Rock islands in Halong Bay. Photo©iStock

Rock islands in Halong Bay. Photo©iStock

Halong Bay

Beautiful Halong Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin, in the north of Vietnam. It is the centre of a larger zone which includes the Cat Ba islands to the southwest. It covers an area of 1500 square km dotted with thousands of limestone karst islands, which can be visited by boat.

Most of the islands are uninhabited and covered with stunted vegetation. On these islands, caves have been created by millions of years of erosion.

stalagtites and stalagmites in Paradise cave. Photo©iStock

stalagtites and stalagmites in Paradise cave. Photo©iStock

There are tunnels leading to enclosed pools and lakes. Some of the tunnels are only accessible when the tides are right.

There are a number of beautiful caves where visitors can go, filled with sparkling stalagtites and stalagmites some of whose shapes resemble birds and animals.

Tourist boat on Halong Bay. Photo©iStock

Tourist boat on Halong Bay. Photo©iStock

Stalagtites are like icicles hanging from a cave roof. Stalagmites are formed on the floor of a cave and rise upwards. Both are formed by the dripping of water through limestone.

Halong means ‘where dragons descend into the sea’. According to legend, dragons were sent by the Jade Emperor, or the supreme god, to stop an invading army. By spitting many pearls into the water, the dragons created obstructions for the enemy. After the battle, the dragons liked the islands they had formed and decided to stay. Another legend claims that as a great dragon from the mountains flew towards the coast,  the lashing of its tail dug out valleys and broke hills. The dragon crashed into the sea, and the area filled with water, leaving only the tops of the hills visible as islands.

A small cave that is a temple where Halong Bay residents can pray. Photo©iStock

A small cave that is a temple where Halong Bay residents can pray. Photo©iStock

 

Halong Bay has evergreen forest, ocean and seashore biodiversities, and is home to fourteen endemic (found naturally nowhere else) plants, and about 60 endemic animal species. It was designated as a World Heritage site in 1994 and is the top tourist destination in Vietnam, attracting visitors all year round.

Most visitors take boat cruises on larger boats that offer an overnight stay in order to see more of the bay. Cruises leave from Halong City.

Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Bay, has a national park, and is a World Biosphere Reserve.  Biosphere reserves are land, coastal or marine areas that aim to conserve the important species, landforms and ecosystems of that area. Local communities are helped to develop ways to use the area in a sustainable way.  Cat Ba Island has mangrove, seashore and forest ecosystems, there are lakes and streams, and mineral water springs.

There are many reasons people visit the island, including adventure sports such as sailing, cycling, hiking and rock climbing. It is a popular place for bird watching, photographing some of the almost 700 species of birds. There are lakes, including the three hectare Ech Lake, as well as waterfalls and caves amongst the amazing limestone hills. There are some beaches, streams that flow underground into the sea, and the largest floating fishing village in Vietnam.

Sapa, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

Sapa, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

A woman and child of the Hmong group in Sa Pa, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

A woman and child of the Hmong group in Sa Pa, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

Sapa (or Sa Pa)

In the mountains of the northwest, not far from the border with China  is the town of Sa Pa. It was established by the French in 1922 and is famous for its beautiful scenery of mountains, thick bamboo woodlands, mountain rice terraces,  and Vietnam’s highest mountain, Mt Fansipan.

The area surrounding the town is home to many ethnic minority groups, which include the H'mong (pronounced Mong), Dao (pronounced Yao), Tay, Giay (pronounced Zai), Muong, Thai, Hoa (ethnic Chinese) and Xa Pho people, who grow vegetables and rice, and sell their traditional handcrafts at markets. These groups made their home in these mountains hundreds of years ago, and still maintain their traditional way of life today. Visitors should realize that it goes against the religious beliefs of some ethnic minority groups to have photos taken of them.

Hoi An

The old port of Hoi An along the Thu Bon river. Photo©iStock

The old port of Hoi An along the Thu Bon river. Photo©iStock

Situated on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An was once a major spice trading centre in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Late in the 19th Century the river silted up and became too shallow for the large boats, so Da Nang became the port, which it remains today. 

