The capital, Hanoi, sprawls on the banks of the Red River. It
is a beautiful city which retains an air of French colonial
elegance with pretty yellow stucco buildings lining leafy streets.
Hanoi is also a city of lakes which adds to its air of sleepy
grace. At present there are relatively few cars - many people
travel by bicycle or moped. Although the streets are busy there
is little congestion and pollution is not yet a problem. It
is a city that appears lodged in a bygone age. In the middle
of the city lies the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored
Sword) with the 18th-century Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain
Temple) sitting on an island in its centre. The temple can be
reached by The Huc Bridge (Rising Sun Bridge). To the north
of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Old Quarter, a fascinating maze of
small antiquated streets lined with markets and pavement restaurants
and caf?s. West of the Old Quarter and south of the West Lake
is the former Ville Fran?aise. This is the old French administrative
centre and is characterised by enormous colonial-era ch?teaux
and wide spacious boulevards. It also houses Hanoi's most popular
attraction, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. When visiting the Mausoleum,
it is important to be respectful both in dress and attitude.
Ho Chi Minh was the father of the modern state and is still
held in reverential regard. His house, built in 1958, is also
on public view. Other museums in Hanoi include the Bao Tang
Lich Su (History Museum), the Bao Tang Quan Doi (Army Museum),
Ho Chi Minh Museum, Bao Tang My Thuat (Fine Arts Museum), Bao
Tang Cach Manh (Revolutionary Museum) and Independence Museum.
There are a number of interesting pagodas in Hanoi. The One
Pillar Pagoda, first constructed in 1049 (subsequently destroyed
by the French just before they were ejected from the city and
then rebuilt by the new government), was built to resemble a
lotus flower - the symbol of purity rising out of a sea of sorrow.
The Temple of Literature built in 1076 was the first university
in Vietnam. It is a graceful complex of small intricate buildings
and peaceful courtyards. To the northwest of the Citadel is
the West Lake, which is about 13km (9 miles) in circumference.
The shores of the lake are popular amongst the Hanoians for
picnics and there are a number of caf?s. The lake also contains
the wreckage of a crashed American B52 bomber
Ho Chi Minh City (Discount
Ho Chi Minh City Airfare)
Set back from the delta formed by the Mekong River, Ho Chi Minh
City (formerly Saigon) is the main commercial centre of the
southern part of Vietnam, receiving its name in honour of the
leader who successfully led the nation against both the French
and the Americans. Locals still like to refer to it as Saigon.
More modern than other Vietnamese cities, Ho Chi Minh City has
also retained its French colonial influences. Its vibrancy is
maintained by the ever-entrepreneurial Saigonese who have taken
the government reforms to heart and re-embraced the capitalist
ethic with unrestrained enthusiasm. The streets are jam-packed
with mopeds and scooters, often carrying whole families. The
markets are chaotically busy. There is a lot to see in Ho Chi
Minh City. The colourful Emperor of Jade Pagoda is an excellent
example of a Chinese temple. Inside, there are elaborate woodcarvings
decorated with gilded characters and sculptures depicting local
deities. The hustle and bustle of trading is best observed in
the markets of Cholon, the ancient Chinese quarter. The H?tel
de Ville is a wonderful example of French colonial architecture.
The War Crimes Museum bears witness to the suffering inflicted
on the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War in the 1960s
and 1970s. Other sites relevant to that era are Re-Unification
Hall and the former US Embassy. Interesting excursions from
Saigon are visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels in which the South Vietnamese
Communists concealed themselves and from which they launched
attacks on the Americans.
Midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City lies the city of Hue.
The former capital of the emperors of Vietnam, it is known for
its beautiful imperial architecture, although a great deal of
this was destroyed during the Tet offensive in 1968. The Perfume
River forms the border between the city itself and the former
'Forbidden Purple City', the mighty Citadel. This 'city within
a city' with its tombs, pagodas and lakes covered in lotus flowers
was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War, but one can still
see evidence of its former magnificence. Within easy reach of
the city are the tombs of several of Vietnam's emperors. Most
interesting, perhaps, are the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb
of Tu Duc. The city also houses fine examples of Buddhist pagodas
and other temples, such as the Thien Mu Pagoda.