the river, all created by wind and water from a legend time, while the sea had occupied this area. The tide-mark is still on the rock about 2m above the water, and in higher mountainwall the erosion have carved some strange shapes that now filled of green grass, delicious foods of the goats that local people breed everywhere. If you are lucky, sometimes you can see mischievous monkeys. The river trip is wonderful for photo hunters, especially when local people come to harvest the water rice planted along the river, or when they transplant some seedling for the next crops. The tourists often compare the place with Guilin – China, or more closely, to the limestone islets of Halong Bay in the Tonkin Gulf for their similar geological structures and shapes. Thus Tam Coc is also called Halong-Bay-On-Land.

Hoa Lu is very near to Tam Coc, is the relics of the ancient capital Hoa Lu – the remains are the temples dedicated to King Dinh and King Le, the two heroes who lived in 10th century and chose Hoa Lu to build the citadel of the capital city. From time to time, archaeologists have excavated buried parts of this citadel with rusty weapons and ceramics. The temples are said to be built on the old foundation of their original palaces in 11-12th centuries and restored in 17th century.

One Pillar Pagoda

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The One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It is regarded alongside the Perfume Pagoda, as one of Vietnam's two most iconic temples.
The pagoda was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the court records, Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt that he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in gratitude for this in 1049,[1] having been told by a monk named Thiền Tuệ to build the temple, by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he saw in the dream.[2]

The Pagoda was located in what was then the Tây Cấm Garden in Thạch Bảo, Vĩnh Thuận district in the capital Thăng Long (now known as Hanoi). Before the pagoda was opened, prayers were held for the longevity of the monarch.
he temple is built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 m in diameter, and it is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, which is a Buddhist symbol of purity, since a lotus blossoms in a muddy pond. In 1954, the French Union forces destroyed the pagoda before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War, It was rebuilt afterwards

Hai Phong - The old charm within an exciting seaport

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Unlike its two neighboring sites of Halong and Cat Ba, Hai Phong attracts less tourists unless, of course, they arrive in Northern Vietnam by sea. Nonetheless, this seaport city has many charming architectural buildings which were evidently influenced by the early 20th century French colonial style. The old French regime invested a lot of money to build this seaport attraction. Visiting Hai Phong is an exciting experience. You can go to the city to different ways. You can go there by crossing on the Cam River Ferry, you can reach the city overland from Halong Bay or you can take it will and run along the coast of Vietnam for 12 kilometers either from Halong or Cat Ba Island. Both sea ways offer wonderful views with plenty of islands along the Halong and Cat Ba archipelago. Quite a few tourists choose this way to avoid going over the same routes once more.

There are some remarkable ancient Vietnamese architectural sites in Hai Phong. Du Hang Pagoda, the centre of Buddhism in Hai Phong, is a very pure and graceful temple that was built in 17th century with some renovations being completed afterward. The pagoda contains a lot of amazing woodworks, bronze statues and a bonsai collection right on the front grounds. An array of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues highlight a circular pond of water lilies in a flowery garden and a tranquil towered-grave yard, where the monks who had resided in the pagoda are buried. If you should through luck, arrive on a new moon or a full, you will have a chance to take fascinating pictures of the religious women of Hai Phong with their black velvet scarves and long brown dresses in signs of respect as they sit in and around the main shrine of the pagoda while the monks pray or give lectures on Buddhism.


The Huong Pagoda

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The Huong Pagoda (Perfume Pagoda) is located in Huong Son district, Ha Tay province, about 75 km away from Southwest of Ha Noi. Surrounded by vast green rice-growing plains, this is a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain. Most temples were set amidst a chain of blue mountains, forests, lakes and grottoes. Among the better known sites here are Thien Chu (Pagoda Leading to Heaven), Giai Oan Chu (Purgatorial Pagoda), and Huong Tich Chu (Pagoda of the Perfumed Vestige). The highest cave is situated on the top of the mountain. Thousands of stone steps easily challenge tourists' adventurous desires. Even elderly women are devoutly wearing long kerchiefs while murmuring their prayers between their lips in the belief that it would lessen the arduousness of the climb.