Today Hoi An is a major tourism centre, but the Old Town with its winding streets, Chinese style shops and Japanese merchant houses remains its heart and is a World Heritage site. Many of the historic houses have been converted to shops, shoemaking and tailoring establishments. Tailors and shoemakers can complete an order in a day.

Silk lanterns for sale in Hoi An. Photo©kidcyber

Silk lanterns for sale in Hoi An. Photo©kidcyber

Hoi An is famous for its silk lanterns, and the town is magical at night, with strings of colourful lanterns hanging everywhere, and reflected in the river.

The Old Town museums give insights into Hoi An’s past. Street food in Hoi An is delicious, and includes several famous local specialities, such as cao lau noodles. Trips in colourful wooden boats on the Thu Bon River are fun and inexpensive. There are many temples and shrines, such as the Fukien Assembly Hall, built by the first Chinese community to settle in Hoi An, merchants who came from Fukien, China. It was a place in a strange country where they could gather and feel less homesick. In the meeting room there are incense spirals that take a month to burn. Hanging from each is a card where someone has written a prayer or wish, and the fragrant smoke takes the message to heaven. In its temple there is a statue of the goddess Thien Hau, who gives protection and good luck to sailors.

The Cham Islands are about 20km away, a string eight islands with beautiful beaches and lush forests. There are fishing villages on only one of them. The islands offer opportunities for exploring, swimming, snorkelling and scuba. There are places for divers of every ability, including coral gardens and reefs.

Further afield from Hoi An there are excellent opportunities for cycling and boat trips, beautiful scenery and excellent beaches.

Hue

The moat and one of the bridges, the Citadel, Hue. Photo©kidcyber

The moat and one of the bridges, the Citadel, Hue. Photo©kidcyber

Hue (say hoo-ay), located on the Perfume, or Song Huong, River, in central Vietnam, was established as the capital of Vietnam in1802.

Ruled by a succession of thirteen emperors, it was the political, cultural and religious centre of Vietnam until 1945 when the last emperor, Bao Dai, abdicated (gave up the throne). During the Vietnam War, Hue was heavily damaged by some of the bloodiest battles because of its position close to the border between North and South Vietnam.

 

Today however, Hue is a peaceful city of lakes, canals and trees, and is a World Heritage Site. The Citadel,  where the Emperor lived, was surrounded by an outer wall and a deep moat 30m wide. There are ten gates in the wall, each of which is reached by a bridge across the moat. Three sides of the Citadel are straight and one is curved like the Perfume River, next to which it is built. Inside the walls were pavilions, lakes and gardens, the Forbidden Purple City, which housed the Emperor’s personal home. The only people who could enter it were his immediate family and personal servants. Anyone else who entered was executed.  Currently there is huge restoration work to return parts of the Purple Forbidden City to what it was like.

The tower at Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue. Photo©kidcyber

The tower at Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue. Photo©kidcyber

One of the most picturesque places in Hue is the hilltop Thien Mu (or Linh Mu) Pagoda, or temple, on the bank of the Perfume River. Construction began in 1601, and over the years a number of buildings were added to the temple complex, including an octagonal seven-storey tower, completed in 1840. Many people call this tower the pagoda, but the term 'pagoda' means a small or large group of buildings that can include shrines or temples where people light incense and pray; towers; a monastery or nunnery where monks or nuns live, work and study; statues and pavilions housing holy items including bells.

A huge 2.5 m high bronze bell weighing over 3,000 kg is housed in a pavilion near the tower.  Another pavilion houses a 2.5m high engraved stone tablet set upright on the back of a massive marble turtle. The turtle is a sacred animal that is a symbol of the universe: the domed shell represents the sky and the under shell the earth. It is also a symbol for long life.

Nha Trang at dawn. Photo©iStock

Nha Trang at dawn. Photo©iStock

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a seaside town on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. The beaches often appear on ‘best beaches’ lists, and it is an excellent spot for scuba diving and snorkelling.

At the Thap Ba Hot Springs there is a hot swimming pool and waterfall, and a cool swimming pool. There are mud baths, showers, hot tubs and masseurs. Mineral mud and springs are considered to be healthful and good for the skin.

