Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is situated on the riverside of
the Red River. It's an attractive city which is
able to retain an air of French colonial gracefulness with
charming yellow stucco buildings lining leafy streets. Hanoi boasts city lakes, which contribute to its
sleepy gracefulness. Still today there are
few cars –
most people travel by bicycle or motorbike. Although the streets
are busy, there is not too much congestion, and pollution is not a
problem. It is a city that seems to be stuck in a bygone days.
There is the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, Lake of the Restored Sword in the Middle of Hanoi's city with the 18th century Ngoc
Son Temple, Jade Mountain Temple lying on a small island
in its centre. This temple is accessible by crossing The
Huc Bridge, Rising Sun Bridge. The Old Quarter, north of Hoan Kiem
Lake is an area where there are many small
streets lined with markets, sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The former
Ville Française is the old French administrative centre, located in the west of the Old Quarter and south of the West Lake. Marked by a huge colonial-era châteaux
and wide sprawling boulevards, it houses Hanoi’s most
visited attraction, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
When visiting the Mausoleum, respectfulness both in dress and attitude
Ho Chi Minh, the father of the modern state, is still
held in very high regard. His house which was constructed in 1958 is also on view
to the public. Some other museums in Hanoi are the Bao Tang
Quan Doi, Army Museum; Bao Tang Lich Su, Museum of History; the Ho Chi Minh Museum; Bao
Tang My Thuat, Museum of fine arts; Bao Tang
Cach Manh, Revolutionary Museum; and Independence
There are also several interesting pagodas in Hanoi.
The One Pillar Pagoda, built in 1049 (destroyed
by the French shortly before they were ousted from the city and
then reconstructed by the new government), was designed to resemble a
lotus flower – the symbol of purity sprouting from a sea of
sorrow. The Temple of Literature, constructed in 1076,
was Vietnam's first university. It's a
elaborate buildings and serene courtyards. The West Lake, northwest of the Citadel, is approximately 13 kilometres or 9 miles in circumference.
The lakeshores are popular among the residents for picnics.
There are also several pleasant cafes. The lake also contains the
wreckage of a crashed US B-52 bomber.
Approximately 160 kilometres or 100 miles from Hanoi, close to the port city
of Haiphong, lies Ha Long Bay. This stunning
complex of 3,000 chalk islands protruding out of
the South China Sea, is strange, eerie and extremely
breathtaking. Many of the islands have extraordinary
cave formations and grottoes. Catba
Island, a National Park with an abundance of plants
and wildlife, is located near Ha Long Bay.
Sapa, the old hill
station town is situated around 250 kilometres or 155 miles north of Hanoi, in the Hoang
Lien Mountains. Sapa is populated by
the Zhao and Hmong tribes. Every week-end there is a market when
the tribes people come to town to trade. After a hard day at the
market they celebrate with large amounts of potent rice alcohol.
It is very essential when visiting this area to respect local
culture and traditions. If you follow the road from Sapa 200 kilometres or 125 miles further into the mountains (which should only be done
by jeep), you will arrive at Dien Bien Phu, location
of the humiliating defeat of the French by the Viet Minh that finally
ended French colonial occupation in Indochina. This region is an
untamed, beautiful and secluded.