Cat Ba Island

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A trip to Cat Ba island can done separately or in combination with a visit to Halong Bay. Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago that consists of 350 limestone outcrops adjacent to Halong Bay. This is an oasis where you can be gone for one or for several days. If you start from the Halong Bay Wharf, it will take you four hours by boat, with stopovers for swimming, visiting spectacular karst WHAT IS "KARST"? and eating fresh seafood. You can contemplate the beautiful scenery of Halong Bay before reaching the island.
at Ba Island supports a population of over 20,000 inhabitants most of whom live off fishing or farming in and around Cat Ba Town. The town is small and ancient, with clusters of fishing boats. It is an ideal spot to watch inspiring sunsets across the harbor. You can even check out the catch-of-the-day in the early morning as the fishing boats return to port. See cuttlefish dried over hot charcoals, or stroll around the old town. It's a short hike from Cat Ba town through a tunnel to Cat Co Beach where mountains form a throne-like picture holding a marvelous sandy coast. You can even hike further along the beach to reach the rockier Cat Vang Beach

Ba Be Lake

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The best place to visit in Bac Kan is Ba Be Lakes. It is situated 230km from Hanoi and 80km to the Northwest of Bac Kan town. "Ba Be" means "three seas", an ornate expression when one considers that in this context it means the three big lakes. There are several kilometer between the Ba Be Guesthouse and the Main Wharf. There you can rent a boat and row along the Nang River. The river trip is a marvel. There are two flows on the river as you proceed; a clear flow of water and a muddy flow of water, which incredibly do not mix. You can either jump in the clear water for a swim or simply lay in the boat and contemplate the wonderful untouched surrounding landscape with its bamboo clusters, lianes and flowers along the riverbed. You can also watch the fishermen in their piraguas. After 3km you will reach Puong Cave, a mysterious sight with twilightful stalactites and stalagmites, which seems to signify that you are at the end of the river. But if you proceed by boat some 300m inside the cave, you will open once more unto the river as you move out and away from the cave. From that point it will take you an hour or so to reach Dau Dang Waterfall that is quite spectacular and worth a visit. To reach the lakes you must go upstream from Dau Dang, turning right then proceed for another 1km.. The Lake Zone is 8km long and 3km wide. It is set in a picturesque national park and made up of three lakes surrounded by vertical walls of rock, from which many water currents fall into the lakes with all sorts of creepers clinging to the walls and a wild forest where many species of birds abound.

If you have time, you can also visit a village-on-stilts. Take a boat at the Main Wharf and turn left this time. Go for 4km till you reach the small village's watering place and there you will be able to experience a typical working day of farmers and fishermen from the village

Cuc Phuong National Park

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Cuc Phuong, opened in 1962, is the first National Park opened in Vietnam. It is 140 km South of Hanoi and 55km from Ninh Binh. It covers roughly 25,000 hectares. The botanical richness of the forest is impressive as it supports a wide variety of flora species and patches of primeval forest, including ancient trees with thick clusters of roots, and parasitic plants and ligneous creepers. Tree species come from Burma, India, and Borneo. Clusters of orchards grow near cave entrances where moisture conditions and light are ideal. Varieties of trees include thousand-year dracontomelum and parashorea trees which can be visited in a one or two hour hike. You can see coral, vanilla, snow-white and butterfly orchids everywhere. The park also has a large number of animal residents including panthers and bears which are rarely seen
When hiking in Cuc Phuong, you walk some kilometers of a beautiful trail, passing through old-growth forest with long vines wrapped around strangled trees. You can visit the caves, waterfalls and streams in the forest or stop over at a Muong ethnic village. Since the Park is located in between three provinces, it's easy to combine a trip to Cuc Phuong with a trip to Hoa Binh or Ninh Binh province, or you can depart from Hanoi, spend the whole day exploring the forest and spend the night at the Park's guest house

Dien Bien Phu

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This was the scene of the siege in 1954 that finally broke the back of the French war effort in Vietnam. In an attempt to halt Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence Association) incursions into Laos, the French commander, Navarre, decided to establish a "super garrison" at the top end of a valley called Dien Bien. He believed that with this base firmly established in the Far Northwest, he would be able to launch sorties against the Viet Minh, and greatly reduce their strength in the area. He was to be proved terribly wrong.

