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    Hien Luong Bridge and the tunnels of Vinh Moc

    by Nemorino Updated Mar 3, 2014

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    On our DMZ tour in 1995 we also crossed the Ben Hai River on the 17th parallel, which for twenty years until reunification in 1975 was the border between North and South Vietnam.

    Now it is possible to just drive across the Hien Luong Bridge without even slowing down, though on our tour we stopped briefly to look at the reunification monument at the north end of the bridge.

    This crossing reminded me of the once-impassable border between East and West Germany, where you now can also go right on through without stopping.

    On the northern side of the former boundary, we went to look at the Vinh Moc Tunnels. Vinh Moc is a town in Quang Tri province where the first American bombs were dropped in North Vietnam. In June 1965, after the first heavy bombings, the people in Vinh Moc started digging shelters beneath their houses and then joined them together to create a web of tunnels, some of which still exist and can be visited.

    On the way back our mini-bus got stuck in the mud, so we all had to get out and push.

    http://vietnam.sawadee.com/

    Photos:
    1. A rainy beach near the former DMZ, 1995
    2. Milestone or rather kilometer-stone on the highway

    Next: By train from Hué to Saigon, 1995

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    Water buffalo

    by Nemorino Updated Jan 27, 2014

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    Actually we wanted to get some photos of Vietnamese children riding on water buffalo, but they don't seem to do that as much as they used to, or we just weren't in the right place at the right time.

    Water buffalo are domesticated animals in Vietnam and are often used to pull plows and such. In general seem to be peaceful animals, but in the 1960s and 70s there were rumors among the American troops that Viet-Cong-sympathizing farmers were training their water buffalo to attack American soldiers.

    I never saw any such thing, but some Americans who were in Vietnam in the late 1960s claim to have been attacked by these animals.

    http://www.i-kirk.info/

    Photos:
    1. A water buffalo near Đà Lạt, 1995
    2. Water buffalo pulling a cart near Đà Lạt, 1995

    Next: Transporting bulky goods on a bicycle, 1995

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    The Cu Chi tunnels, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Jan 27, 2014

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    On the way back from Tay Ninh to Saigon we stopped at the Cu Chi tunnels, a huge network of tunnels that were dug over a period of thirty years, first to provide refuge from the French army in the 1950s and then to provide protection from American firepower during the 1960s and 70s.

    Eventually the tunnel system reached a total length of over two hundred kilometers. It had numerous camouflaged entrances and exits so that Viet Cong fighters could appear from just about anywhere and disappear quickly in case of danger.

    Some of these tunnels have now been widened slightly so that we Westerners can crawl through -- not recommended for people with claustrophobia, however.

    We went there in 1995 on an excellent day tour organized by the Sinh Café in Saigon.

    Our tour guide from the Sinh Café was a former officer of the South Vietnamese navy, and the man who met our group and introduced us to the tunnels was a former Viet Cong fighter, but they both assured us that they were now friends and that the former antagonisms had long since been overcome.

    Photos:
    1. A tank on display at Cu Chi
    2. Me emerging from a tunnel at Cu Chi, 1995

    Back to my first review: Đà Lạt, 1995

    OR

    Back to my Vietnam intro page: New places in Vietnam, 1995

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    Hanoi City tour - Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

    by Cindyviet Written Dec 10, 2013

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    Favorite thing: We started our course about how to be a tour guide with daily tour " hanoi city" to come the most hightlights places in Hanoi. and our teacher was a professional tour guide who has 10 years experience in his job, Mr The Anh.
    Built on the former site of the ancient city of Dai La, on the right bank of Song Hong (Red River). Hanoi, the historical and political of Vietnam was the name Emperor Minh Mang gave to the ancient capital of Thang Long founded in 1010 by King Ly Thai To. According to the legend, on his arrival in Dai la the king saw an enormous golden dragon emerge from the lake and soar into the sky above the site of the future capital. On the strength of this he decided to move the capital from Hoa Lu to Dai La which he renamed Thang Long( Ascending Dragon).
    In Vietnamese, Hanoi is usually written as two words, Ha meaning the river, in reference to the red river and Noi meaning this inner side. Actually, the new Hanoi (including Hanoi, Ha Tay Province and some parts of Hoa Binh and Vinh Phuc Province) is embraced by two rivers: Red River and Day River. Therefore, Hanoi is considered as the city of lakes – the trace of ancient rivers. Interior Hanoi city, there are about 18 beautiful lakes of which the West Lake is the biggest with the total area of about 500 hectares. All the lakes are the lungs of the city which play an important part in making the climate equable for all parts of Hanoi. Besides, the surrounding gardens and trees also provide this city with a vital source of energy.