Giant Buddha statue in Nha Trang. Photo©iStock

Giant Buddha statue in Nha Trang. Photo©iStock

The Long Son Pagoda was built in 1963 to honour Buddhist monks and nuns who died while demonstrating against the government of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. On top of a hill there is a huge 14m high Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom, surrounded by busts of the monks and nuns who died in their protest. The statue can be seen from all over the city, and the platform around the statue has great views of the area. There is also a huge statue of a reclining Buddha.

Po Ngar Cham Towers in Nha Trang. Photo©iStock

Po Ngar Cham Towers in Nha Trang. Photo©iStock

The National Oceanographic Museum is an aquarium that includes sharks, turtles, lionfish, sea horses and coral reefs.

The Cham Towers of Po Nagar were built some time between the 7th - 12th centuries. The Champa was an ancient kingdom that extended over the central and southern coastal regions of Vietnam between the 2nd and 17th centuries. Today there are still Cham people in southeast Vietnam.

Vinpearl Land, on Hon Tre Island, has a resort and amusement park, entertainment venues, an aquarium and water slides. To get to the amusement park, one can take a ten minute cable car ride over the sea. At over 3,000 metres long, it is the world’s longest cable car over sea.

Dalat (or Da Lat)

View of Dalat, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

View of Dalat, Vietnam. Photo©iStock

Dalat is a city in a high, pine-forested area in the southern part of the Central Highlands region. The city was established by the French as a holiday destination because of its mild temperatures, 15º-24ºC on average. Its two seasons are wet and dry.

The city has a French feel and appearance, with its winding streets, cathedrals, villas and even a small Eiffel tower. In this area silk is produced,  vegetables and flowers are grown to be sold in Vietnam and beyond.  However, tourism, both local and international, is a major industry, with tens of thousands of visitors a year. It is Vietnam’s most popular honeymoon spot.

Tourists can take a 30 minute, 7 km train trip from Dalat to Trai Mat , where they can enjoy the markets and visit the Linh Phuoc Pagoda.

Statue of Golden Buddha, Dalat, Vietnam. Even on a cloudy day it glows. Photo©iStock

Statue of Golden Buddha, Dalat, Vietnam. Even on a cloudy day it glows. Photo©iStock

The Dalat railway station is a distinctively French building that has three high pitched roofs that represent the three peaks of the Lang Biang Mountain.  The railway stretches 84 km to Thap Cham, with 16 km of cog railway designed by Swedish engineers. On steep mountain slopes cog, or rack, railway gives traction to get a train uphill, and slows it going downhill.

Dantala Falls, Dalat , Vietnam. Photo©iStock

Dantala Falls, Dalat , Vietnam. Photo©iStock

The Linh Phuoc Pagoda, or Dragon Pagoda, is named for a 49m long dragon statue, its mosaic scales made from the glass of thousands of bottles. The seven-tiered tower holds a huge 8, 500 kg bell that is four and a half metres high. It is heavily carved with Buddha images. The four seasons are depicted on the bell, and visitors turn the bell to the current season, write their wishes on paper which they put inside the bell, and chime it three times to send the message to heaven.

Sightseeing around Dalatcan include Chicken Village, a Koho ethnic tribe’s village where a huge concrete chicken stands above the wooden houses. Silk factories can be visited and the whole silk process observed. Other craft factories can also be visited.

The last Emperor of Vietnam had three palaces in the area. One, called Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, is open to the public. It was built in 1933 when he was 20 years old. He moved to France in the 1950s and died there in 1997. 

There are many spectacular waterfalls in the area. About 40km from Dalat is the beautiful Elephant Waterfall. They are part of the Cam Ly river, and are 30m high. The Prenn Waterfall is at the foot of Prenn Pass, 10 km from Dalat. Located in a pine forest, it is 9m tall and 20m wide. From the waterfall, people can climb up steps to three: the lower (Ha), middle (Trung), and upper (Thuong).

