For many people still, the mention of Vietnam brings back the traumatic events of the 1960s and 70s, but the country has moved on while not forgetting. The two major cities of Vietnam are well known because of the war, but there are others which are now beginning to come out from under the shadow of the past. Hanoi, the capital of ancient and present day Vietnam has a history of over 1,000 years and much of the relatively recent past is well preserved. The city is said to have over 600 temples and pagodas and, as it was also the capital of French Indochina, it has a large number of French style villas and other examples of French imperial architecture such as the Grand Opera House and the Presidential Palace (formerly the Palace of The Governor-General of French Indochina).
Hanoi’s Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, still retains the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. The area is best explored on foot and features many small artisan shops and small restaurants offering local cuisine. At the opposite end of the country lies Vietnam’s largest city, known as Ho Chi Minh City since 1975, but still known to many as Saigon. The city is noted for its wide boulevards and its French colonial architecture such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and hotels such as the Hotel Majestic. But Ho Chi Minh City is a rapidly changing city. As Vietnams’ financial centre, it is in the process of building the infrastructure of a dynamic international city. This means that much of the traditional culture of the city has become rather hidden, but one of the joys of the city is in finding unexpected gems among the new high rise blocks.
The past decade saw a tourism boom in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. High on everyone’s lists were destinations like Cambodia’s Angkor temples, Laos’s Plain of Jars, and Vietnam’s Hoi An and Hue cities. Those sights are fantastic. By all means see them. But much of Indochina’s best still remains off the radar, while many old favorites have begun reinventing themselves since they were first thrust under the spotlight. Below are ten such places that should be on everyone’s must-see list for 2012.
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