    The first spot in our itinerary is Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a large memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, which is the place where Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death in 1969, read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.The Mausoleum, which was made of marble and granite, features a three-stored structure. In the second store places the famous President’s body, lying as if he were sleeping in the simple clothes worn when he was alive.

    Opening time: 5 days per week, except Monday and Friday
    Cold seasons (from November to March): 8:00 a.m - 11:00 a.m
    Hot seasons (from April to October): 7:30 a.m - 10:30 a.m
    Closed once per year in October/ November/ or December for the body maintenance
    Note: No camera, cell phone, bare-shoulder T-shirts, or mini skirts are allowed inside

    Presidential Palace. Now walking a few steps, visitors will pass by the Presidential Palace, right next to the mausoleum. From 1901-1906, the palace was built by the French colonialists, as a palace of the General Indochina Governor. It has a special typical French structure and architecture. When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, Ho Chi Minh was claimed to have refused to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons, although he still received state guests there, he eventually built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house and carp pond on the grounds. His house and the grounds were made into the Presidential Palace Historical Site in 1975.
    The palace hosts government meetings. It is not open to the public, although one may walk around the grounds for a fee.
    Refusing to live in the Presidential palace, President Ho Chi Minh lived in a normal electrician’s house nearby. The Government had a simple and nature-oriented environment constructed for him to live and work. Walking around, visitors can feel his simple and pure lifestyle in an wooden tiled house on stilt (of the Ethnic minority group’s style), surrounded by a gardens full of fruit trees and a peaceful fish pond.

    The One Pillar Pagoda (Vietnamese:Chùa Một Cột, formally Diên Hựu tự , which litterally means “long lasting happiness and good luck”) is a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The unique pagoda is located in the western part of the city, near Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum,

    The pagoda was built of wood on a single stone pillar and resembles a lotus blossom that makes it most unique. This small pagoda houses inside an altar in honor of Buddha, where legend and / or Vietnamese tradition, couples who wish to be blessed with many children, should go to this place and make an offering.
    Newly married women usually go to the One Pillar Pagoda with fruit and incense offerings, to pay their respects to Buddha and be blessed with fertility and marriage.
    The predominant religion in Vietnam is Buddhism, which is also on of the world's great religions. Buddhism was introduced into Vietnam under the Chinese domination, in the second century B.C., by Chinese immigrants and by Indian preachers coming by sea. Buddhism became the state religion of Vietnam under Ly Dynasty (1010-1214). There are two branches of Buddhism: Hinayana (Little Vehicle) also called Theravada Buddhism, which nourishes in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, and Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism which is found in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Most Vietnamese Buddhists belong to the Mahayana branch. The Theravada branch exists in communities of ethnic Cambodians and Vietnamese living in the Mekong Delta.The great majority of Vietnamese people regard themselves as Buddhists but not all of them actively participate in Buddhist rituals at the pagoda

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    Đà Lạt, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    The first "new" place we went to in 1995, after re-visiting Saigon, Tân Ba and Phước Vĩnh, was the city of Đà Lạt, a former French hill station or resort station in the southern part of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

    My son Nick and I traveled by mini-bus from Biên Hòa to Tam Hiep, which is hardly more that a junction on highway 1, and changed there for what was billed as a "fast" Toyota mini-bus. We paid for four seats, for the two of us, and sat in front, just behind the driver. The vehicle had one flat tire along the way, which we later learned was not unusual.

    When we finally arrived in Đà Lạt we got a room at the Mimosa Hotel, 170 Phan Dihn Phung, but I'm not going to do a hotel tip about it because this was fifteen years ago and it might conceivably have improved since then, or not, but in any case I noted at the time that the Mimosa Hotel was "a disaster: damp, loud, dirty and at $10 for a double room decidedly overpriced."

    Otherwise Đà Lạt was cool and pleasant, which is why the French originally built it there at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level.

    11° 56′ 30″ North, 108° 26′ 18″ East

    http://www.dalat.gov.vn/

    Next: Water buffalo

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    Transporting bulky goods on a bicycle, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    Since I always like to document bicycle use in places I visit, Nick was kind enough to take this photo of some boys trying to transport some sort of plastic strips on a bicycle near Đà Lạt.

    A few days later I toured Hanoi by bicycle, and the following week both of us rented bikes to ride around Hué and vicinity.

    In the 1960's & 70's Vietnam's bicycles were famous for their use on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This treacherous 1000-kilometer jungle path was used to transport war goods from the north to National Liberation Front fighters in the south. To carry heavy loads, the North Vietnamese army developed a particularly indestructible tubeless bike with reinforced spokes that could carry up to 300 kilograms. (I assume they used to walk these bikes through the jungle when they were loaded so heavily.)

    http://www.theurbancountry.com/

    Next: Cham architecture at Pô Klaung Gerai

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    Cham architecture at Pô Klaung Gerai

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    After two nights in Đà Lạt we left on a tourist bus bound for Nha Trang, and on the way we stopped at Pô Klaung Gerai, near Phan Rang, to look at some examples of 13th century architecture from the then-powerful Kingdom of Champa.

