Ha Noi and around


Imagine a city where the exotic chic of old Asia blends with the dynamic face of new Asia Where the medieval and modern co-exist. A city with a blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace, an architectural museum piece evolving in harmony with its history, rather than bulldozing through like many of the region's capitals. Hanoi is where imagination becomes reality. A mass of motorbikes swarm- through the tangled web of streets that is the Old Quarter, a cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years and still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city.

Hanoi Vietnam

Hawkers in conical hats ply their wares, locals sip coffee and bia hoi (beer) watching life (and plenty of tourists) pass them by- Witness synchronised tai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake while goateed grandfathers tug at their wisps over the next chess move. See the bold and beautiful dine at designer restaurants and cut the latest moves on the dance floor. Hanoi has it all: the ancient history, a colonial legacy and a modern outlook. There is no better place to untangle the paradox that is modern Vietnam. The grand old dame of Asia, Hanoi lay in a deep slumber after Vietnam's partition in 1954 until the effects of economic reforms kicked in four decades later- The city survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990s as an example of a French-conceived colonial city. Huge mansions line grand boulevards, and lakes and parks dot the city, providing a romantic backdrop to the nonstop soundtrack. There are still moments of Paris, as the smell of baguettes and cafe au lait permeates street corners. Known by many names down the centuries, Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) is the most evocative, and let there be no doubt that this dragon is on the up once rnore


Old Quarter
This is the Asia we dreamed of from afar. Steeped in history, pulsating with life, bubbling with commerce, buzzing with motorbikes and rich in exotic scents, the Old Quarter is Hanoi's historic heart. The streets are narrow and congested, and crossing the road is an art form, but remember to look up as well as down, as there is some elegant old architecture in and among the chaos. Hawkers pound me streets, sizzling and smoking baskets hiding a cheap meal for the locals Pho stalls and bia hoi dens hug every corner, resonant with the sound of gossip and laughter Modern yet medieval, there is no better way to spend time in Hanoi than walking the streets. Soaking up the sights, sounds and smelts. Home to a thousand years of history, the commercial quarter of the city evolved along side the Red River and the smaller To Lich River, which once flowed through [he city centre in an intricate network of canals and waterways, teeming with boats. Waters could rise as high as 8m during the monsoon. Dikes were constructed to protect the city and these can still be seen along Tran Quang Khai. In the 13th century Hanoi's 36 guilds established themselves here, each taking a different street - hence the original name '36 Streets'.

Today, there are more than 50 streets in today's Old Quarter. Hang means ‘merchandise’ and is usually followed by the name of the product that was traditionally sold in that street .Thus, Pho Hang Gai translates as ‘Silk Street’ (see the boxed text for the rest), these days the street name may not indicate what’s sold there, otherwise there would be lost of Pho Hang Du Lich (Tourism Streets Exploring the maze of back -streets is fascinating: some streets open up while others narrow into a warren of alleys. The area is known for its tunnel (or tube) houses -so called because of their narrow frontages and long rooms. These tunnel houses were developed to avoid taxes based on the width of then street frontage By feudal law, houses were also limited to two storeys and, out of respect for the king, could not be taller than the Royal Palace. These days there are taller buildings, but no real high-rise buildings. Opportunities to dispense with your dong are endless. As you wander around you'll find clothes, cosmetics, fake sunglasses, luxury food, T - shirts, musical instruments, plumbing supplies, herbal medicines, jewellers', religious offerings, spices, woven mats and much, much more. Some of the specialised streets include Pho Hang Quat, with its red candlesticks, funeral boxes, flags and temple items; and the more glamorous Pho Hang Gai, with its silk, embroidery, lacquer-ware, paintings and water puppets - silk sleeping-bag liners and! elegant ao dai (the national dress of Vietnam) are popular here. Finally, no trip to the Old Quarter would he complete without a visit to the Dong Xuan Market (Pho Hang Khoai & Pho Dong Xuan), rebuilt after a fire in 1994. A stroll through the historic Old Quarter can last anywhere from an hour to the better part of a day, depending on your pace. However long, or whatever detours you might take. the Walking Tour will provide you with a heady dose of Vietnamese culture, lots of shopping opportunities and some insight into the city's long history.

