The 20th century saw large scale decolonisation throughout the world. Whilst some transfers happened relatively peacefully (Hong Kong, Macau) others happened more violently. One of the most violent struggles for freedom occurred in Vietnam. After fighting the Japanese, French and Americans, Vietnam entered the second half of the 20th century scarred by fighting and Saigon was a byword for destruction.
However, Vietnam is finally emerging from its tragic recent history by projecting an image of hope and beauty. Vietnam is no longer associated with just a war, its now associated with adventure and fun. From the communist feel of North Vietnam, to a more capitalist feel in South Vietnam, the country still has strong footprints of a tragic conflict, however it also adds to an already rich culture and history.
I didn't have time to visit the famous Ha Long Bay, and I'll be sure to make a return trip to visit the famous area, however, here are my top 5 favourite things about Vietnam.
5. Ben Thanh Market
Is it really that different from other markets in SE Asia? No, however, there is still something special about this large, traditional indoor market in the centre of a modern metropolis. The inner stalls offer you a chance to polish your haggling skills, however, prices here are relatively expensive compared to other markets.
As with many other markets, Ben Thanh developed out of street vendors in the 17th century, but it wasn't until the French arrived that construction on the marketplace began.
As it can be quite a crowded market, be on the look out for pick pockets, but at the same time, take a moment to appreciate the architecture of the market as well as the goods on sale.
4. Architecture of Hanoi
The architecture of Hanoi is beautifully eclectic. From the French quarter, to the modern high rises, all the way to the traditional construction in the old quarter, Hanoi has it all.
Hanoi has been at least partially inhabited for over 4000 years, giving it a unique longevity in an area where older cities are abandoned after repeated warfare. Prior to the arrival of the French, Hanoi had been not only in Vietnamese, but also Chinese hands and the architecture of the old quarter reflects this history,
The arrival of the French in 1873 marked an important point in the history of Hanoi as they made it the capital of what they termed Indochina. This led to large parts of Hanoi being redeveloped into a Parisian style with wide, tree lined boulevards and a grid like layout with long straight roads running through the city. This Parisian style is also reflected in the art deco style of many of the buildings in the French Quarter.
Modern Hanoi reflects all the confidence of a country that has a fast growing economy. Modern high rise offices are a stone's throw away from modern high rise residential buildings. What Hanoi does really well is merging this modernity into the fabric of the city which isn't so surprising as it has been doing this for thousands of years.
3. Hanoi Night Market
Hanoi night market is not just a place to buy goods, its a cultural experience. As a night market, I prefer the ones in Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Chiang Mai (Thailand), however, Hanoi night market offers so much more.
As opposed to the markets mentioned above, Hanoi night market is completely outdoors. This means that although it lacks the charm of the other markets, it makes it up by its sheer size. The market is absolutely huge! The stalls continue across a number of streets and the roads are packed with locals and tourists, all looking for a bargain.
As with all night markets, haggling is a must and if you're lucky you can pick up a few good bargains. The stalls sell everything from food and drink to paintings, souvenirs and clothes. In addition to the market itself, there is also an area where actors perform traditional Vietnamese plays which was incredible to see.
2. Motorcycle tour of Ho Chi Minh City
If you've read my entry on Ho Chi Minh City, you will understand the story of the motorcycle man.
I'm sure if you keep your eye out, these guys are probably relatively common, but jumping on the back of a random Vietnamese person's bike and getting a very cheap and very thorough tour of the city has been one of my favourite adventures to date. Not only is it a novel way of seeing the city, but you get to see all the main sights of Ho Chi Minh City, on a one to one basis, by a local. This means you can tell the driver what you want to see, what you don't want to see and where you would like to spend a little extra time. I can't recommend this enough.
1. Tai Chi in Hanoi
If you love the feeling of being somewhere far and somewhere exotic, then you should head down to Hoan Kiem Lake at the crack of dawn.
As soon as the sun rises, the lakeside area is transformed into a large outdoor gym. From locals doing gymnastics, ballroom dancing and body weight exercises to men and women of all ages doing Tai Chi, you really do feel like you have been transported to another world and its simply incredible.
There is something very relaxing about watching some of the locals do slow paced movements against the gentle sounds of the lake. The usual hustle and bustle of the city and noise from the traffic is instead replaced by meditative almost trance inducing music and hundreds of people doing these exercises. Its definitely worth the early wake up.
Have your say
Honourable mentions include the lively nightlife of Hanoi, the plethora of interesting museums in Ho Chi Minh City and Pho, an unbelievably tasty Vietnamese dish.
Is there anything on the list you didn't enjoy or anything that I have left out? Have you been to Ha Long Bay? Leave me a comment or Tweet me @travellingsingh
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.