    The Cham people once controlled large areas of what is now central Vietnam, but they were gradually pushed out of these territories by the Vietnamese. Today the Chams are one of over fifty ethnic minority groups in Vietnam. We were told that there are now about 100,000 Chams living in Vietnam.

    Nha Trang is famous for its beaches, so Nick decided to stay there for a few days while I went further north. We agreed to meet a week later in Hué.

    Photos:
    1. Cham gate, 1995
    2. Ruins of a Cham tower, 1995
    3. A spirit watchdog in one of the Cham towers, 1995

    Next: Da Nang, 1995

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    Da Nang, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    I took an overnight train up the coast from Nha Trang to Da Nang, a journey which took about nine and a half hours. In Da Nang I stayed at the Hotel Minh Tam II at 63 Haung Dieu Street, but again I won't write a hotel tip about it since this was a long time ago and I don't remember much about it.

    What I do remember about Da Nang is that I went to the Cham Museum, which was interesting since I had just seen the Cham architecture site at Pô Klaung Gerai the day before.

    In Da Nang there is also a museum devoted to the Vietnamese revolutionary leader and president Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969). They offered daily guided tours through the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

    One morning in 1995 it happened that I was the only person who showed up for the tour. The guide was a lovely young Vietnamese woman who spoke several languages and was obviously very knowledgeable about Vietnamese history in general and Ho Chi Minh in particular.

    I forget what language she started out in, but as soon as she learned I was living in Germany she immediately switched to German and started asking me dozens of very astute questions about German unification, which had happened only five years before. It turned out she had studied in the German Democratic Republic, the former East Germany, in the 1980s and was very interested in the German unification process.

    She didn't completely neglect her duty as a guide, however. As we entered each new room of the museum she said one or two quick sentences about Ho Chi Minh and then went on asking about Germany. As it happened I had been doing quite a bit of traveling in the eastern part of Germany, giving presentations for my textbook publisher, so I could actually answer most of her questions. Among other things I told her about my first visit to Rostock just five days after the opening of the Berlin Wall and four days after the opening of the heavily fortified death-strip that had separated East and West Germany for the previous 28 years.

    Next: Hoi An, 1995

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    Hoi An, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    From Da Nang I took a day trip on the back of a Honda motor scooter (driven by a young man named Van) to Hoi An, the Marble Mountains and China Beach.

    Actually Hoi An was a place I had never even heard of up to then, but in Da Nang I was told that it was a very historical town and a popular tourist attraction, so I took up Van's offer and went on his tour.

    Hoi An turned out to be a pleasant place with lots of flowers on the streets, and with numerous restaurants and tailors' shops catering to the tourists. I didn't go into any of the historic buildings, but just had a look around and had a delicious lunch of fried fish with garlic at a restaurant called Faifo that Van recommended.

    Actually there were two restaurants called Faifo. The one I ate at was near the Japanese Bridge, and they were very anxious not to be confused with the other one, which was a few blocks away and supposedly not as good. (That's what they said, and so did Van, but I think he was their cousin or something.)

    The first four photos on this tip are ones that my son Nick took when he visited Hoi An a couple days later.

    Photos:
    1. The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
    2. Street scene in Hoi An
    3. On a street in Hoi An
    4. Temple boy
    5. Calling card of the Faifo Restaurant

    Hoi An is at 15° 53′ 0″ North, 108° 20′ 0″ East.

    Next: Da Nang to Hanoi on the Ho Chi Minh Express

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    Da Nang to Hanoi on the Ho Chi Minh Express

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    Officially this train was called the S4, but everybody referred to it as the Ho Chi Minh Express or the Reunification Express. This is one of several trains that run daily from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, by way of Biên Hòa, Xuan Loc, Nha Trang and lots of other places along the coast or just a short ways inland.

    The distance from Da Nang to Hanoi is 791 kilometers (about 491 miles). When I took this train in 1995 it took all night and all day, arriving in Hanoi several hours behind schedule at 16:00, that is four o'clock in the afternoon.

    This was my least comfortable train trip in Vietnam, because the bunks were all sold out so I booked a "soft seat", which turned out to be sort of a garden chair with a canvas back stretched across a metal frame. Unfortunately the metal frame was just big enough for the average Vietnamese traveler but much too small for a Westerner, so I had parts of the frame jabbing into my back no matter how I tried to sit.

