Colourful Vietnam worth dipping into
HANOI: FIVE days is not enough. If you want to visit beautiful Vietnam, a 14-day tourist visa is not enough either. Now that 4-star Vietnam Airlines can take you direct from Yangon to Hanoi, Vietnam is closer than ever.
From the narrow and bustling streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Min City (formerly Saigon), with their galleries, shops, food stalls and street vendors, to the mountains and the beaches, there is so much to see. Both cities are about 1000 years old, far more steeped in antiquity than Bangkok, Jakarta or Manila. The influence of China in its architecture, particularly the temples and pagodas as a result of hundreds of years of occupation, is inescapable. The Temple of Literature, dedicated to the great Chinese scholar Confucius, was founded in 1070 to educate the administrative and warrior class. Students still attend to this day.
On the sidewalks, you can buy coffee, snails, shellfish, dog meat or noodles for the Vietnamese dong equivalent of a couple of US dollars. Hanoi is known for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the President’s House, built on stilts in the ethnic minority style. Nearby is the teak-built One Pillar Pagoda, shaped like a lotus flower. In the heart of the capital can be found Hoan Kiem Lake, spanned by the Huc Bridge by the Ngoc Son Temple.
Take some of your limited time to wander round the Old Quarter, hunting for souvenirs or for coffee, leather or cotton, bags or shoes. Drop into a massage salon. Take in a water puppet show. It won’t cost you much but watch out for pickpockets – best to keep your valuables in a zipped bag where you can see it.
Old hands advise that crossing those busy, apparently chaotic streets is quite safe if you walk calmly and deliberately amid the traffic, making your direction clear. Oh, and there’s no harm in being polite to the elderly vendors even if you’re turning them down.
A two-hour coach ride south (90km) will bring you to Ninh Binh and the site of the country’s largest pagoda, Bai Dinh, and its 500 La Han statues. It also houses the 10-metre high, 100-tonne bronze statue of Buddha, the country’s biggest.
Another half-hour will find you in Trang An, where a boat cruise will introduce you to wild river and mountain scenery, including the mysterious caves of Sang, Toi, Ba Giot and Nau Ruou. Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014.
Ha Long Bay, another UNESCO site in Quҧng Ninh province, is about four hours’ drive from Ninh Binh. It boasts 3000 islets in intricate shapes. Cruising among them will bring you to Hoa Cuong fishing village, Soi Sim Beach, Coconut Three Island, Luon Cave, Cua Van floating village, Tien Ong Cave, Trong Cave, Ho Dong Tien and Tip Top Island.
For kayaking, Luon Cave is the best spot. For trekking and swimming, make for Tip Top Island. If you can climb down the 600 steps to Sung Sot Cave, you will be rewarded with its magnificent limestone formations, first discovered in 1901. Ha Long Bay has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
This trip was provided by Vietnam Airlines.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi is a must-see stop during your trip to Vietnam.