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Winding rivers, endless evergreen hills, world class beaches, cities drenched in history and culture, and then there’s the food - Vietnam truly is a dream destination. From the densely forested mountains in the north, to the maze of rivers, swamps and islands of the mighty Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam’s outstanding natural beauty touches the furthest corners of this blessed landscape. Although the scenery is ever-changing, you’ll find that the welcoming smiles of its people are omnipresent wherever you go.
Situated on the banks of the silt-laden Red River some 100km from its mouth, Vietnam’s captivating capital serves as a gateway to the spectacular islands and emerald green waters of Halong Bay.
However, there’s much to see in this vibrant city itself. Large swathes of Hanoi were built during French occupation, reflected by wide tree-lined boulevards, squares and fountains. While the Old Quarter is a labyrinth of narrow streets littered with picturesque pagodas.
A striking red bridge leads to a small island on Lake Hoan Kiem where you can explore enchanting Đền Ngọc Sơn. The Buddhist temple dedicated to the 13th century war hero Tran Hung Dao, Confucian philosopher Nguyen Van Sieu and scholar Van Xuong is emblazoned with text and artworks of fish, tigers and dragons. Once you’ve found enlightenment take a well earned rest on one of the benches pointing in the direction of the lake’s perfectly still waters.
Water puppetry is a centuries-old art in Vietnam. String, hand, shadow or a combination of all types of puppets perform alongside live music and fireworks to create a colourful display that captures the imaginations of adults and children alike. The theatre is located near Lake Hoan Kiem and there are performances daily, at five different times: the first at 3pm and the last at 8pm. It’s extremely popular so buy tickets a little in advance to avoid disappointment.
Vietnamese food is packed with distinctive flavours and there’s no better place to experience it than in one of Hanoi’s many street-side eateries. In the Old Quarter you can dine on pho, banh mi and chao amidst the hustle and bustle of every day life. While in the district of Tong Duy Tan you’ll find equally delicious food and a more relaxed atmosphere. The cafés and restaurants here are more spacious and traffic is diverted elsewhere.
Vietnam’s former royal capital, founded by the Nguyen Dynasty in the 17th century, is now an exhibition of crumbling temples and palaces, and should feature in the travel plans of any history buff.
The magical Perfume River splits the city of Hue in two. Travelling by boat down the Perfume River to feast your eyes on the Thien Mu Pagoda is a breathtakingly scenic journey. But it’s just the start of the historical treasure hunt in the Imperial city of Hue. The main attraction is the Citadel. Much of it was destroyed during the war, though what remains still reveals a rich history of what once stood.
Continue your cultural journey to the impressive Emperor Tu Duc Mausoleum and stroll around like a great emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. The complex is enclosed by a wall and encompasses a lake, with lotus and water hyacinth. In the nearby village the waft of sandalwood and cinnamon incense provide a pleasant aroma in the air, while you can also observe locals making traditional Hue conical hats.
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