In the tradition of Lenin and Stalin before him - and Mao afterwards - Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice that is a mecca for many Vietnamese. Contrary to his desire for a simple cremation, the mausoleum was constructed of native materials gathered from all over Vietnam between 1973 and 1975. The roof and peristyle are said to evoke either a traditional communal house or a lotus flower, though to many tourists it looks like a concrete cubicle with columns. Set deep in the bowels of the building in a glass sarcophagus is the body of Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum is closed for about three months each year while Ho Chi Minh's embalmed corpse goes to Russia for maintenance. Some -sceptics have suggested Madame Tussaud's lias the contract these days. The queue, which moves quite quickly, usually snakes for several hundred metres to the mausoleum entrance itself. Inside, more guards, regaled in snowy-white military uniforms, are posted at intervals of five paces giving an eerily authoritarian aspect to the slightly macabre spectacle of the embalmed body with its wispy while hair. The following rules are strictly applied to all visitors to the mausoleum:
People wearing shorts, tank tops and so on will not be admitted. Nothing (including day packs, cameras and mobiles) can be taken inside. Maintain a respectful demeanour at all times: no talking or sniggering For obvious reasons of decorum, photography is absolutely prohibited inside the mausoleum. It is forbidden to put your hands in your pockets. Hats must be taken off inside the mausoleum building. Most of the visitors are Vietnamese and it's interesting to watch their reactions. Most show deep respect and admiration for Ho Chi Minh, who is honoured for his role us the liberator of the Vietnamese people from colonialism, as much as for his communist ideology. This view is reinforced by Vietnam’s educational system, which emphasises Ho’s deeds and accomplishments. If you're lucky, you’ll catch the changing of the guard outside Ho's mausoleum - the pomp and ceremony displayed here rivals she British equivalent at Buckingham Palace. Photography is permitted outside the building but not inside and visitors must leave their bags and mobile phones at a counter just inside the entrance.
A Hanoi landmark, the One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot; Pho Ong Ich Kiem) was built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the annals, the heirless emperor dreamed that he had met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who, while seated on a lotus flower, handed hi in a male child. Ly Thai Tong then married A young peasant girl and had a son and heir in- her. As a way of expressing his gratitude for this event, he constructed this pagoda in 1049 The delicate One Pillar Paged; built of wood on a single stone pillar, is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the .symbol of purity, rising out ot a sea of sorrow. One of the last (malicious and pointless) acts of the French before quitting Hanoi in 1954 was to destroy the original One Pillar Pagoda; the structure was rebuilt by the new government. The pagoda is between the mausoleum and the museum.


A rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture, the Temple of Literature is a relaxing retreat from the noisy streets of Hanoi. If you only plan to visit one temple m Hanoi, be sure to make it this one It was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, who dedicated it to Confucius (Khong Tu) in order to honour scholars and men of literary accomplishment. Vietnam's first university was established here in 1076 to educate the sons of mandarins In 1484 Emperor Le Thanh Tong ordered that stelae be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of men who received doctorates in triennial examinations held from 1442. Although 116 examinations were held between 1442 and 1778, when the practice was discontinued, only 82 stelae are extant. In 1802 Emperor Gia Long transferred the National University to his new capital. Hue. Major renovations were earned out here in 1920 and 1956. The Temple ot Literature is made up of five separate courtyards. The central pathways and gates between them were reserved for the king. The walkways on one side were for the use of administrative mandarins, while those on the other side were for military mandarins. The main entrance is preceded by a gate, on which there's an inscription requesting that visitors dismount their horses before entering. Make sure you do. Khue Van Pavil ion, at the far side of the second courtyard, was constructed in 1802 and is a fine example of Vietnamese architecture. The 82 stelae, considered to be the most precious artefacts in the temple, are arrayed to cither side ot the third enclosure; each one sits on a stone tortoise. The secular intrudes on the spiritual these. days, with a host of souvenir shops flank ing the Thai Hoc courtyard. Everything from postcards to retired water puppets arc avail able but bargain hard as prices are high. The Temple of Literature is about 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Founded in the 18th century, Ngoc Son Temple is on an island in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. Surrounded by water and shaded by trees, it is a delightfully quiet place to escape the bustle of Hanoi. The temple is dedicated to the scholar Van Xuong, General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, and La To, the patron saint ot physicians. Ngoc Son Temple is reached via the red The Hue (Rising Sun) Bridge, constructed in 1885. The nearby Martyrs' Monument was erected to those who died fighting !or Vietnam's independence,
The official centre of Buddhism in Hanoi. the Ambassadors' Pagoda (Chua Quan Su; Tell: 825 2427; 73 Pho Quan Su) attracts quite a crowd on holidays. During the 17th century there was a guesthouse here for the ambassadors of Buddhist countries- Today there are about a dozen monks and nuns based at the Ambassadors' Pagoda- Next to the pagoda is a shop selling Buddhist ritual objects. The Ambassadors' Pagoda is located be tween Pho Ly Thuong Kiet and Pho Tran Hung Dao.
Shaded by huge trees, Quan Thanh Temple was established during the Ly dynasty (1010-1225) and was dedicated to Tran Vo (God of the North), whose symbols of power were the tortoise and the snake. A bronze statue and bell date from 1677. The temple is on the shores of Truc Bach Lake, near the intersection of Ð Thanh Nien and Pho Quan Thanh.
The most popular spot for worship in Hanoi is at Tay Ho Pagoda ( Phu lay Ho). Throngs of people come here on the first and 15th day of each lunar month in the hope of receiving good fortune. The entrance includes a col ourful lane of stalls selling temple offerings and food, while a line of good fresh seafood restaurants fronts the lake. It's a great place to watch the world go by.
One of the oldest in Vietnam, Tran Quoc Pagoda is on the eastern shore of Ho Tay, just off Ð Thanh Nien, which divides Ho Tay from True Bach Lake. A stele here, dating from 1639, tells the history of this site. The pagoda was rebuilt in the 15th century and again in 1842. There are a number of monks' funerary monuments in the garden.


