Built on the right bank of the Red River, the beautiful and tranquil city of Hanoi is Vietnam's capital and the second largest city in the country with a population of 6.5 million.
Ha meaning 'river' and Noi meaning 'within '- Ha Noi literally is ' within the river'. This name was given to the city by the Nguyen dynasty in 1832. From 1010 until 1802, it was the Vietnamese political centre, but during the Nguyen dynasty, the city of Hue took its place. Hanoi became the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954 and bears the markings of this era in its architecture, leafy boulevards and an air of colonial elegance. The ambiance of the city combined with its fine coffee and perfect baguettes have led some to call it the 'Paris of the East' but city life runs at a fast pace with all the markings of modern Asia. Its ancient name Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) truly sums up the spirit of contemporary Hanoi.
The Old Quarter has been the trading centre for the past 1000 years and is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets each named after a trade or guild. Here you will find market stall traders hard at work plying their wares, and an array of restaurants and street cafes where old men sip their coffee or Bia Hoi (beer) and watch the world go by. The buzz of a passing motorbike is never far away and this is the tourist hub of the city. As you wander the streets you will find that people stop and chat, welcoming strangers is the cultural norm here.
Sa Pa in a quiet mountain location, is the frontier town of the Sa Pa district in Northwest Vietnam, 400 km north-west of Hanoi. Located at 1550 m above sea level, and frequently covered by cloud the town is cool all year round. The area is known as "the Tonkinese Alps" You will see many hill tribe people, their villages, rice terraces, lush vegetation, and Fan Si Pan, the highest peak in Vietnam.
Many ethnic minority groups such as H'mong, Dao and Tay live here, each with unique cultures, lifestyles and languages, all wearing their traditional attires, working on the evergreen terraces. About 1 km from Sapa town, at the bottom of the Muong Hoa Valley is the stunning Cat Cat Waterfall. Cat Cat Village is home to the Black H'Mong who account for over 50% of the Sapa population. Near to the border with China, Sapa was under French colonial administration for the first part of the 20th Century, and served as a hill station retreat from the stifling summer heat of Hanoi.
Many of the town's colonial buildings were destroyed during conflicts at the end of the Second World War, by Việt Minh supporters in the late 1940s, and by French air raids in the early 1950s. The majority of the local communities fled, and the town entered a lull until migration from the lowlands began again with economic incentives in the 1960's. Since the 1990's Sa Pa has been a tourist destination.
Situated in the Gulf of Tonkin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, "Descending Dragon Bay' or Ha Long Bay, is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Approximately 1,553 km2, it includes numerous islets, most of which are limestone and schist. The karst rock formations have developed over 20 million years under the impact of the tropical wet climate.
There is huge geographical diversity here, which has led to biodiversity, with ecosystems of salt water-flooded forests, coral reefs, and tropical forests hosting thousands of species of animal and plant life. Evidence suggests the presence of pre-historical human beings in this area tens of thousands years ago. Most of the islets are uninhabited due to the nature of the karst structures. The bay has the aura of an ancient forgotten world; as you journey around the bay seeing the stones from different vantage points their formations appear to change. Spanning the coastline of Bai Chay Beach, the best way to enjoy the bay is to travel out on a junk-styled boat from which you can swim, dive, fish and explore the endless caves and grottoes.