The Journey to Red Dragon Country
Do you yearn for warmth and exotic locations? Then pack your bags and head off to Vietnam in Southeast Asia.
There are places here you have never heard of, but you will love them so much you will want to share the experience with all your friends. Everywhere you look you will find an abundance of fresh fruit, the chaotic Hanoi traffic, Buddhist temples, long sandy beaches and all this at prices to keep you smiling.
This city is characterised by a huge number of visitors and lively atmosphere. The most popular place in Hanoi is the Old Quarter, located along the Hoan Kiem Lake. The narrow streets form a bustling labyrinth in which you can buy anything you want, from a meal sold by a street vendor to souvenirs and clothes. You will see tourists walking around wearing local slippers and fishermen’s trousers in every possible colour and shade.
In the Old Quarter, there is a wonderful theatre where you can watch a traditional water puppet show. It is so captivating that you hardly notice time passing during the 50 minutes of the show. Entrance is about 100,000 dongs, or $5. (When you change your money here you become a Vietnamese millionaire, because a million dong is around $50.)
The second most visited destination in Hanoi is the Women’s Museum. It is dedicated to the role of Vietnamese women, with tales and photographs of the heroines of war, displays of women’s clothing, fashion and traditions, Vietnamese goddesses and the women who influenced the history and development of the country. It is impressive to see how much respect is paid to women here.
If you want insight into life under French rule, which had such an impact on Vietnamese culture, then visit the former Hoa Lo Prison, built by the French colonial authorities in 1896 for political prisoners. In the 1960s, it became more famously known as the Hanoi Hilton. As you explore the corridors of this former prison, now a museum, you will learn many surprising facts and get a feel for life as it was behind these walls. Entrance is around 30,000 dongs.
Sapa is in the north-west of Vietnam, in the province of Laokai. It takes four hours to get there from Hanoi by bus or car. There are over five very distinctive ethnic groups living here that still maintain their traditional and unique lifestyles. Sapa is a very scenic area with rice and cornfields stretching away to the hills in the distance. One of the most popular activities in Sapa is a two-day hike, staying overnight at local guesthouses. Your guide will take you through the rice fields and show you waterfalls and in the evenings you will enjoy Asian home cooking in the company of other travellers.
Halong Bay is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is famous for the limestone rocks that, literally, grow right out of the water. Translated from Vietnamese, Halong means ‘descending dragon’.
According to legend, during a time when the Vietnamese were struggling to fight off invaders and defend their lands, the gods decided to help them by sending a dragon family down to earth. The dragons dropped precious emeralds from their mouths that landed in the sea and turned into a row of islands, creating a protective ring around the bay. They threw up huge ridges of rock that grew higher under the very noses of the invaders whose ships then broke up against the wall of stone that blocked their path. Legend has it that after this victory the dragons remained in the bay to help those who lived there.
Taking a cruise along the bay is an unforgettable experience. You can visit mysterious caves, go kayaking or spend a night on board a boat.