The Musee de FHomme in Paris helped design the wonderful Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It features a fascinating collection of.irt and everyday objects gathered from Vietnam and its diverse tribal people. The museum lias excellent maps and the displays are well labelled in Vietnamese, Fench and English. Interesting sections portray a typical village market, the making of conical hats, and a Tay shamanic ceremony while videos show the real-life contexts. There are fabulous displays of weaving and fabric motifs. Visitors can also enter a traditional Black Thai house reconstructed within the museum, and there are outdoor exhibits in [lie landscaped grounds. Ede, H'mong and Jarai houses are popular places to pose for wedding photos; quite a surreal sight. There are often special exhibitions, including the current display on life in the early 1980s under the- coupon system. This could become a permanent feature, as it is so well presented and surprisingly honest about the hardships of life at the time. A craft shop - affiliated with Craft Link, which is a fair-trade organisation - sells books, beautiful postcards, and arts and crafts from ethnic communities. The museum is quite a way from central Hanoi, but it shouldn't be missed
A must for the architecture more than the collection, the History Museum was formerly home to the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient in Vietnam. It is an elegant, ochre-coloured structure built between 1925 and 1932. French architect Ernest Hebrard was among the first in Vietnam to incorporate a blend of Chinese and French design elements in his creations, and this particular building remains one of Hanoi's most stunning architectural showpieces. Collections here cover the ups more than the downs of Vietnamese history. Highlights include some excellent bronzes from the Dong Son culture (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD) and some striking Hindu statuary from the Khmer and Champa kingdoms. More recent history is a little one-sided and includes the struggle against the French and the story of the Communist Party,
A must for all budding revolutionaries, the history of the Vietnamese Revolution is enthusiastically presented in this museum. It's diagonally across the road from the History Museum.
It is worth making a detour to this delightful house, north of Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. This thoughtfully restored traditional Chinese-style dwelling is sparsely but beautifully decorated, and offers a bygone glimpse into the lives of local merchants in the Old Quarter. The restoration of the house was carried out in 1999 in cooperation with the city of Toulouse, France. While there are many such living museums in Hoi An, there is nothing else like this in Hanoi.
The former French Ministry of Information is home to Hanoi's Fine Arts Museum. The collection here includes some very intricate sculptures, paintings, lacquerware, ceramics and other traditional Vietnamese fine arts. It's a good starting point for anyone seriously considering investing in Vietnamese art. Reproductions of antiques are on sale here, but be sure to ask for a certificate to clear these goods through customs when you leave Vietnam. The Fine Arts Museum is on the coiner of Pho Cao Ba Quat, across the street from the northern wall of the Temple of Literature.
Easy to spot thanks to a large collection ui weaponry out front, the Army Museum displays Soviet and Chinese equipment alongside French and US-made weapons captured during years of warfare. The centre piece is a Soviet-built MiG-21 jet fighter, triumphant amid the wreckage of French aircraft downed at Dien Bien Phu, and a US F- 111. The displays include scale models of various epic battles from the long military history of Vietnam, including Dien Bien Phu and the capture of Saigon. Next to the Army Museum is the hexagonal Flag Tower, which has become one of the symbols of Hanoi.

This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the 'Hanoi Hilton' by US POWs during the American War. Those incarcerated at Hoa Lo included Pete Peterson, who later became the first US Ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995, and Senator john McCain. The vast prison complex was built by the French in 1896. Originally intended to house around 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Much of the prison was razed to make room for the Hanoi Towers skyscraper, though the section at the front of the site has been thoughtfully preserved and restored as a museum - look for the sign over the gate reading 'Maison Centrale'. There are some English and French labels corresponding with the displays, and it is possible to find an English speaking guide on site. The bulk of the exhibits here relate to the prison's use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. Notable gruesome exhibits in the dark chambers include an ominous French guillotine that was used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries during the colonial period, and the fetters with which prisoners were chained to the bunks. Even allowing for the propaganda, it looks like the treatment of Americans by the Vietnamese was infinitely better than that of Vietnamese nationalists by the French. There are also mug shots on display of Americans and Vietnamese who served time at Hoa Lo. Missing in Action (M1A) teams continue to search for remains of missing US air personnel all over Vietnam.


The epicentre of old Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is an enchanting body of water. Legend has it that, in the mid-15th century, Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To (formerly Le Loi) a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war he happened upon a giant golden tortoise swimming on the surface of the water; the creature grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake. Since that time, the lake has been known as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) because the tortoise restored the sword to its divine owners. Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island near the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake. The ramshackle Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower), on an islet near the southern end of the lake, is lopped with a red star and is often used as an emblem of Hanoi, Early risers should make for the lake, as every morning around 6am local residents can be seen doing their traditional t'ai chi on the shore. It's a graceful sight, plus there are joggers and games of badminton.
The largest lake in Hanoi - about 13km in circumference- the shores of HoT ay are fast developing a reputation as a desirable place to live for those that can afford the luxury villas. To the south of the lake, along Ð Thuy Khue, there's a string of popular seafood restaurants that are de rigeur for a local night out. To the east are some luxury hotel and an emerging enclave of restaurants, bars and boutiques. The rest is mainly residential. Two legends explain the origins of Ho 'lay, which is also known as the Lake of Mist and the Big Lake. According to one legend. Ho Tay was created when the Dragon King drowned an evil nine-tailed fox in his lair, which was in a forest on this site. Another legend relates that in the 11th century a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Khong Lo, rendered a great service to the emperor of China, who rewarded him with a vast quantity of bronze from which he cast into a huge bell. The sound of the bell could be heard all the way to China, where the Golden Buffalo Calf, mistaking the ringing for its mother's call, ran southward, trampling on the site of Ho Tay and turning it into a lake. The geological explanation is that the lake-was created when Song Hong (Red River) overflowed its hanks. The flood problem has been partially controlled by building dikes And the highway along the eastern side of Ho Tay is built upon one.
Unbelievably, there ore tortoises in the mysterious and murky waters of Hoan Kiem Lake. Surfacing on rare occasions, and bringing luck to anyone fortunate enough to see one. the Sword Lake tortoise (Rafetus leloii) is not just your common garden-variety tortoise: it is a huge beast. A specimen that died in 1968 weighed in at 250kg and was 2.1m long! Its preserved remains are on show in the Ngoc Son Temple complex. together with a photo taken of a tortoise that appeared in the lake in 2000. No-one is sure how many there still are, or how they have survived in this urban setting. Rumours abound. Are these really the lake-dwelling descendants of the golden tortoise of Le Thai To? Or are they safeguarded in enclosures elsewhere and transported to the lake from time to time, where their occasional appearance is simply an orchestrated ploy to keep the legend of the lake alive? Those ripples on the lake surface will never seem so innocent again.
street name.........description................streetname............description

