Sunday, 14 July 2013

Travel – Vietnam

We would like to thank our Vietnamese students who visit this blog daily for their on-going support. Our Facebook page contains photos I took while visiting Vietnam showing all the major attractions. For those who have not had the opportunity to travel to this wonderful country, you might like to read a little more about it.
Hanoi, meaning ‘within a river bed’ is the capital of Vietnam and it is a charming, historic city. The Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) and the Sunbeam Bridge lie at the centre of the city. The park around the lake is used by locals for exercising and relaxing. The Old Quarter can be found north of the lake and consists of 36 bustling narrow streets each selling a particular item e.g. there is a street that sells only shoes. The houses in this area are called tube houses as the front where the shop is located is narrow but the sides are long. Other buildings are influenced by French architecture (balconies, columns, shutters etc.) and can be seen south of the lake in the French Quarter. The neo-Gothic Saint Joseph’s Cathedral with its stained-glass windows lies to the west of the lake. To view Ho Chi Minh’s body, visitors have to stand in line to enter the Mausoleum leaving their possessions at the office. In front of the Mausoleum is Ba Dinh Square where Ho read out the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in 1945. Close by is the One Pillar Pagoda built in 1049 in the shape of a lotus and it stands in the centre of a water-lily pond. The Ho Chi Minh Museum, housed in a large and modern building, traces Ho’s life from his early days until his victory over south Vietnam and his death. Finally, the Temple of Literature is a large temple complex where Confucian classics were taught and food was distributed to the poor. Passing the difficult doctoral exams (which took 35 days) meant that a student became a Mandarin and has his name recorded on a stone block.  In the evening there are water puppet theatre performances that tell the origins of the Vietnamese people.
There are many agencies in Hanoi selling tours to Halong Bay (meaning ‘descending dragon’), which is 110 km east of Hanoi and is about a 4-hour drive. The bay consists of many islands, caves and beaches. Tourists can visit Hang Hanh cave which is 2 km long and consists of stalagmites and stalactites in various shapes.
Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam is located in the south. This is an energetic city with traffic, modern shops, bars and restaurants. It is also a commercial and industrial centre. Lam Son Square can be found at the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Around the square visitors can see the Rex hotel, French-era Opera House, City Hall and a statue of Bac Ho with a child. The red-brick Notre Dame Cathedral can be found in Paris Square and the General Post Office with old wall maps is across the road. Ben Thanh Market is a large, covered market near a chaotic roundabout. It continues as a night market outside. You can find clothes, souvenirs, food, household goods etc. Reunification Hall has been preserved as it was found in 1975 and is still in use today. It consists of various meeting rooms with furniture and in the basement there are operations rooms, military maps, radios etc. The courtyard of the War Remnants Museum consists of tanks, planes, helicopters and planes while the inside covers the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective and the after-effects of Agent Orange. Chinatown is in District 5, southwest of the city centre. The inhabitants are mainly Vietnamese of Chinese origin. This area is busy with traders selling their wares and has many temples and assembly halls. A boat trip down the Saigon River allows visitors to see how the city has developed from a wilderness of forest and swamps into an urban sprawl.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are 40km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels, which were built in 1948 by the Viet Minh, were later expanded by the Viet Cong to include hospitals, schools, kitchens and sleeping quarters. The Ho Chi Minh Trail consisting of an underground network of over 200km is a symbol of the will power and architectural creativity of the Vietnamese and shows how the Viet Cong were able to defeat the USA with their sophisticated weapons. Ecological warfare was used in the district as chemicals were sprayed in search for the tunnels and then the area was heavily bombed.
There are plenty of markets and food stalls that sell fresh and delicious Vietnamese food, many of which cater to vegetarians as well. Some of the ingredients that can be found in Vietnamese food are mushrooms, chilies, coriander, lemongrass, star anise, tamarind, Vietnamese mint, tapioca pearls, rice vinegar, fish sauce, dried shrimp paste, palm sugar, rice paper, glutinous rice and noodles.


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