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Numerous reasons to visit Hanoi

From art to food, history and spas, Australian traveller Lance Richardson points out many reasons to visit Hanoi.
Motorbikes in the Old Quarter
The Hanoi traffic is an alarming introduction to the Vietnamese capital, though locals are acclimatized to the chaos. Visitors should be wary of hiring a motorbike straight off the plane - instead, jump on the back of a taxi bike for a thrilling tour through the Old Quarter and a crash-course in road rules. A good rule of thumb: when you can walk across the street without flinching, only then is it time to contemplate a rental.

Museum of the Revolution
More propaganda can be found in the fascinating Museum of the Revolution on Tong Dan Street. Charting liberation movements from 1858 to 1945, there's next to no explanations accompanying anything. But the assorted objects offer a curious window onto an alternative reading of significant 20th-century events, including a small padlock supposedly used by Australian workers to lock the parliament building in support of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement.

Hoa Lo Prison
The infamous "Hanoi Hilton" - dubbed thus by American prisoners during the Vietnam War - was constructed by the French in 1896 over the top of Phu Khanh Village. Its history is long and grisly, only selectively recounted in the several rooms that remain of what was once a much larger site. Cells occupied by life-like shackled mannequins are particularly evocative, the soundtrack accompanying a guillotine and a grandiose shrine to “patriotic prisoners” less so. Like the Museum of the Revolution, a full understanding of what happened here requires additional reading.

Street food
Besides the motorbikes, few things define Vietnam like the food. To visit the country without hunkering down on a footstool for a bowl of "pho ga" (chicken noodle soup) is like visiting Italy and abstaining from pasta. There are plenty of restaurants aimed at tourists in Hanoi - skip them. Find a vendor on the footpath and follow a few rules. Choose from the food you can see, not from a menu. Offer a fixed amount of money before asking for the price, thereby heading off the inevitable overcharge.

The French influence
The French colonialists left more than an infamous prison and several guillotines: they left a Vietnamese baking culture that has, over the years, permeated Australia through its immigrant communities. Numerous bakeries in the Old Quarter sell a familiar line-up of almond bread and baguettes (and the famous "Vietnamese sandwich"). For interest, compare these offerings to traditional pastries called "banh", which are glutinous rice mixed with various savoury ingredients, wrapped in leaves and boiled in a square or moon shape.

Snake village
For the more adventurous gourmands, a short drive out to Le Mat, the "snake village", delivers an unforgettable meal. Choose an attractive snake, haggle a price, then sit quietly as your selection is flayed at the table, its blood and bile dripped into shot glasses filled with rice wine. Men should swallow the heart (for virility). When the dishes arrive, chew very slowly (for snake bones). Yes, it tastes like chicken.

Tea, coffee and rice wine
There is so much liquid in Vietnamese food it sometimes seems like locals never need to drink but these three exceptions can be found nearly everywhere. Tea is particularly popular, with lotus tea a specialty. Coffee comes in several types, with “Ca phe sua da” a delicious shot over sweetened condensed milk served with ice. Rice wine, with an alcohol content of 18 percent to 25 percent, should be treated more like vodka. It is impolite to refuse if you are a dinner guest. Or a breakfast guest, actually.

Hoan Kiem Lake
The heart of the Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword) Lake, which, despite its toxic green colour, offers a pleasant respite for pedestrians from the frantic game of Frogger that constitutes the rest of the traffic-heavy area. The 18th-century Ngoc Son Temple, on Jade Island, can be reached via the beautiful Huc Bridge but another lesser-known haven is Balcony Bar, overlooking the lake from its first-floor nest of fairy lights on Le Thai To Street.

Water Puppets
Seen in their original setting of 11th-century villages around the Red River Delta, "the puppets that dance on water" would have seemed a spectacular and magical display of human ingenuity. In the tiered theatre on the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, the musicians and puppeteers look bored and slightly bemused by the modern addition of fog machines. A final sequence, in which a carp is transformed into a graceful dragon, makes it worth the US$3 admission fee.