Bat Dan.............. wooden bowls..........Hang Giay..............paper or shoes
BatSu.................china bowls..............Hang Hanh.............onions
ChaCa................roasted fish...............Hang Hom............. cases
Chan Cam..........string instruments......Hang Huong........... mcense
Cho Gao.............rice market...............Hang Khay.............trays
Gia Ngu..............fishermen.................Hang Khoai............sweet potatoes
Hai Tuong...........sandals....................Hang Luoc............ combs
Hang Bac...........silversmiths...............Hang Ma............... votive papers
Hang Be.............rafts.........................Hang Main..............pickied fish..
Hang Bo........... .baskets....................Hang Manh.............bamboo screens
Hang Bong..........cotton......................Hang Muoi..............salt
Hang Buom........sails........................ Hang Ngang............transversal street
Hang But............brushes....................Hang Non...............hats
Hang Ca.............fish..........................Hang Phen..............alum
Hang Can...........scales..................... Hang Quat..............fans
Hang Chai..........bottles..................... Hang Ruoi...............dam worms
Hang Chi............threads.....................Hang Than..............charcoal
Hang Chieu........mats........................ Hang Thiec.............tin
Hang Chinh.........jars..........................Hang Thung............barrels
Hang Cot............bamboo lattices........Hang Tre................bamboo
Hang Da.............leather.....................Hang Trong.............drums
Hang Dao...........(silk) dye's................Hang Vai................cloth
Hang Dan...........beans or oils............LoRen.....................blacksmiths
Hang Dieu..........pipes.......................LoSu......................coffins
Hang Oong.........copper....................MaMay...................rattan
Hang Ouong.......sugar......................Ngo Gach............... bricks
Hang da.............chicken..................Thuoc Bac...............herbal medicines
Hang Gai............siik


Tam Coc:

