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Things to Do in Vietnam - page 4

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XQ Historical Village
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Though the name sounds old, XQ Historical Village was actually founded in the early 1990s by artists Vo Van Quan and Hoang Le Xuan as a way to showcase needlework and painting to travelers from overseas. More than 2,000 women work to create the intricate masterpieces that are put on display in this and other villages like it through Vietnam.

Quan and Xuan utilized age-old needlework traditions that hale from China and were once used to tell stories of the Orient, to instead tell the tales of Vietnam through brightly colored, handmade items. Visitors to this historically inspired village can witness craftswomen working in pairs over silk-draped tables creating some of the most colorful and intricate designs around. Travelers can purchase lavish wall hanging for their home or decorated scarves and greeting cards from the local shop. The picturesque tea garden offers the perfect place to check out more of the handmade works and relax in the natural beauty of XQ’s picturesque surroundings.

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Cholon (Saigon Chinatown)
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Cholon (Saigon Chinatown) is Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese quarter, and the largest in Vietnam. It’s full of Chinese Buddhist temples, as well as other religious buildings and markets. It contrasts with much of the rest of the city, with its narrow streets and varied architectural styles. This is a great place to come to see a different side of Ho Chi Minh City.

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Dong Van Karst Plateau (Cao Nguyen Da Dong Van)
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The limestone cliffs, towering mountains and ancient fossils buried amid sedimentary rock attract travelers to the picturesque landscapes of Dong Van Karst Plateau (Cao Nguyên Đá Đồng Văn) each year. Visitors can navigate the deep valleys and pine forests where indigenous people go about their daily lives. Ethnic villages and working marijuana fields highlight the culture and commerce of the region, and travelers who venture to the top of the French Fortress of pu Lo, will find the best views of Dong Van Karst Plateau and a stone forest made of limestone peaks.

In addition to outdoor adventure and incredible landscapes and vistas, travelers can enjoy the flavors of market day each Sunday, when local cuisine is served roadside, including traditional dishes like thang co—a savory soup, or Meo Colza. Visitors will also find handmade souvenirs and traditional items like colorful brocades, handcrafted jewelry and other unique items as markets and stands in villages near the karst plateau, now a UNESCO Global Geopark.

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Ba Be National Park
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Established in 1992 as Vietnam’s eighth national park, Ba Bể National Park protects nearly 39 square miles (100 square kilometers) of rainforest, lakes, limestone peaks, caves, waterfalls and a sprinkling of ethnic minority villages, many of them part of the Tay minority. What’s often referred to as Ba Be Lake is in fact three interconnected lakes linked by wide channels.

Visitors to Ba Be National Park have their choice of a variety of experiences — lazy boat tours on the lakes, treks to caves and waterfalls, homestays in minority villages and kayaking trips through the park. The park also boasts surprising biodiversity, with some 550 plant species, 65 species of mammals, 353 butterflies, 233 birds and more than 100 types of fish. While some of the wildlife can be quite shy and difficult to spot, it’s common to see macaque monkeys, colorful parrots and herons near the banks of the lake.

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Linh Ung Pagoda
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Famous for its giant statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Linh Ung Pagoda occupies 30 acres (12 hectares) on a hill on the Son Tra Peninsula. Opened in 2010, the relatively new pagoda complex features a mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese temple architecture, including a typical three-entrance gate.

According to local legend, a smaller pagoda was built on the same site during the nineteenth century, when a local villager living on the peninsula found a statue of the Buddha drifting near the beach.

As visitors pass through the main gate of the pagoda, they are met by 18 stone statues of the 18 Arhats, believed to be the original followers of the Buddha, whose expressions run the gamut from joy and love to anger and sadness. Towering above the grounds is the 220-foot (67-meter) Guanyin statue. Within the giant monument, visitors can ascend 17 floors, each displaying Buddha statues depicting his various aspects.