The central highlands region of Vietnam is great for trekkers who like to get off the beaten track to places not so frequently visited, including some of the 33 communities of ethnic hill tribes. The region’s produce includes tea, coffee, silk, rubber and hardwoods. However, much of the original natural forest remains, filled with wildlife such as gibbons, bears and elephants. North of Dalat there is Lak Lake, surrounded by ethnic villages, and small towns, and Yok Don National Park, Vietnam’s largest wildlife preserve, including tigers, leopards and bears, and more than 450 species of birds.

Minding your manners when visiting Vietnam

When you travel to other countries, you should be aware that some ways we behave at home might be considered rude in the country you are visiting. Just as it is nice to behave well when you visit someone's house, so it is when you visit another country.

Here are some hints about Vietnamese manners to ensure travellers do not offend people when travelling in Vietnam:

Vietnamese people have great national pride, and value their hard won independence. It therefore offends them if people ignore or ridicule it. They are friendly, gentle people to whom family is very important.

When visiting a temple it is rude and offensive to wear shorts, tops with low-cut necklines and bare shoulders. It is polite and respectful to remove your shoes before entering a religious place such as a temple. It is also polite to do this before entering someone’s home.

If you are invited to a Vietnamese home, it is respectful to bring a small gift for the hostess, children or old people living in the house. Something from your own country is appreciated, otherwise just a small gift, or flowers or fruit. However, do not give handkerchiefs, which are a symbol of sad farewell, or anything black.

Many Vietnamese shake hands in greeting and saying goodbye. Shake with both hands, and bow your head slightly as you shake.  A handshake is not a preferred greeting by Vietnamese women or old people, so bow your head slightly without extending your hand. The greeting is ‘xin chao (say seen chow) Miss/Mrs/Mr and given name'.

For example: Xin chao Mr Ron;  Xin chao Miss Shirley

To beckon someone, extend your arm palm down and make a scratching gesture with your fingers. Don’t beckon someone important.

Do not touch someone’s head (only parents and grandparents touch a child's head), pass something over someone’s head, or touch someone on the shoulder.

Instead of pointing your finger, use your whole hand. Do not touch someone of the opposite gender, and do not show affection to them in public, other than holding hands.

Use both hands if passing something to someone.

It is good manners to ask someone’s permission before taking a photo of them, and don’t pay someone to take their photo if they ask. 

Do not take photos of any military places.

Many Vietnamese people do not speak English well. If you ask them something, they may listen, smile and nod. This doesn’t necessarily mean they understand you, they are being friendly and polite.

It helps if visitors know a few words or phrases in Vietnamese,  and the people  are delighted that you have gone to the trouble of learning them.

Hello!            Xin chao!         sin chow (or seen chow)        Goodbye     Tam Biet 

How are you?    Ban co khoe khong? (ban co kwe khome?)

I'm fine, thank you!       Cam on ban toi khoe(gahm un ban thoy kwe)        And you?      Ban thi sao? (ban ty sao?)

What's your name?        Ban ten gi? (ban thane zee)          My name is...           Toi la...  (thoy la...)

Thank you           Xin Cam on (sin gahm oon  or justgahm oon)       You're welcome      Khong co' gi (khom go zee)

Excuse me/Sorry       Xin loi  (seen loy)

Can you help me?         Ban giup toi duoc khong? (ban zoop thoy duc khom?)

What is this?         Cai nay la gi?  (guy nai la zee)

How much           Bao nhieu? (bow nyew)

Hot        Nong (nom)         Cold        Lanh (lang)

Hot black coffee   ..  Ca phe nong(cah feh nom)

Hot black coffee   ..  Ca phe nong(cah feh nom)

Coffee        Ca phe (cah feh)

Hot Coffee with milk    Ca phe sua nong (cah feh sua nom)

Tea      Tra (chah)

I like     Toi thich (thoy tick)

I am tired      Toi met (thoy mate)

 

 

Read more about Halong Bay:

Read more about Sapa:

http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/sapa/

Read more about Hoi An:

http://www.vietnamonline.com/destination/hoi-an.html

Read more about Hue:

http://www.vietnamonline.com/destination/hue.html

Read more about Nha Trang:

http://www.travelfish.org/sight_profile/vietnam/south_central_vietnam/khanh_hoa/nha_trang/2492

Read more about Dalat:

Read other kidcyber pages about Vietnam: