If you are considering a vacation in Asia, consider a Vietnam Holiday. Vietnam is emerging as a top tourist destination in South East Asia. This former French colony is a fascinating mix of cultures, art and food. Although there are poignant reminders of the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese people are gracious in welcoming foreigners.
Despite the economical slowdown, Vietnam received 3.9 million visitors in 2008, which figure is expected to rise to over 4 million in 2009. Airports at Cam Ranh and Phu Quoc are being upgraded to handle increased passenger traffic
The country has a population approaching 87 million, covers an area of over 127,000 square miles and has a coastline of around 2,100 miles. It is about the same size as New Mexico and it would be difficult to visit all the tourist attractions in a normal holiday period. Our suggestion is to limit your exploration to the two major cities of Hanoi, in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon) in the south.
Hanoi, as the capital of Vietnam for almost 1000 years is located on the right bank of the Red River, 1094 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City. The city retains an elegance and charm with its fine old colonial buildings, modelled by the French and its tree lined boulevards, together with a bustling Old Quarter near the Hoan Kiem Lake. If Beijing has 10 million bicycles, Vietnam has 10 million small motorcycles with half of them in Hanoi.
With more than 600 pagodas and temples and many more attractions, we have limited those in this article to some we feel would be of major interest.
The Old Quarter in Hanoi is located between The Lake of the Restored Sword, The Long Bien Bridge and a citadel wall. The alligator and snake infested swamp evolved into The Old 36 Streets (there are now more than 70) Most names begin with Hang which means merchandise or shop. Hang Gai offers silk clothing, embroidery and silver. Hang Quat has funeral and festival flags. Thinh Street connects the two and is full of wood turners. In the lesser known ones, Hang Be houses the Guild of Bamboo Raft Makers.
A notorious attraction is the site of La Maison Centrale, a prison built by the French in 1901 which became Hoa Lo, Hanoi’s prison and housed American POW’s during the Vietnam War and was dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. It was mainly demolished in 1996 but parts were retained for the tourists.
Apart from the numerous art galleries and temples, museums worth a visit are The Museum of Independence, The Vietnamese Women and The Vietnamese Revolution. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Opera House, the Park of Reunification and the Tran Quoc Pagoda are also worthy of a visit.
Eating out is a gourmet’s delight in Hanoi. The staple food in the north is noodles. Noodle dishes include Mi xao don which is crispy deep fried egg noodles and Bun ho hue, a spicy beef noodle soup. Leave the diet at home!
HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh City previously known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and is situated on the banks of the Saigon R iver, south of Hanoi and 37 miles from the South China Sea.
As in Hanoi, the city has millions of motorcycles and visitors should be wary of the unlawful antics of these motorcyclists who ignore traffic signals and often drive on the sidewalks.
The city centre still has historic, French designed buildings and elegant boulevards. The most impressive being the Reunification Palace, City Hall and Notre Dame Cathedral. The Hotel Majestic dates from the French colonial era.
Of the many museums, The War Remnants Museum displays evidence of alleged atrocities during two wars of liberation. One interesting exhibit is a French guillotine used in 1911. The Ben Thanh Market is the most famous in the city and has occupied the site since the French occupation. Nha Tho Duc Ba – The Cathedral of Our Lady was opened in 1880 and built from bricks shipped from Marseille. The Vinh Ngihiem Pagoda is the largest in Ho Chi Minh City and dates from 1971. It houses a large bell donated by Japanese Buddhists. The Dinh Doc Lap is The Independence Palace which dates from 1966 and was built on the site of the 19th century French Governor’s HQ. Worthy of visits are Hoi Giao, an Islamic Mosque and Den Ngoc Hoang, the Emperor of Jade Temple.
Finally, a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is recommended. This network of over 200Kms of underground tunnels is a remnant of the Vietnam War. Underground are fighting bases, kitchens, food and ammunition stores, hospitals and living quarters to support the guerrilla activities, which proved so successful. From this network the Vietcong launched the 1968 Offensive and the final campaign to liberate South Vietnam in 1975.
As with Hanoi, there is an abundance of gastronomic delights in Southern Vietnam. The influence of both Chinese immigrants and French colonists is very apparent. Curries are popular with dishes such as beef brisket and beef tail curries on the menu. Fruit is more plentiful in the south and it tends to appear in vegetable and meat dishes. As in Hanoi both cities have an abundance of Western and other Asian restaurants.
A visit to The Pearl of The Orient (Ho Chi Minh City) or The City of Lakes (Hanoi) will be a rewarding experience whether history, culture, art or food is your interest. So enjoy your Vietnam Holiday, we are sure it is a country you will wish to visit time and time again.