Vietnam, a country made famous by war has a unique and rich civilization, spectacular, scenery and highly cultured, cordial people. While no doubt a long history of wars continues to weigh heavily on the consciousness of all who can remember the years of fighting, the Vietnam of today is country at peace.
The name means 'This Side of the River', meaning of course the Red River, whose waters regulate the farming activity of the whole northern delta. Founded in the sixth century, it became the seat of the Ly dynasty in 1010 under the name of Thanh Long "Rising Dragon" after the flying blue dragon which legend has it showed King Ly Thai To the ideal site. Sporadic temple and pagodas survive from this period. The city lost its royal status in 1802 on the accession of the Nguyen dynasty before becoming the capital of North Vietnam in 1954 and then of the reunited country in 1976.Greater Hanoi is now home to over three million people.
One Pillar Pagoda
Hanoi's famous One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) was built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the annals, the heirless emperor dreamed that he had met Quan The Am Bo Tat (Goddess of Mercy), who, white seated on a lotus flower, handed him a male child. Ly Thai Tong then married a young peasant girl he met by chance and had a son and heir by her. To express his gratitude for this event, he constructed the One Pillar Pagoda in 1049.
The One Pillar Pagoda, built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25m in diameter, is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, symbol of purity, rising out of sea of sorrow. One of the last acts of the French before quitting Hanoi in 1954 was to destroy the One Pillar Pagoda; the structure was rebuilt by the new government.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) is a pleasant retreat from the streets of Hanoi. It was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, who dedicated it to Confucius (in Vietnamese, Khong Tu) in order to honor scholars and men of literary accomplishment. The temple constitutes a rare example of well - preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture and is well worth a visit.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
In the tradition of Lenin and Stalin before him and Mao after him, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep in the bowels of a monumental edifice that has become a site of pilgrimage. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - built despite the fact that his will requested cremation - was constructed between 1973 and 1975 of native materials gathered from all over Vietnam; the roof and peristyle are said to evoke either a traditional communal house or a lotus flower - to many tourists it looks like a cold concrete cubicle with columns. High - ranking party and government leaders stand in front of the mausoleum when reviewing parades or ceremonies taking place on the grassy expanses of Ba Dinh Square.
The Vietnam History Museum
The building was constructed in 1926 in Neo-Vietnamese style and is indeed an handsome structure set in a garden with fragrant frangipani trees. It contains a remarkable collection of archaeological and artistic artifacts from Vietnam's history from the Paleolithic era up to the Nguyen Dynasty including objects from the Palace in Hue.
Ha Long Bay - The World Natural Heritage
Ha Long Bay (Bay of the Descending Dragon) is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a 3,000 Island archipelago that looks like a mountain range rising out of the sea. The mountains stretch for more than 100 km. (62 miles) and consist mostly of dolomite and limestone, which have eroded into exotic looking shapes and formations, some small, some huge. These have been given evocative names: Cave of Surprise, Cave of Wonders etc.
95 km from Hanoi, or 1.30 hours drive to this town represents typical rural villages of northern region with vast green paddy field, expanding mountains and poetic river that flows to the horizon at Hao Lu Ancient Capital of cultural center and for nature lovers the must visit is at Cuc Phuong National Park.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The former Saigon grows and grows. Some five million people live in the coils of the "Urban Octopus", swollen daily by a rural exodus estimated at 80,000 a year. What is now Vietnam's economic capital was once the mediaeval Khmer town of Prey Nokor. It was later taken over by the Hue kingdom in the late 17th century, and in 1874 the French made it the capital of their colony of Cochin - China. Turned into the biggest brothel in Asia by the U.S. Army, it took the name of "Uncle Ho" after being "Liberated" by communist troops on April 30, 1975. In the heart of Saigon rises a real city within a city, Chinese Cholon, whose earliest trading posts go back to the 4th century.