Temple of Literature
Vietnam's first university and a monument to scholars, the Temple of Literature was built in 1076 and is featured on the back of the VND100,000 banknote (US$4.50). Though it has been reconstructed numerous times over the centuries, the Confucian mainstay preserves a classic architectural style with a citadel, courtyards and large lake. It remains one of Vietnam's most popular historical sights.

National Tuong Theatre
A government company founded in 1959 and situated in the Old Quarter, the Tuong Theatre aims to preserve traditional styles of acting, dancing and music, such as Nha Nhac, a musical genre designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2003. The theatre offers performances every Thursday and Friday night, combining five scenes from Tuong plays (with English subtitles).

Vietnam Women's Museum
An unexpected gem, this recently renovated institution examines Vietnam through the lens of its female population, including their war efforts, participation in the struggle for independence, marriage customs and traditional dress. One notable exhibition features photographs taken by poor Hanoi street vendors, trained to use a camera so they could document the process of setting up businesses in Soc Son district.

Everything in Asia is cheaper, right? It depends. "Non la" (conical hats) and army caps with the iconic red star are affordable souvenirs and fakes are everywhere. For genuine Levis, Adidas, Gucci or North Face, however, prices aren't significantly different to those in Europe and Australia. For the real deal, try the Cho Hang Da market.

Night markets
Just when you think the Old Quarter couldn't possibly hold any more stuff, it surrenders Hang Giay and Hang Dao streets to a seemingly infinite line of illuminated orange stalls every Friday and Saturday night. Much of the material on sale is an extension of the surrounding shops but the festive atmosphere is infectious. Think wallets, Buddhas, plush buttons and wall lights shaped like teapots. You can even find greetings cards with a pop-up Sydney Opera House.

Karaoke may have originated in Japan, but its blend of shamelessness and self-abandon is universal in appeal. It seems like every moderately sized city in Vietnam has its fair share of karaoke parlours, even if the government considered a karaoke dancing ban in 2009 (linking it with drugs and prostitution). In Hanoi, try Cua Dong Street in the Old Quarter. Be careful of hidden costs, though, and ask for a room inspection before agreeing to pick up the microphone.

Sleeper trains to Lao Cai
When the urban jungle of Hanoi proves too exhausting, a good salve can be found in the form of an overnight sleeper train heading north to Lao Cai, gateway to Sapa and its indigenous mountain villages. Each carriage on the train functions as an independent company, with differing levels of quality and service. Prepare for a bumpy ride but the destination is worth the trip.

Source: Lance Richardson - VOV

DIPR 2012 to be held in Danang

The Danang International Paramotor Race (DIPR) 2012 named "Danang - New peaks" will be first organized in Vietnam from May 23-27 with the participation of 25 athletes coming from America, France and Japan.
The race will include four contents: speed, avoiding obstacles, rescuing, and performing in a team; and promises to be an exciting performance for audience.
Speaking at a press conference, Vice Chairman of the Danang municipal People’s Committee Nguyen Xuan Anh, head of the competition board, said that the competition will introduce paramotor performance to tourists and people in the city and help Danang live up to its slogan "the city of events". “The competition sets the ground for the development of paramotor events, as well as bringing a new activity to aviation sports in Vietnam.”
During the DIPR 2012, tourists can fly with the athletes at a cost of about 1.3 million VND. Apart from that, tourist can also participate in related activities such as cuisine garden, beer garden, stalls for traditional products and beach sports.
The race will present three prizes, the first prize is worth 10,000 USD./.

Resource: CPV

Pedestrian streets around President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum start on May 19

Some streets around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi will be limited to pedestrians beginning May 19th.
The Management Board of President Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum held a meeting on May 17th with relevant agencies on the first pilot phase of making several pedestrian streets around the mausoleum.
According to a decision of Hanoi City People’ Committee, the draft proposal by the Transportation Department and the Management Board of the mausoleum, to turn Chua Mot Cot, Ong Ich Khiem and the south side of Hung Vuong streets surrounding Ba Dinh Square and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum into walking streets, has been approved and will be implemented from May 19th.
While the proposal aims to ban all vehicles from these streets, exceptions would be given in special cases for vehicles of organisations, offices and individuals who work and live within the area, and these vehicles have to move at a speed of no more than 15km per hour. All vehicles have to get permission from the Management Board of the mausoleum to have access to the pedestrian streets.
However, the plan would not significantly affect businesses or offices in the area and would be more feasible than setting up walking streets in the Old Quarter, since the mausoleum is in an area with fewer commercial businesses./.

Vietnam wants to raise image for foreign travellers

Do Hoang Anh Tuan, Deputy Minister of Finance believes in raising Vietnam’s image by offering refund on Value Added Tax (VAT) on commodities purchased in Vietnam by foreign travellers at point of departure at Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat International Airports from July 2012 till June 2013.
The deputy minister mentioned this at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City recently to implement the new pilot scheme that will offer a VAT refund to foreigners leaving the country with purchases made during their stay.
Tuan said the pilot scheme will help promote tourism and leave a good impression on foreign visitors, so officials at airports must provide and facilitate easy procedures for the same.
The pilot scheme will be improved gradually in accordance with international practices, but for now VAT refund formalities must be made simple, clear and transparent, Tuan said.
Foreigners will now receive a Value Added Tax (VAT) refund on commodities purchased while in Vietnam and which they carry back when leaving the country.
According to the General Department of Taxation, 154 enterprises in Hanoi and HCMC are eligible for participating in the new scheme. Purchases made by foreign visitors during their stay in Vietnam, will receive VAT refund at point of departure, provided all criteria is met.
These enterprises are eager to join the pilot scheme as this is an excellent opportunity for them to promote their products in other countries of the world.
Relevant agencies such as tax and customs departments will release the addresses and names of participating enterprises on their websites. They will also be allowed to advertise the scheme on billboards and posters on their shops, so as to inform foreign clientele.
Tax and customs departments should also inform travel agents of the enterprises listed in the VAT refund scheme, so as to curb corruption.
Enterprises also raised the idea that there should be one common logo for the VAT refund scheme for easy recognition by foreign tourists. This idea met with approval from the deputy minister.
The General Department of Taxation has been asked to think of a common logo to be used by shops offering VAT refund in the country.

Source: SGGP

300 Russian tourists arrive in Da Nang on direct flight

VietNamNet Bridge – Around 300 tourists on a direct flight from Russian city Novosibirsk were welcomed by the authorities of Da Nang City in central Vietnam last Saturday afternoon.
A Russian tourist was welcomed at Da Nang airport on May 12. (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
It is estimated that around 12,000 tourists from Novosibirsk and other cities like Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk will arrive in Da Nang on Boeing 767-300 planes from now until October.
On the first direct flight between Novosibirsk and Da Nang, there were tourists who are on a 10-15 day tour in Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue and Nha Trang.
Besides, travel companies and news agencies from Russian cities also came to study tourism potentials in central Vietnam, according to Anh Duong Join Stock Company, which organizes the flights.

Source: VietNamNet/Tuoi Tre

Ha Long cruise offers tours for a fraction of a cent

VietNamNet Bridge – The Quang Ninh-based Tuan Chau Five Star Yacht Joint Stock Company (Paradise Cruise) has just launched a big promotion offering tours costing from only VND7 to VND1.7million (US$85), starting May 15.
Quang Ninh-based Paradise Cruise JSC's Paradise Luxury ship.
Titled “Summer in Paradise,” the program, on the occasion that the bay has just been recognized as a new world wonder, includes 7,000 tickets at the above prices for 2-day-1-night tours of Ha Long Bay on the Paradise Luxury ship for the period from June 1 to September 30.
The promotion is for customers going in pairs. One of them will have a chance to buy one ticket at VND1.7million, while their partner will get the discount prices at VND7, VND70, VND700, VND70,000 or VND700,000.
If a customer goes alone, he or she will buy ticket for VND1.7million.
The prices include Deluxe cabin rates, tax, entrance tickets to Ha Long’s tourist destinations, a tour guide, breakfast buffet and insurance.
“Ha Long has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is now a new world wonder. It’s wonderful!”, Caroline Thomas, director of the marketing department of Paradise Cruise, shared.
The promotion is a sign of the company’s goodwill to express gratitude to the millions of people who voted for the bay, and is also a way to promote a beautiful Vietnamese tourist destination, she added.
Paradise Cruises launched their first boat, Paradise Luxury I, in November 2008, which was soon followed by the Paradise Luxury II in March of 2009.
The company is offering tourists four ship options, including Paradise Luxury, Paradise Privilege, Paradise Peak and Paradise Explorer.
Source: VietNamNet/Tuoi Tre

