Hai Phong - the old charm within an exciting seaport
Unlike the two neighbours Halong and Cat Ba, Hai Phong attracts less tourists unless they arrive in Northern Vietnam by cruiserships. Yet, the city maintains many charming architectures with evident influence of early 20 th century colonial style the French invested to build up the old town as an important seaport. Passing Hai Phong is an exciting experience as soon as you go by the way crossing Cam River Ferry, from where you can go to Halong by the landway or take a boat (usually reserved) and run upstream 12km till you reach the sea, from where you go on either to Halong or Cat Ba island. Both ways offer wonderful views and seascape with plenty of islands belonging to Halong and Cat Ba archipelago, and few tourists choose this way to avoid repeated itineraries.
There are still remarkable ancient Vietnamese architectures in Hai Phong. Du Hang Pagoda , the centre of Buddhism in Hai Phong, is a very pure and graceful temple that was built in 17 th century with some renovations afterward. The pagoda contains a lot of brilliant woodworks, bronze statues, and a bonsai collection right in the front ground. An array of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues highlight a circular pond of water lilies in a flowery garden and a tranquil towered-grave yard, where buried the monks who had resided in the pagoda, make the place a wonderful sanctuary to reduce any pressure. If you luckily arrive in the new moon and full moon days' morning, you will have a chance to catch fascinating pictures of Hai Phong religious women in black velvet scarves and brown long dress, with respectful faces and manners, sitting in and around the main shrine of the pagoda while the monks pray or give lectures of Buddhism.
Not far from the pagoda, at the end of a very narrow market street is Hang Kenh Pavillion , which is dedicated to the Vietnamese hero Ngo Quyen who lived in 10 th century. Being a Communal House of the Kenh village in the old time, the Pavillion is famous for its wooden bas-relieves, sculptures and special boat-shaped interior. If you prefer to stroll our the city, your visit should be started from the colonial quarter around Dien Bien Phu street and Tran Hung Dao street, from where you can direct to the old Opera House, and go for a walk surrounding Tam Bac Lake. There are 5 roofed kiosks in the Eastern side of the lake with very fresh flowers sold by smiling girls, and in the Southern side is the exciting Hang Kenh Tapestry producing woolen carpets for export.
Halong Bay- 2,000 islands in 1,500 square km, the World Heritage
Halong attracts around 90% of visitors coming to Vietam It's a Bay that 1,500 square km wide belonging to the Tonkin Gulf of the South China Sea.
Though it belongs to the ocean, its wave is calm and unusually emerald.
And it has nearly 2,000 islands and islets, all are limestone and dolomite, with numerous grottoes, stretches on that 1,500 square km.
The tourist who have visited Guilin (China) and Phuket (Thailand) often make a comparison for their similar shape and geographical structure, just to note afterward that Halong is much huger and more diversified.
So after a very short time to consider, UNESCO had acknowledged it as the World Heritage in December 1994. This is the 2 nd of the four listed World Heritages of Vietnam.
In 1991 a scene of the French movie INDOCHINE was taken on the Bay. The film was about the life of a French woman who lived in Vietnam during the French domination in Indochina from mid-19 th to mid-20 th century, the leading role was by Catherine Deneuve, and all the French-speaking tourist were amazed discovering a spectacular seascape they've never known before.
Despite the distance of 170km East of Hanoi that by 1995 took not less than 6-hour driving with 2 river ferries to cross, with inconvenient in and out from the bus, the tourists mark Halong in their itineraries always.
Now, it takes not more than 3 hours if you go straight to the Bay. But the tourists love to stop, as they cannot skip the paddy fields, the daily life of farmers and clay workmen, the greenbean town and the ceramic town on the new way.
Halong may not be a good example for comforts and modern facilities, but from the other (better) side, the area is preserved well from the development of industry and massive tourism.
Cat Ba island
A trip to Cat Ba island can be separated or combined with a visit to Halong Bay. This is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago that consists of 350 limestone outcrops adjacent to Halong. This is an oasis where you can be apart for one or a few days during a long voyage. If starting from Halong Wharf it will take you 4 hours by a tourist boat, with stopovers for swimming, visiting spectacular karst and having fresh seafoods. In a single word, you can contemplate the beautiful scenery of Halong before reaching the island. You can also buy a ticket of the hydrofoil departing from Hai Phong Seaport to reach Cat Ba if your itinerary saves Halong for another visit.
With an area of 356 square km wide, Cat Ba encompasses forested zones, coastal mangrove and freshwater swamps, beaches, caves, and waterfalls. In 1986, the Northeast side of the island was designated a National Park , including a protected marine zone. Cat Ba Island supports a population of over 20,000, most of whom live off fishing or farming in the South, in and around Cat Ba Town. The town is small and ancient, with clusters of fishing boats and inspiring sunsets across the harbor. You can check out the catch of the day in the early morning , see cuttlefish dried over hot charcoals, or stroll around the old town. It's a short hike from Cat Ba town through a tunnel to Cat Co Beach , whose mountains look like a throne holding a marvelous sandy coast, or if you hike further along, you will reach the rockier Cat Vang Beach.
As transportation on the town is not so well-developed, motorbikes is the most helpful means to get you to the larger Trung Trang Cave with many chambers, or to the National Park, or to discover other beaches around the island. A tourguide is necessary to help you communicate with the local drivers and introduce these viewpoints. The national park contains stringy trees, thick undergrowth and slippery vines. There is a great view that includes a French, now Vietnamese, farming village from the top of the mountain and a lake in the middle of the park that takes a half day to reach.