The Reunification Hall
It is one of the most fascinating sights in Saigon. The building, once the symbol of the South Vietnamese government, is preserved almost as it was on that day in April 1975 when the Republic of Vietnamese, which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,183 Americans had died trying to save, ceased to exist.
Cu Chi Tunnels
It stands on the first terrace of land above the delta that escapes flooding. Cu Chi became a huge American base during the Vietnam War and its strategic location made it the most heavily bombed zone in all South Vietnam. The Vietnamese communists called it Land of Iron Or Land of Fire. The Viet Cong constructed an amazing underground base that extended beneath the boundaries of the American base, from which they were able to launch surprise attacks within the base itself. A network of command post, living quarters, field hospitals, even weapons factories, several storeys deep in places, was connected by over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of tunnels. The base was invisible from the outside and could only be entered through cleverly concealed trap doors.
Chua Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (Pagoda of Holy Eternity)
It is now the largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. It was rebuilt under the sponsorship of the Japan-Vietnam Friendship Association recalling the Japanese presence in Vietnam since the 17th century. Behind the sanctuary a three storey tower contains funerary urns.
The War Remnants Museum
It has an exhibition of weapons and photographs from the two Indo-Chinese wars. The courtyard contains a collection of US military hardware as well as a French guillotine. The Museum's collections of photographs leave little to the imagination, the rooms demonstrating defoliants and torture are particularly shocking.
Hue - The World Cultural Heritage
A visit of Vietnam would not be complete without sparing time to see Hue. One of the most attractive cities in the country on the banks of the Perfume River. Royal Tombs, the Perfume River and the Imperial City make this one of the historical pearls of the Indo - Chinese peninsula along with Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Luang Prabang in Laos. Hue's status has been recognized by UNESCO and in recent years the city was designated a World Heritage Site.
The Chinese style Citadel consists of three enclosed "Cities" that all had different functions. The three cities were square and concentric: The Capital City, The Imperial City and The Forbidden or Purple City.
Tower of the Source of Happiness (Tower of Confucius)
Which has become the unofficial symbol of Hue. It is 69 feet high and was built by Emperor Thieu Tri. Each level of the tower is dedicated to one of the Manoshi Buddhas, the Seven Buddhas of the past who lived on Earth On the top of the stupa are gold statuettes.
The Imperial Tombs
The most interesting tombs are those of Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc. The last tomb Khai Dinh's has no gardens and is in modern kitsch style, a poor blend of European and Eastern design.
Before the advent of the French this was nothing but a lowly fishing port 100 km or so from lordly Hue. It was to be transformed by a trade agreement with France in 1787 into a major commercial center under the name of Tourane. Its importance gained a further boost in the 1960s when Danang became the main U.S. air and naval base. With 660,000 inhabitants and without a doubt the loveliest beach in the country, Danang today is the spearhead of development in the midlands.
It was built in 1916 under the supervision of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient (EFEO) the French School of Far Eastern Studies. It contains some very fine Champa pieces including much of the statuare from My Son.
Hoi An - The World Cultural Heritage
The name famous place in Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge which was built in the 16th century by the Japanese community to connect their neighborhood with the Chinese Quarter. There is a small pagoda on the bridge itself and the entrances to the bridge are guarded by a pair of dogs at one end and a pair of monkeys at the other.
Sapa lies in the very north west of Vietnam near the Chinese border. Along with Halong Bay it is the other major excursion from Hanoi. The best time to visit is from March to May and from September to mid December.
In reality the vast majority of visitors arrive in Sapa from Hanoi via Mai Chau and don't go on to discover the spectacular scenery of the Tonkinese Alps where Montagnard hill tribes have lived from centuries. In Sapa these people have quickly adapted to the incursion of tourism and it's a common sight to see local women from the hill tribes pursuing foreignes down the main street bartering over colorful clothing and souvenirs. You might find this over the top in Sapa and would benefit from a trip out into the more remote villages where tourism had such a nasty social impact.