Colour­ful Vietnam worth dip­ping into

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - NANDAR AUNG nan­da­raung@mm­

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.

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