Spotlight on Vietnam
Most visitors to Vietnam are overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the country's natural setting: the Red River Delta in the north, the Mekong Delta in the south and almost the entire coastal strip are a patchwork of brilliant green rice paddies tended by women in conical hats. There are some divine beaches along the coast, while inland there are soaring mountains, some of which are cloaked by dense, misty forests. Vietnam also offers an opportunity to see a country of traditional charm and rare beauty rapidly opening up to the outside world.
Hanoi is a city with a history that dates back to the 7th century. In 1954 Hanoi was declared the capital of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam, and in 1976, following the Vietnam War, it became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This political history has made Hanoi one of the country's most fascinating cities to explore. The most renowned of all the monuments is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is dedicated to Vietnam's most well-respected President, who in 1945, led his country to independence. Other highlights include the Museum of History, containing ancient artifacts from Cambodia, Thailand, Japan and China, the 11th century One Pillar Pagoda and legendary Sword Lake.
Sapa lies in the very north west of Vietnam near the Chinese border. Along with Halong Bay it is the "other" major excursion from Hanoi. Sapa is such a colorful town thanks to the H'mong and Dzao people from the local hill tribes who head into the town's market every day to trade their produce. There's a main market every Saturday when the place is packed but there's a lower key one every other day during the week. These people will have undergone no formal education but the arrival of foreigners has made them well aware of the value of money and many of the youngsters have picked up a basic level of English. They sell clothing and handicrafts which are popular with tourists.
Halong Bay - Meaning “Bay of the Descending Dragon,” Halong Bay’s water is calm and undisturbed despite the jutting limestone mountains that soar out of the water and toward the sky. As if a tail of a Dragon plunged into the earth, the mountains are craggy, sharp, and barren, and are dotted with thousands of small caves of various depths and heights. At dusk, they all take on mysterious shades of gray, mauve and olive, lending credence to the local legends.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is often referred to as Vietnam’s jewel and the Pearl of the Orient. Located in south Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city, with more than six million people and over one million motorbikes. Under the current regime the city is once more being rebuilt. Whole blocks are disappearing, being replaced by concrete, steel and glass structures. Central Saigon, which is still the official name for the city center, shows evidence of the French colonial city, with wide, tree-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafés and elegant French architecture. The city is divided into two sections: Saigon, the municipal and historical district, and Cholon (Chinatown), where the entrepreneurial talent and private funds are concentrated. Cholon appears to be the most populated and in general the most vigorous part of Ho Chi Minh City. It is well worth a visit for its bustle and activity and its pagodas, which are reputed to be the finest in the whole city.
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