The Viet Minh commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, finally saw an opportunity for an open confrontation with the French and started working towards it.

On 4 May following a series of attacks, the Viet Minh attacked with a force previously unwitnessed and by 8 May the garrison finally surrended. By this stage the conditions within were unimaginable, with maggots in the wounds of the injured and an incredibly demoralised fighting force. It was estimated that during the battle 7,000 French and close to 20,000 Vietnamese had lost their lives. This loss finally caused the French to withdraw from Vietnam.

Dien Bien Phu now bears few scars except for the occasional scattered tank to bear witness to its horrendous past, though it is still one of the remotest areas you could visit. The hilltribes living around the area of Dien Bien Phu make up 70% of the regions population, and the ethnic minority groups include the Black Thai, Nung, Meo, Loa and others.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum is a large memorial to the Vietnamese leader in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the center of Ba Ðình Square, which is the place where Ho read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Construction work began on September 2, 1973 and the structure was formally inaugurated on August 29, 1975. The mausoleum was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow but incorporates distinct Vietnamese architectural elements, such as the sloping roof. The exterior is made of gray granite, while the interior is gray, black, and red polished stone. The mausoleum's portico has the words "Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh" inscribed across it, meaning "President Ho Chi Minh".
The structure is 21.6 metres high and 41.2 metres wide. Flanking the mausoleum are two platforms with seven steps for parade viewing. The plaza in front of the mausoleum is divided into 240 green squares separated by pathways. The gardens surrounding the mausoleum have nearly 250 different species of plants and flowers, all from different regions of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh's body is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, with a military honor guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. The mausoleum is closed occasionally for restoration and preservation work on the body but is normally open daily from 9:00 am to noon to the public. Lines of visitors, including visiting foreign dignitaries, pay their respects at the mausoleum.

Temple of Literature

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Hà Nội’s largest and most important temple complex was founded in 1070 by the Lý dynasty in honour of Confucius. By the 15th century the temple had become an important centre for the training of the mandarin class and it remained the spiritual and intellectual centre of the kingdom until well into the 18th century. Despite the removal of the royal court to Huế in 1802, Confucian examinations continued at the temple until the early years of the 20th century, when they were stopped by the French in response to the emergence of the mandarins as an increasingly hostile force to colonialism. The Khuê Văn Pavilion, located in the temple concourse, contains 83 stone stelae which bear the names of successful candidates in national examinations held over a period of 300 years (1484-1787), whilst artefacts on display in various buildings illustrate the history of the temple. An important part of the site known as Thái Học (Giám College) was demolished in the 19th century to make way for a royal temple, but the latter was destroyed in 1946 during fighting with the French. In 1999-2000 the original Thái Học was rebuilt, according to Lê dynasty specifications and using traditional materials, with financial assistance from Petrovietnam and COMVIK (Sweden). It now houses a small exhibition on the development of the site and of the Confucian system of education which dominated Việt Nam from the 11th century to the final sinologist examinations in 1918. The new building is also used to hold scientific seminars, lectures on key cultural figures and ceremonies granting bachelor and doctorate certificates to scholars nationwide. A library of books in chữ Hán (classical Han Chinese, also known as chữ nho) as well as new publications on Vietnamese cultural norms and values, are being developed.


Hue and Surroundings

Hue

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Prior to WWII, Hue had been the capital of Vietnam and the residents of this city act as if Hue still is. The city has a long and distinguished history. During the Tet Offensive in 1968 the North Vietnamese flag flew from the citadel flag pole for 25 days. When the Americans returned to re-take the city, Hue was virtually destroyed in over ten days of terrible conflicts. The film "Full metal jacket" has much of the major fighting set in Hue, and accurately represents just how completely devastated the city was. It is estimated that over 10,000 people were killed during this battle including thousands of people rounded up by the North Vietnamese as ‘undesirables’ and shot or buried alive. The city has now been mainly rebuilt and no real signs of the Tet Offensive remain except for the virtual destruction of the Imperial city.

The Forbidden City

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  Unfortunately most of the Forbidden Purple City was completely destroyed during the Tet Offensive. Most of what remains is no more than the foundations of what must have once been grand buildings. There are a number of smaller buildings that were spared complete destruction, and there are some attempts at restoration going on (and so there should be, given the admission price).

Before its destruction, the Forbidden Purple City was used solely by the emperor and his family. It was originally constructed during the reign of Emperor Gia Long and was known as Cung Thanh (City of Residences). It was not until the reign of Emperor Minh Mang that the name Forbidden purple City was adopted.

The City has seven gates linking it to the Imperial City. From the Great Golden Gate, you will enter a large paved area, backed by the foundations of everything that used to be there. To your left and right there are two small buildings that house many artefacts of the City. In the left house, you can dress up as an Emperor and have your photo taken sitting on a throne (really makes you wonder sometimes). There are only a handful of buildings within the city that have been completely destroyed.

Thien Mu Pagoda

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  This pagoda overlooks the southwest bank of the Perfume River, around 4km south of the railway bridge crossing. This was the home of the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, who burnt himself to death in protest to the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. The motor car that took him to the site of his self-immolation in Ho Chi Minh City in 1963 is out back. The pagoda has been adopted as the symbol of Hue City and is very popular with both foreign and local tourists, hence the trinket sellers and beggars out front. Behind the pagoda is a lovely garden and a large glass encased smiling Buddha. To the left of the pagoda is a huge bell dating to the 18 century and is said to be audible 10 km away.

The road to Thien Mu Pagoda runs along the bank of the Perfume River and is great for a late afternoon ride as many boats are returning upriver. The light is just great so take your camera. The road also passes by a Portuguese church and also a mid sized fresh produce market, which stocks excellent fruit.

Hoi An Ancient Village

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The ancient town of Hoi An, 30 km south of Danang City, lies on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early western traders, Hoi An was one of the major trading centers of Southeast Asia in the 16th century. Hoi An has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some of these streets still remains almost intact. All the houses were made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters. Pillars were also carved with ornamental designs.

Over the last few years, Hoi An has become a very popular tourist destination in Vietnam.

My Son Sanctuary

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My Son, located 69 km southwest of Danang, was an imperial city during the Cham dynasty, between the 4th and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious relics that comprises more than 70 architectural works. They include temples and towers that connect to each other with complicated red brick designs. The main component of the Cham architectural design is the tower, built to reflect the divinity of the king.

My Lai

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One of the vestiges of the war is the village of My Lai. It is situated 15 km North of Quang Ngai. The destruction of the entire village by Lieutenant Calley's men is probably the best documented military atrocity on record. The massacre occurred on 16 April 1968. On that day, 504 women, old men, children and babies were mindlessly slaughtered by Company C with almost no resistance. There is a museum with photos depicting the series of events on this horrific day. The atrocities took place at different sites within a two or three square kilometers area. Walking among the fields, you occasionally come across a memorial plaque indicating the number of people that died on that particular spot. Lieutenant Calley was later court-martialed in the US and sentenced to life in prison. However he only served three years in jail. After the US Supreme Court refused to hear his case, Calley was paroled.

Dalat

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Dalat, capital of Lam Dong Province, is located approximately 308km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. At an elevation of 1,500m, Dalat bears the look of an Old French city. It was founded in 1897 when Doctor Alexandre Yersin recommended that the area be developed as a resort town. Dalat has many natural and artificial lakes such as Ho Xuan Huong, Than Tho, Da Thien, and Tuyen Lam bordered by lines of pine trees, which are a well-known feature of Dalat. A trip to Dalat is not complete until one goes to the Dalat Flower Gardens.

The temperate climate of Dalat is suitable for flowers such as orchids, roses, lilies, and camellias. Nowadays, tourists not only limit themselves to Dalat; they also visit the area of Langbian Highland and the ethnic minorities. Langbian Mountain's highest peak at 2,165m is very tempting for climbers. From Lom Bieng Klo peak, one can see endless green mountains reflecting the silver rays of the sun. Many tours are organized in the area, including parachuting and climbing.

Imperial City

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The construction of Hue Citadel was commenced in 1801 by Emperor Gia Long. This followed a period during which the Nguyen Lords moved the capital around the surrounding area. Since the initial construction, the citadel has been altered and improved upon by a number of Emperors including Emperor Minh Mang, whose tomb is not far from modern day Hue city.
Unfortunately, Vietnam’s history of war has boded ill for the citadel, and much of the interior, particularly the Forbidden Purple City, has been destroyed. It was during the conflict with the Americans that some terribly bloody and vicious fighting took place, which flattened a lot of the inner city. However, some parts do still remain and will give you an idea of what a magnificent imperial capital Hue must have been.
The Citadel is almost 10 km in circumference and its walls are 6 m high and 20 m thick. The moat encircles the entire Citadel and is 23 m wide with a depth of 4 m. There are ten entrances to the citadel, many of which are now bridges and roads into the Citadel area (where people live and farm).

Hue Cidatel

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The construction of Hue Citadel was commenced in 1801 by Emperor Gia Long. This followed a period during which the Nguyen Lords moved the capital around the surrounding area. Since the initial construction, the citadel has been altered and improved upon by a number of Emperors including Emperor Minh Mang, whose tomb is not far from modern day Hue city.
Unfortunately, Vietnam’s history of war has boded ill for the citadel, and much of the interior, particularly the Forbidden Purple City, has been destroyed. It was during the conflict with the Americans that some terribly bloody and vicious fighting took place, which flattened a lot of the inner city. However, some parts do still remain and will give you an idea of what a magnificent imperial capital Hue must have been.
The Citadel is almost 10 km in circumference and its walls are 6 m high and 20 m thick. The moat encircles the entire Citadel and is 23 m wide with a depth of 4 m. There are ten entrances to the citadel, many of which are now bridges and roads into the Citadel area (where people live and farm).

Phong Nha - Ke Ban National Park

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Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park, located to the north of the majestic Truong Son range in central Quang Binh province, is one of the world’s two largest limestone regions. The over 200,000 ha of parkland includes beautiful limestone formations, grottoes and caves, and boasts lush forestland covering 95 percent of the park area.

The Phong Nha cave itself which lends its name to the whole system is probably the most beautiful of all, containing many fascinating rock formations, enchanting visitors with evocative names such as Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. Besides the grotto and cave systems, Phong Nha has the longest underground rivers, the largest caverns and passageways, the widest and prettiest sand banks, and probably the most astonishing rock formations in the world.

Nha Trang

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 Nha Trang, which now has a population of 280,000 was constructed as a seaport in the 1920s. It is the capital of Khanh Hoa province. Fishing is the major industry. It is one of the most beautiful cities in southern Vietnam. It has with lovely beaches, 19 beautiful surrounding islands and is renown for its great ice cream! As the influx of tourists from Vietnam and abroad is ever increasing, a diversity of hotels and guests houses have been built along the beautiful beachfront. Intermingled with these new hotels are some very quaint and sometimes majestic old French villas.

It's pleasant to cycle in Nha Trang and the surrounding areas. The city has wide boulevards and very little traffic. On days where it is too warm to cycle, take advantage of your surroundings and take a boat ride out to the islands for a day of snorkeling in turquoise water and coral reefs. It will be a day that you will treasure forever. You can also have a fantastic seafood banquet for lunch while on these islands, and later return to town just in time to walk on the beach for a late afternoon beer or fruit shake. There are a number of wonderful sites in the surrounding area which you should visit and which we recommend
Nha Trang Bay is one of the 29 best bays in the world, voted by World Heritage in 2003.

Buon Me Thuot

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The Central Highlands encompasses beautiful natural features such as relatively untouched forests, waterfalls and spectacular scenery. These do contrast with some sites in the area that exhibit some savage scars of the War. The Central Highlands's population comprises a large number of ethnic minority groups who still live in their traditional lifestyles. These tribes can be visited around Kontum, Pleiku, Buon ma thuot, and Da lat.

During the monsoon season, the highland region becomes a torrent of water as this area is the subject of some of the heaviest rain fall in all of Vietnam. During the summer season, Dalat becomes a popular destination because of the fact that high altitude offers a slightly cooler temperature than the almost unbearable humid heat of the southern plains. This cool weather factor combined with its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has made Dalat the epicenter of domestic tourism during that time of the year..

The Central Highlands is a good place to go for those who enjoy getting off the beaten track. It is quite easy to include this region as part of a circuit by way of leaving the coast leaving and returning through either Qui Nhon or Nha Trang. You can take a separate excursion to reach Dalat from either Phan Rang or Ho chi Minh City. You will need to allow enough time for traveling across the narrow and bumpy roads, especially between Buon Ma Thuot and Nha Trang If you want to fully visit all of the region and really get to know it and explore its significant historical meaning, it will take you two weeks. On the other hand, one week will allow you to familiarize yourself with the bare essentials of the region.


Ho Chi Minh City and Surroundings

Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City

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Saigon, officially re-named Ho Chi Minh City is a thriving metropolis with an unavoidable western flavor or influence offering quite a different experience than Hanoi. While Hanoi is a smaller city where you can savor more traditions and the obvious traces of the red-tape which can be found in any capital city, Saigon is in continuous transition as it takes in the best and worst sides of "doi moi" movements (renovation of the country) based on the market economy rules. This is the commercial hub of Vietnam, the industrial muscle of the nation. This is the rendezvous of business people and business movers.

Saigon has seen itself grow at a rapid pace and its skyline is constantly changing as multinational interests seem to be " fighting for a seat on a plane into the country". Doi Moi and the lifting of the crippling embargo have opened the floodgates to an unstoppable torrent of foreign capital. Now everyone wants to be friends, after all, there is a lot of money to be made. After twenty years of forced sedation, Vietnam is now stirring but Saigon is wide awake.

For many of the inhabitants of Ho chi Minh City, nothing has changed. The streets still swarm with life. People buy and sell things, bargain, cook, wash, sleep, eat, drink and live on its streets. Despite the large amount of money being thrown around, the filter effect is yet to manifest itself and thousands of people have to survive on virtually nothing while the people at the top of the filter enjoy enormous profits. Cyclo drivers, often unable to do other work due to government policy, earn next to nothing and are still feel the pressure of being on the losing side. As they bed down for the night on their cyclo, across the street from the La Lai Hotel, wealthy Vietnamese arrive in their Mercedes Benz for a night of indulgence.

In summary, Saigon faces all that is good and all that is bad brought on by the new movements of Vietnam. It obviously promises lots of interesting things to discover, while it remains an exciting centre for shopping and hanging around as it moves to regain its once famous name; "the Pearl of the Far Orient".

War Remnants Museum

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The War Remnants Museum (Bảo tàng chứng tích chiến tranh) is located in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. It primarily contains exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War, and is a major tourist attraction.

Operated by the Vietnamese government, the museum was opened in September 1975. The museum comprises a series of eight themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment located within a walled yard. The military equipment include helicopter,  fighter, bomb, tank, and bomber.

One building reproduces the so-called tiger cages in which the South Vietnamese government housed political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photographs, accompanied by short copy in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm, phosphorus bombs, and atrocities. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, last in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin.

Reunifcation Palace

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Reunification Palace (Dinh Thống Nhất) formerly known as Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập) built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a historic landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and the site of the official handover of power during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Notre Dame Catheral

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Notre Dame Cathedral is a huge architectural monument located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. This redbrick structure with its twin towers has been a well-known feature of the nation’s economic capital.

A French priest named Colombert started constructing this famous Cathedral on October 7th, 1877. The architectural plan of the Notre Dame Cathedral was based on a French design and was executed under the instructions of a renowned French engineer, Baurad. The cost of the construction amounted to 2,500,000 francs.