Metropole Hotel to open wartime air raid shelter as memorial on May 21

Forty years after the bombs stopped falling on Hanoi, and less than one year after a chance discovery of an air raid shelter in its back garden, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi will open the excavated bunker on May 21 as the anchor attraction in a new Path of History tour.
“Hotels are always opening new outlets. New restaurants, new bars, new spas. But it’s not everyday that a hotel opens an old bomb shelter as a new memorial”, said Mr Kai Speth, hotel’s General Manager.
The 40-square-meter bomb shelter has been preserved in its original state as a tribute to the hotel’s wartime employees, who ushered guests into the relative safety of the underground chamber from the mid-1960s through the Christmas bombings in 1972.
A Filipino journalist, Gemma Cruz Araneta, described the shelter this way in a May 1968 journal entry: “The hotel shelter is a long, narrow, semi-subterranean room of concrete which I thought would have made a groovy discotheque. It is lined with green wooden chairs and though there was no electricity. I noticed an electric fan. Really, the Vietnamese are such thoughtful hosts”.
A corner of Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. (Photo: Huong Lan)
The exhibit commemorates 110 years of Metropole history along 18 meters of hotel corridor. The 13 exhibition plates include restored images of the hotel’s early years, a timeline, introductions to more than 300 guests from Charlie Chaplin to Jane Fonda and Joan Baez to Angelina Jolie and a section on travel.
Though the hotel had long known there was a bomb shelter buried near the shallow end of the swimming pool, it was only with the reconstruction of the hotel’s Bamboo Bar that the location was fixed.
General Manager Speth approached the first re-encounter with the space at the end of last summer with a mix of ambition and trepidation. “We had no idea what we were going to find after we jack-hammered through that roof. What they did find was water, and plenty of it. Over the years, groundwater completely flooded the warren of chambers and corridors”.
After the hotel’s engineering crew pumped out the water, they discovered a few relics - an old wine bottle, a still intact light bulb, air vents, metal blast doors and the Bob Devereaux graffiti. (Bob Devereaux was an Australian diplomat who scratched his name into a wall of the shelter in 1975).Augustin, who is President of the Most Famous Hotels in the World organization, is training a team of six local historians to accompany hotel guests on a tour that culminates with a descent into the wartime shelter.
“Vietnam is famous for underground excursions at the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Vinh Moc Tunnels, and for bunkers at war memorials like Khe Sanh. The Metropole’s contribution to this heritage adds a completely new dimension to the story of Vietnam at war”, said Mr Augustin./.

Vietnam Airlines offers two new promotion packages on domestic market

The Vietnam National Flag Carrier (Vietnam Airlines) on May 16 has introduced two new promotions on domestic market namely “Family pack” and “One price pack”.
These promotions apply for all passengers purchasing and departing from now to October 27 (not include National Day September 2 and some rush periods), thus saving up to 46% compared to the normal price.
With “Family pack”, passengers (from 18 years old) acquiring one ticket for economy class on flights between Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city and Da Nang locations are gifted one free ticket for under 12-aged children on the same flights.
Meanwhile, passengers can buy “One price pack” with 1,550,000 VND for Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh city route (VN1169, VN1171, VN1148, VN1166); and 1,000,000 VND for Ho Chi Minh city – Da Nang route (VN1330, VN1329).
These one – way prices are not include taxes, surcharges and can be changed beyond Bank interest rates at the time of delivering tickets. Each passenger is not allowed to use these two promotions at the same time.
This program is an annual activity to diversify prices in all routes operated by the Carrier, encouraging passengers to pre-book, as well as opening more options for them while traveling by air.
On these flights, VNA still provides full business classes and other flexible prices for passengers.

(Source: CPV).

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