Ha Long Bay

 

Ha Long Bay is a natural wonder of the world, a Unesco protected region and a world famous tourist destination and as such needs no introduction for most people. For those who are not familiar with this location, the bay is located in NE Vietnam near Hanoi and draws in tourists from all over the world. What makes this location so unique is the seemingly endless mountains, spires and rock formations of limestone that emerge straight from the ocean and are covered in thick lush plant matter. This unique formation coupled with bright blue, almost teal water and Vietnamese junks and floating villages and pearl farms are what makes this location so unique and enticing. I would suggest booking one to three-night cruises in the bay if you are budget conscious, if not stay as long as you possibly can and take in all that the bay has to offer. For my visit, I booked a three-night cruise but decided to stay an extra night on Cat Ba Island, so just left my cruise group and took the morning boat back to the mainland aboard another boat operating a day behind ours. Some of the attractions to look forward to apart from Cat Ba are ocean kayaking, cave exploring, visiting pearl farms and floating villages, as well as karaoke and cooking lessons onboard the boats. Even if it’s just for a night, I highly suggest experiencing what Ha Long Bay has to offer and checking one of the natural wonders of the world off of your list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hanoi’s Museums

There are two sides to Hanoi’s museum collections, one focuses on Vietnamese history as a whole, while the other focuses solely on Ho Chi Minh. When I say Ho Chi Minh, I mean the man and not the city. Ho Chi Minh has an almost cult-like following in Vietnam, particularly in the North. The perfect example of this is the Ho Chi Minh Museum located in central Hanoi. This entire complex is literally dedicated to the legend of the man himself. The museum’s collection consists of everything from the man’s childhood clothing, through to chairs he once sat on, his childhood house itself, pens he once used to ythng you could think of. There are also some extremely random art pieces replicated throughout the museum and large metal and crystal structures resembling James Bond villains lairs. I highly suggest visiting this museum for a unique experience and a look into the extent of a national cult of personality. The other museum in town, The National Museum of Vietnam, is a more traditional collection of historic pieces from Vietnam’s dynasties passed and also well worth the visit. There are also numerous other museums in the city, many focusing on the Vietnam War that I did not have time to visit.

http://www.baotanghochiminh.vn/tabid/528/default.aspx

http://www.baotanglichsu.vn/subportal/en/Home/mid/29453A92/

Hanoi Art and Culture

Hanoi is a city filled with art and culture. Throughout the city, you can find galleries and studios tucked away down side streets and alleys. Aside from these smaller privately owned galleries, the city has some of its own large public galleries which are highly worth visiting. Aside from art, the city’s traditional culture can be witnessed and experienced in a number of ways. One of the best ways of achieving this experience is to attend a water puppet show at Thăng Long Theater. This remains to be one of the more unusual experiences that I’ve had in my travels and I highly suggest experiencing it. The who involve people behind a screen operating wooden puppets seemingly floating above the water. The show also features live music to accompany the story unfolding through the puppetry. As I stated in my last article, I suggest spending several days in Hanoi to be able to fully explore and take in all that the city has to offer. I spent the better part of a week in town and still feel like I had so much more to see.

http://thanglongwaterpuppet.org/en/

 