The famous cathedral with its neo-Romanesque facade reminds people the days of French rule in the city. This facade with three arches gives an indication of the cathedral’s internal structure. The Virgin Mary statue, placed within the small garden, in front of the cathedral, adds to its grandeur. The stained glass windows, which used to adorn the Notre Dame Cathedral, were lost during World War II. Those fascinating windows have never been restored. The interior decoration of the cathedral is relatively humble and makes a sharp contrast with other French cathedrals. But its cool interior gives you great relief from the outside heat. Its tranquil set up is ideal for quiet contemplation. The 40-meter tall twin spires crowned with iron squires is truly impressive.

The services offered by the Notre Dame Cathedral attract huge crowd, and it remains crowded by the catholic followers of the city particularly during the Sunday Mass.

Vung Tau

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Vung Tau is the first seaside resort for the elite in Vietnam. The first hotel, the Arduzer, was built in the 1870's and was a spa for the French leadership at the time. Over time, many more bungalows and vacation homes were built by the well to do of Saigon. Today, Vung Tau has many large and modern hotels on its 3 main beaches. Vung Tau is also known for its abundance of pagodas and temples, most of them lean against the mountains and face the ocean.

Cu Chi Tunnels

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The tunnels of Cu Chi, 70kilometers North West of down town Ho Chi Minh City, is a well-known historical vestige of the Vietnamese revolution. As a distinctive architecture, this cobweb-like tunnel complex is a network of underground dug-outs of over 200 kilometers long, consisting of many layers and turnings with meeting, living and fighting quaters. The tunnels were important for the Viet Cong victory over the Americans as they allowed the Viet Cong to control a large rural area around Sai Gon.

The district of Cu Chi was the most bombed shelled, gassed, defoliated, and generally devastated area in the history of warfare. It was declared a “free fire zone” which meant that artillery fire fell on it at night, and that bomber pilots were encouraged to drop unused explosives and napalm on the area before returning to base. In essence, anything that moved was considered a target and blown away.

While U.S. forces relied on artillery support from fixed “Fire Bases,” the Vietnamese used their tunnel system to move their artillery around, making it difficult for the U.S. troops to locate them. In one tunnel complex in Cu Chi the U.S. found two 105 field pieces in perfect working condition. They would be stripped down outside, taken into the tunnels and assembled during the day for maintenance, stripped again, and then taken back through the tunnels to be reassembled in a new location outside and used the next night.

Ben Thanh Market

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Ben Thanh Market is a big marketplace in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh City, in District 1. The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and today is considered one of symbols of Ho Chi Minh City, popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, áo dài, and souvenirs, as well as local cuisine.

Ben Thanh market has been in existence since the French occupation. The original market was located on the shores of Ben Nghe river by old fort Gia Dinh. Its proximity to the fort and the river where merchants and soldiers would land was reason for its name (Ben meaning pier or port and Thanh meaning fort). In 1859, when the French invaded Saigon and overtook fort Gia Dinh, Ben Thanh Market was destroyed. It was rebuilt shortly thereafter and remained standing until it was moved to its present location in 1899.

Mekong Delta

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The far south of Vietnam is one of the two main rice bowls of the country. Dominated by the Mekong Delta, the surrounding lands are comprised of low lying rice paddies and the rivers are bordered by dense mangroves and palms. The tributaries of the hectic Mekong River highway provide a comprehensive network of canals and channels. The rivers are the best methods to explore the region at a leisurely pace and offer an opportunity to experience the truly unique Mekong River lifestyle.

What follows is an itinerary for exploring the Delta in a clockwise direction, beginning south of Ho Chi Minh City at Mytho. The areas listed below are very popular with travelers and even non-travelers. Cruising up rivers sitting on the roof of a boat laden with all manner of fish produce while gazing at a beautiful sunset over the distant palm tress, is a truly unforgettable experience

Phu Quoc Island

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Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, close to both Ha Tien, Rack Gia and the Cambodian coast, Phu Quoc Island possesses excellent white sand beaches and great snorkeling opportunities. Some of the islands to the South of Phu Quoc are also great for swimming and viewing the marine life.