    At that time Vietnam still had a dual pricing system in which foreigners paid much higher prices than Vietnamese for the same journey, but I have read that this system was abolished in 2002, so now everyone pays the cheaper Vietnamese fares. Also I'm told that the Vietnamese trains have been very much upgraded in the past fifteen years, so the seating is more comfortable in all classes than it used to be.

    http://www.seat61.com/

    Next: Hanoi, 1995

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    Hanoi, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    Just being in Hanoi in 1995 was a totally exotic experience for me, since back in the 1960s when I was an American soldier it was the last place in the world I could have gone.

    The American air force was bombing Hanoi constantly back then, and the only Americans in Hanoi were bomber pilots who had been shot down and were kept in an old prison complex in the center of Hanoi that had been built by the French in the nineteenth century to hold political prisoners. The official name was Hoa Lo Prison but the Americans called it the Hanoi Hilton.

    In 1995 most of the old prison buildings still existed, and I rode past them several times on my rented bicycle. I understand that since then most of the prison complex has been torn down to make room for a new high-rise building, but a small part still remains and is used as a museum.

    By the way, there now really is a Hilton hotel in Hanoi (built in 1999, evidently), but in hopes of avoiding confusion they have named it the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel, not the Hanoi Hilton.


    When I was in Hanoi in 1995 I stayed for three nights at the Hotel Huong Giang at 44 Le Dwon Street. I don't remember much about this hotel, except that it was small and the people were very friendly. They were the ones who rented me the bicycle, which was rather small for me but otherwise fine.

    One of the places I rode to on my bicycle was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where I stood in a long line of people, mostly Vietnamese, and walked solemnly through under the severe observation of numerous uniformed guards to have a look at the small embalmed corpse of Vietnam's revolutionary leader and later prime minister and then president.

    This was a strange experience, especially since Ho himself had rejected this sort of personality cult and had asked to be cremated.

    Photos:
    1. Leaflet on the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi
    2. The leaflet unfolded

    Next: The Hong Ha Theatre in Hanoi

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    The Hong Ha Theater in Hanoi

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    Besides the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, I also went to the history museum, the Lenin Park and the Temple of Literature, and rode my bicycle out to the Long Bien Bridge on the outskirts of Hanoi. On the Long Bien Bridge there was a metal sign reading: "1899_1902 DAYDÉ PILLÉ PARIS".

    Also I went to see a water puppet show at the Hong Ha Theater at 51 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. The Hong Ha is an older theater which in 1995 was still the main venue for the popular water puppetry shows.

    Since then a modern new theater for the water puppet shows has been built, and the Hong Ha Theater is now the home of the Vietnam National Tuong Theatre, which is devoted to preserving and performing classical Vietnamese "Tuong" dramas.

    Also the Hong Ha Theater is now used for plays in English, put on by the Hanoi International Theatre Society (HITS), which was founded in 2001 by expatriates living in Hanoi.

    http://www.baodulich.net.vn/

    Next: By train from Hanoi to Hué, 1995

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    By train from Hanoi to Hué, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    After three days in Hanoi I took an overnight train, the S3, from Hanoi to Hué. Again I could only reserve an uncomfortable "soft seat", but I slept much better this time because a member of the train crew offered me the use of his bunk for a small fee.

    Evidently this was something the train crews did routinely to earn a bit of extra money.

    https://vietnam-railway.com/

    Next: Cycling around Hué, 1995

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    Cycling around Hué, 1995

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    My train from Hanoi arrived in Hué at 11 in the morning. I met my son Nick at the Thai Binh Hotel, 10/9 Nguyen Tai Phuong St., as we had arranged the week before.

    We both rented bicycles and spent our first day in Hué riding around town and around the Citadel.

    Hué in 1995 was pleasant and peaceful, and it was hard to imagine that a bitter month-long battle had been fought here twenty-seven years before, during the Tet Offensive in 1968.

    At that time, in 1968, I was news director of a radio station in California, and I remember reporting night after night about the fighting in Hué for most of the month of February.

    Photos:
    1. Playing football by the Citadel, 1995
    2. Cannons on display, 1995
    3. Tanks and artillery on display, 1995
    4. Reporting the news in Berkeley during the Tet Offensive and the Battle of Hué, 1968


    Next: Perfume River

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    Perfume River

    by Nemorino Updated Apr 20, 2013

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    On our second day in Hué we took our bicycles with us on a boat trip on the Perfume River to Thien Mu Pagoda and the Tomb of Minh Mang.

    After having lunch on the boat we left the tour and continued by bicycle to the tomb of the Vietnamese emperor Tu Duc (next tip), where we spent most of the afternoon before cycling back to Hué, a distance of about eight kilometers.

    Photos:
    1. Boat on the Perfume River in Hué, 1995
    2. View of the Perfume River, 1995
    3. Turtle carrying words of wisdom

    Next: Tu Duc's tomb

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