Marble Mountain and Chùa Linh Ứng

Marble Mountain is located just outside of the city center and is well worth the visit. The site (as the name suggests) is a collection of five large marble and limestone hills, housing caves, and temples. You will find beautiful architecture, statues and art work throughout the complex. You will also find fantastic views overlooking the surrounding area, including the other limestone and marble hills. Chùa Linh Ứng is a large temple complex located out of the city on the peninsula. The complex houses numerous beautiful statues, stunning architecture and one enormous Buddhist statue overlooking the bay. You will need a few hours to cover Marble Mountain and around an hour to see Chùa Linh Ứng, both are highly worth the visit.

 

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Da Nang

 

Da Nang is the third largest city in Vietnam and is located in the center of the country on the coast. While Da Nang is not the most touristy city in Vietnam it is an extremely pleasant city. I ended up spending a few days there just because of how nice the city was. Having said that there is plenty to do in the city, such as Marbel Mountain, Chùa Linh Ứng (a large temple complex with an enormous Buddhist statue), the Sun Wheel and beautiful beachfronts. The city is also filled with Communist monuments, propaganda billboards, stunning arty bridges and fantastic restaurants and bakeries. The city has a very livable feeling to it and if I were to live somewhere in Vietnam it would probably be Da Nang. In Da Nang you will also see Vietnamese daily life go on all around you, seeing sights such as scooters transporting massively oversized loads of planks, garden supplies fans and almost anything that you can think of. The city’s attractions will be covered in the following articles.

Hue

Hue is located in Central Vietnam and historically was the capital of the nation until the mid 1900s. Being the historical capital, the city is home to the Imperial City. This is supposedly one of the greatest historical attractions in Vietnam and one that I did not get to enter sadly due to construction/restoration projects. I did, however, manage to enter the outer Citadel surrounding the Imperial City. This area saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War and as such, located throughout the Citadel is military equipment. The city also hosts some beautiful bridges which can be viewed at night covered in neon lights. Aside from the Imperial Citadel, my main reason to visit Hue was Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. This cave is 31km long and stretches for what seems like an eternity underground. I highly suggest visiting this incredible natural attraction, as it only takes a few hours in total to get to the cave and explore it. There is a cutoff point part way into the cave where average tourists such as myself on this occasion stop due to not having the necessary equipment to go further. The cave system is absolutely stunning, filled with shades and colors, shapes and silhouettes. Another site worth visiting on the way to Paradise Cave is The Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang. This site houses the remaining frame of a church that survived a bombing run,  with a new body built onto it. There are also some unusual shrines, statues and buildings on site unlike any I have seen before. Ultimately I feel like I missed out on a lot of what Hue had to offer due to timing and being on a schedule that I had to keep to. I do highly suggest visiting it and making your way to the Imperial Citadel even though I couldn’t.

 

Cat Ba Island

Cat Ba Island is, in my opinion, the highlight of Ha Long Bay. The island has one smallish port town with numerous hotels, hostels, bars, markets, and restaurants. I suggest spending at least two days on the island in order to really see what it has hidden. Staying in town is a fantastic base, where you can rest and relax, but also rent a motorbike or scooter to explore the inland areas of the island. The main town area houses some fantastic markets where a traveler can pick up a large amount of pearl based jewelry for a very small cost. You can also find numerous floating restaurants throughout the harbor serving fantastic food.  Inland on the island, the first real item of note is a small hidden stairway just off of the main road, leading to a cave. Inside the cave, you will find a secret medical facility built beneath the earth during the Vietnam War. When I happened to visit, the cave was completely empty, so I was the only person there making it an extremely creepy experience. The atmosphere inside of the facility is haunting, especially knowing that numerous people died within its walls from their sustained wounds. The complete silence and dim lighting add even further to the already creepy atmosphere. I definitely suggest checking it out even if you find it a little unsettling. The next and probably main attraction on the island for me is Cat Ba National Park which you can find in the center of the island. Whether or not I took the correct route is unclear, but for me to get there I had to park my bike and walk through an abandoned village, whose only inhabitants were wild dogs and deer. This setting was also somewhat creepy, but after visiting the hospital cave, not so much. The hike to Ngu Lam Peak, an excellent observation point located in the park should not take more than an hour or so each way. The view from the peak was fantastic and looked over the landscape in every direction, showing nothing but jungle covered peaks for the most part. My only piece of advice would be to cover your body head to toe in insect repellant and to make sure that you are taking malaria tablets because mosquitos will eat you alive on this hike, more so than any other hike I have ever been on. Apart from the inland attractions, make sure to explore the town’s markets and bars for a very enjoyable experience. Also, make sure to try horse show crab and mantis shrimp if you have a chance, both are delicious. Cat Ba makes for a fantastic few days if you have the time.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.