Friday, December 19, 2014, 12:30am
Introduction to VIETNAM
Date travelled: 18th January to 6th February 2006
Tour Operator: SAGA
We arrived in Hanoi on the 19th January 2006. Greeted by glorious sunshine and a temperature of 30 degrees, we were looking forward our tour of Vietnam from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh city (formerly Saigon). Unfortunately that was to be the last time we would see any sunshine for at least 10 days. It rained constantly in the north of the country and our photographs in the galleries reflect this. The food was very good and plentiful (even for us vegetarians) and the people very friendly.
The traffic however was not so friendly and the first thing we learned was that crossing the road is an art form!! There are scooters everywhere - hundreds and hundreds of them. In fact I don't think I have ever seen so many motor scoooters in the same place at the same time.
On day three of our arrival in Vietnam we took a tour of Hanoi, the country's capital. Hanoi was founded in 1010 and was originally known as Thang Long. The capital's modern name, which came about in 1831, derives from Ha Noi, meaning River Exterior, a reference to the Red River.
Although the city remained the capital of Vietnam for much of its existence, it really developed during the French colonisation, from 1888. Today, the elegant tree-lined avenues and lush parks, so reminiscent of French style, intertwine with the natural beauty found in the many lakes of Hanoi and the culture and history of the Vietnamese people - from the 1500-year-old pagoda and unique atmosphere of the Old Quarter to the colourful markets, exuberant nightlife and iridescent skyscrapers.
During the morning, we visited the One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) dating from 1049, and rebuilt in 1955. A legend tells that King Ly Thai To saw the goddess, Quan Am in a dream, seated on a lotus leaf, offering him a male child. Shortly afterwards, the King married a peasant girl, who bore him the son of his dream and he built the pagoda as a gesture of his gratitude.
The pagoda, designed to resemble a lotus blossom, is unique, in that it rises, stork-like, from a lotus pool on a single stone pillar. The banyan tree behind the pagoda was planted by President Nehru of India in 1958.
Nearby is Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh read his declaration of independence speech, when he declared himself as President on September 2, 1945. It is, therefore, fitting that the Square is now home to the forbidding Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, where his embalmed body lies in full view, in a glass casket on a platform. During the autumn, the mausoleum is closed, while the body is checked over and repaired.
Behind the mausoleum, you will find a quieter memorial to this icon, in the peaceful, shady park which is the setting of Ho Chi Minh's House. The simple building, standing on stilts, was where he lived and worked from 1958, until his death in 1969.
We left Hanoi behind, as we travelled through the sprawling Red River Delta, birthplace of the Vietnamese race. Here we got our first glimpse of rural Vietnam as we travelled to our next destination - Haiphong.
Although Haiphong's strategic position on the Cam River and inland from the eastern sea makes it ideal as a gateway for foreign trade, the city was not built until 1888. Having recovered from heavy American bombings during the Vietnam War, Haiphong combines a host of modern utilitarian buildings and busy port life with the temples and markets of traditional Vietnam.
** Information on the travel pages was correct at the time of publishing. Passport & Visa information applies to UK citizens.