Hanoi

Hanoi is possibly my favourite city in SE Asia and as such will need more than one article written about it. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the city’s history, it is now the capital city of Vietnam, where the country’s Communist government is based. During the Vietnam War, the city was the hub of the Communist North Vietnamese forces known as the DRV Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Initially, their leader was Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader who freed the nation from French colonial rule. It was, of course, the North that won the Vietnam War, unifying the nation under Communist rule. Today the city still stands as the nation’s capital despite being smaller and less wealthy than the southern capital Ho Chi Minh City. I personally much prefer Hanoi to its larger and wealthier counterpart as the city has a wealth of culture, character, and atmosphere that I have not experienced anywhere else. The city itself is a buzzing hive of ceaseless activity of all types. You will see people in expensive cars driving alongside men on bicycles and rickshaws, businessmen in suits passing women carrying baskets of ducks and chickens over their shoulders. The city is a mix of French, Chinese and Vietnamese culture, cuisine and architecture. Ensure that you stay in the Old Quarter or you will miss out on half of the experiences that the city has to offer. The hustle and bustle of the day continue into the night with a world famous beer house culture existing in the city accompanied by enormous night markets. The city is filled with museums, galleries, theaters and other cultural attractions, as well as bars, parks, clubs, restaurants and other activities. There really is something for everyone. The ceaseless noise from honking traffic and the people crowding the streets makes you feel a vibrancy, unlike many other places I have visited. The city also had the best coffee houses I have ever visited, with Vietnamese coffee being my favorite in the world. Make sure that if you visit the city you try  Trung Nguyen Coffee, in my opinion, it blows Starbucks or any of its copycats out of the water. Make sure to visit a Loteria in order to experience one of the strangest fast food menus I have ever tried. Also try to have dinner or lunch at the City View Cafe, sitting atop the largest building in the Old City, it gives you a fantastic view of your surroundings. There is also a beautiful temple in the center of the lake in the Old District worth paying a visit to. Most of all just spend a few days exploring the city and try everything you are able to and you will not be disappointed.  A final warning is that the city has some of the most aggressive hawkers I have ever encountered, so make sure to be firm with them if you are not interested or they will literally take money out of your wallet and hand you their goods. Hanoi was the only place in SE Asia that I almost got into an altercation with a hawker who pulled my shoes off my feet and began sewing them despite my protest and me trying to take them back from him, while his friend tried taking money out of my wallet as payment. This only happened once but was an unpleasant experience and had I not gotten aggressive with them, they would have simply taken my money from me against my will.

 

 

The Plain Of Jars

The Plain of Jars is an archaeological wonderland. Throughout the region are hundreds of enormous stone jars thought to be used for burials. The jars are believed to have been created during the iron age, around 2000-2500 years ago. Their origins and purpose are still unknown as there are no markings or other remains to give us any clues. There are 90 jar sites in total, each containing between 1 and 400 jars. The best place to visit the jar sites from is Phonsavan, the regional hub. Many of the jar sites are damaged from US bombing runs during the Vietnam War. Sadly many of the sites are still regarded as dangerous, due to unexploded bombs scattered throughout the region, so take care when exploring them. You will most likely require a guide to transport you between sites and to tell you which areas are safe and which are not.   These jars are an incredible piece of history and are part of a major archaeological mystery and should definitely be seen by everyone.

 

Phonsavan

Phonsavan is the last major eastern town/city in Laos before reaching the Vietnamese border. The city is a rural hub, mostly consisting of farmers and those who sell to farmers. The city is also the closest location to the Plain of Jars which will be covered in my next article. I felt that Phonsavan deserved its own separate article. You can find stunning scenery, traditional culture and cuisine and amazing history in the part of Laos. Spread throughout the region are countless craters from US bombing rounds, as well as countless unexploded bombs and grenades. The locals have made an industry of converting this war era scrap metal into useful items and sellable wares through smelting. You should definitely try to visit one such workshop if you can and watch the locals meltdown bombs to create everything from keychains to silverware, to jewelry, all of which is available for purchase. The scenery alone should attract you, with rolling hills covered in and surrounded by rice fields and water buffalo. Make sure to spend at least a day here, especially if you are passing through on your way to North Western Vietnam. Prices here are also extremely low as it is not a tourism based town. The Plain of Jars is, in my opinion, an ancient wonder of the world and is not to be missed.

 

Luang Prabang Surrounding Area

Located outside of Luang Prabang is a number of other fantastic sites and attractions and scenery. Located along the Mekong are numerous villages, shrines, and caves to be explored. Many of this caves hold historical religious sites and are a fantastic experience. Also located near Luang Prabang is Kuang Si Falls, a collection of stunning blue waterfalls and pools that an be swum in. This is a fantastic way to spend a hot afternoon in nature. If you do manage to find yourself with a spare day or two while in Luang Prabang, make sure to explore and enjoy the surrounding area.

 

http://www.laos-guide-999.com/Kuang-si-falls.html