Poetically penned "Halong Bay on the rice paddies', the area around Tam Coc boasts stunning scenery. While Halong Bay has rugged rock formations jutting out of the sea here they soar skywards from a sea of green, 'Tam Coc (entry fee 30,000d,boat 40,000d) is named after the low caves through which the Ngo Dong River flows. The essential Tam Coc experience is So sit back and be rowed through the caves - a serene and scenic trip, which turns into a surreal dance towards the end. The boats carry two people as well as the main rower at the rear and a secondary rower, usually an elderly woman, whose purpose becomes clear at the end of the journey. Hang Ca, the first cave, is 127m long; Hang Giua 70m long; and the thirds Hang Cuoi, is only 45m. The boat trip takes about two hours and tickets are sold at the small booking office by the car park. Even on cloudy days, bring sunscreen and a hat or umbrella, as there s no shade in the boats. It pays to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the day-tripping crowds from Hanoi. The area behind the Tam Coc restaurants is Van Lan village, which is famous for its embroidery. Here local artisans make napkins, tablecloths, pillowcases and T-shirts. A lot of these items wind up being sold on Hanoi’s Pho Hang Gai , but it is cheaper to buy them here directly from the artisan. The village has a much better selection and slightly Sower prices than those available from the boat vendors.
This charming cave pagoda is just a couple of kilometres north ot Tam Coc and worth a visit if you have your own wheels. The scenic road winds through rice fields hemmed in by karsts and ends in a dusty village. Bich Dong (Jade Grotto) is cut into the cave of a karst and is a holy site of pilgrimage for Vietnamese. The smoke of burning incense and the gloom of the caves give this place an unearthy atmosphere
Hoa Lu: Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam during the Dinh (968-80) and early Le (980-1009) dynasties. The site was a smart choice for a capital city because of the natural protection afforded by the region's bizarre landscape, with rocky outcrops as spectacular as Tam Coc's. the ancient citadel of Hoa Lu (admission 10,000d), most of which has been destroyed. covered an area of about 3 sq km. The' outer ramparts encompassed temples, shrines and the king's palace. The royal family lived in the inner citadel. Yen Ngua Mountain provides a scenic back drop for Hoa Lu's two remaining temples. The first, Dinh Tien Hoang, was restored in the 17th century and is dedicated to the Dinh dynasty. At the front of the main temple building is the stone pedestal of a royal throne: inide are bronze bells and a statue of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang with his three sons. In a building to the right a display features photos and some-artefacts, while to the left are three Buddhist prayer stones - one supported by a turtle another with a crab and two rats at the base The second temple is dedicated to Le Dai Hanh, an early Le monarch. Inside the main hall are an assortment of drums, gongs, in cense burners, candle holders and weapons with a statue of the king in the middle, his queen on the right and their son on the left In the left-hand section of this complex a modern museum features part of the excavations of the 10th-century citadel wall, unearthed in 1998 Once you've navigated the hassle of persistent sellers on the way in, it's very peaceful inside the complex, especially in the early morning or late afternoon when the crowds head back to Hanoi. On the hillside above the temples is the tomb of Dinh Tien Hoang. It's a good 15-minute climb up 207 steps, hut your efforts will be rewarded with great views.
The village of Kenh Ga (Chicken Canal) gets its name, apparently, from the number of wild chickens that used to live here. It's a lovely area, and one of the best places outside of the Mekong Delta to see river life - but nowhere in the Delta will you find stunning limestone formations like the ones providing the backdrop here. Another difference: people in Kenh Ga row boats with their feet, leaning back and watching the world go by. The local people seem to spend most of their lives on or in the water: at their floating fish-breeding pens, harvesting river grass used for fish feed, trawling in the muddy shallows for shellfish or selling veggies boat-to-boat. Even the children commute to school by boat. The river is used for everything from bathing, to washing plucked chickens, lo defecating in.
Until recent years this was largely a floating village, with just a few permanent buildings on the riverbanks. You'll still see some tiny wooden shelters on boats where the poorest of the poor live. However, as fortunes improve, people aim to stake their claim on solid ground. From the pier you can hire a motorboat to take you for an hour or so touring around the village.
Van Long Nature Reserve: Set amid yet more ot the limestone pinnacles that characterise this region. Van Long (entry 20,000(1) is a reedy wetland that attracts the birds. It's become a popular spot for inter national birdwatchers keen for a sighting of a rare black-faced spoonbill, a cotton pygmy goose, a white-browed crake or other fantastically named feathery fauna- The fee includes a punt through the shallow waters and, with your eyes peeled, you just might see a Dela-cour's langur monkey lurking in the outcrops Van Long can be easily combined with a visit to Kenh Ga and, at a stretch, both can be visited en route to Cuc Phuong National Park. Van Long is 2km east of Tran Me, a small town 23km from Ninh Binh alone the road to Cuc Phuong.


Established in 1962, Cuc Phuong National Park is one of Vietnam's most important protected areas. Ho Chi Minh personally took time off from the war in 1963 to declare this Vietnam's first national park, saving: 'Forest is gold. It we know how to conserve it well, it will be very precious. Destruction of the forest will lead to serious effects on both life and productivity. This national park is 70km from the coast and covers an area about 25km long and 11km wide, spanning the provinces of Ninh Binh, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. Its highest peak is Dinh May Bac (Silver Cloud Peak) at 656m. The park is home to the excellent Endangered Primate Rescue Center. The centre is located about 500m before the national park reception centre. You can't wan-der around the centre alone, so if you're travelling independently you need first to go to the national park reception area and arrange a guide. Entry is free, but you might consider purchasing some postcards or a poster, or making a donation. Though wildlife has suffered a precipitous decline in Vietnam in recent decades, the park's 222 sq km of primary tropical forest remains home to an amazing variety of ammal and plant life. There are 320 species of bird, 97 species of mammal including bats, and 36 species of reptile identified so far. Of the 2000 plant species, 433 have medicinal properties and 299 are food sources. The park is home to a species of tree called Cay Kim Gao (Podocarpus fleuryi hickel). In ancient times. kings and mandarins would only eat with chopsticks made from this lumber - it was said that anything poisonous it touches turns the light-coloured wood to black. Poaching and habitat destruction are a con stant headache for the park rangers. Many native species, such as the Asiatic black bear. Siamese crocodile, wild dog and tiger, have vanished from the area as a result of human impact. Episodes of violence have erupted between the Muong and park rangers who have tried to stop logging in the park. The government has responded by relocating the villagers further from the park's boundary. Some ecotourism ventures such as village homestays provide income to the local people, thereby giving conservation a direct economic benefit to them. Improved roads have led to increased illegal logging, which in turn is having a huge impact on the growth, movement and conservation of plants and animals. The best time of year to visit the park is in the dry months from November to February. From April to June it becomes increasingly hot, wet and muddy, and from July to October the rains arrive, bringing lots of leeches. Visitors in April and May should be lucky enough to see some of the literally millions of butterflies that breed here. There is a low-key, informative visitor centre a few hundred metres before the park entrance.


Mai Chau is the heart of a beautiful valley that is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. The modern village is an unappealing sprawl, but as you emerge on the rice fields and rural living it is transformed into a real paradise. It's a stunning area, and most people here are ethnic White Thai, distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China paradise. It's a stunning area, and most people here are ethnic White Thai, distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China. Although most locals no longer wear traditional dress, the Thai women are masterful weavers who ensure that there is plenty of traditional-style clothing to buy in the village centre. You will see women weaving on looms under or inside their houses in the village. Much of the silk looks similar to that seen in Laos. The Thai of Mai Chau are less likely to employ strong-arm sales tactics than their H'mong counterparts in Sapa: polite bargaining is the norm rather than endless haggling.

This is one of the closest places to Hanoi where you can experience a 'real' Montagnard village. Other attractions here include staving overnight in one of of the Thai stilt houses, walking through the beautiful valley through the rice fields and trekking to minority villages. A typical trek further afield covers 7km to 8km; a local guide can be hired for about US$5. There is a popular 18km trek from Lac village (Ban Lac) in Mai Chau to Xa Linh village, near a mountain pass (elevation 1000m) on Hwy 6. Lac village is home to the While Thai people, while the inhabitants of Xa Linh are H'mong. The trek is quite strenuous to undertake in a day, so most people -spend the night in a village along the way. Arrange a local guide and a car to meet you at the mountain pass for the journey back to Mai Chau. Be warned that there is a 600m climb in altitude and the trail can be slippery in the rain, Longer treks of three to seven days arc pos¬sible. Ask around in the Mai Chau villages of Lac or Pom Coong.

Source: lonely planet



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