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St Joseph’s Cathedral (Nha Tho Lon)
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Located in Hoan Kiem district, the neo-Gothic St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Hanoi and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi. Modeled after Notre Dame in Paris, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is one of the most famous and striking landmarks in Hanoi from the colonial era.

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Hoa Lo Prison
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Built by the French in 1896 to hold Vietnamese political prisoners and known originally as Maison Centrale, Hoa Lo Prison was taken over by the Vietnamese in 1954. During the American War (Vietnam War), it housed American POWs, who referred to it as the “Hanoi Hilton.” Today, parts of the original prison have been turned into a museum.

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Cat Cat Village
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The closest village to Sapa, Cat Cat Village is a popular trekking destination to experience the distinctive culture and traditions of the Black Hmong tribe. Located in Vietnam’s Muong Hoa Valley, at the base of Fansipan Mountain, Cat Cat Village is also known for its stunning scenery of terraced fields, rolling hills, and waterfalls.

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Japanese Covered Bridge (Chua Cau)
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Millions of travelers flock to the Japanese Covered Bridge (Chùa Cầu) in Hoi An every year. Built in the 18th century, the bridge features intricate carvings and statues of dogs and monkeys and provides great views of the Thu Bon River. Put aside extra time to cross the frequently crowded bridge—it’s the most popular spot in the Old Town.

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Saigon Skydeck
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A high-speed elevator inside the Bitexco Financial Center zips travelers up 49 floors to a glass observation deck ribbed with neon lights. Visitors say views from Saigon Skydeck are some of the best in Ho Chi Minh, offering a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of Ben Thanh Market and Notre Dame Cathedral, among other city icons.

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More Things to Do in Vietnam

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME)

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME)

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Learn about Vietnam’s 54 different ethnic groups at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME), one of Hanoi’s most interesting museums. Featuring a range of exhibits, from replicas of homes and everyday objects to priceless antiques and multimedia displays, the museum offers valuable insight into the culture and heritage of the country’s many groups.

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Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market

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Hanoi’s largest indoor market, Don Xuan Market is jam-packed with stalls selling everything from clothing and cosmetics to household goods, pets, and plants. Although geared more toward local Vietnamese and wholesalers, it’s a great place to get a pulse on local life, and there’s also a lively food court and weekend night market.

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Soi Sim Island (Dao Soi Sim)

Soi Sim Island (Dao Soi Sim)

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With its primeval forest and stretches of white sand, it’s easy to see why little Soi Sim Island (Đảo Soi Sim) has become a firm favorite among cruise visitors. Soi Sim, which takes its name from the native sim trees that cover much of its landscape, is located near Titop Island at the heart of Halong Bay and most often visited on overnight cruises.

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Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture

Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture

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An open-air colonial building in Da Nang is home to the largest collection of Cham carvings in the world. The Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture opened its first gallery in 1919, and in the decades since, the collection has grown to include more than 300 pieces. Many of these terra cotta, sandstone and bronze sculptures and artifacts depict Hindu deities, as well as linga and yoni.

Among the museum’s most important items are the sandstone pieces — statues of gods and animals, pedestals and other decorative items taken from Cham temples. The museum also has an exhibit on modern Cham culture, which includes photographs, clothing and film clips.

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Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple)

Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple)

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Set on its own island on Hoan Kiem Lake, it’s easy to see why picturesque Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) is one of the most visited places of worship in Hanoi. Full of history and scenic beauty, this fascinating 19th-century temple offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.

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Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

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Built at the turn of the 20th century and dedicated to the Taoist god, Emperor Jade Chua Ngoc Hoang (or the God of Heavens), the Jade Emperor Pagoda is a working temple that’s widely considered to be one of the finest and most atmospheric in Ho Chi Minh City.

Beneath a roof adorned with elaborate depictions of dragons, birds, and animals, this fascinating pagoda is filled with exquisite gilt woodcarvings and reinforced papier maché statues of various Buddhist and Taoist deities.

The statue of the Jade Emperor, shrouded in robes and flanked by his guardians, resides in the dramatically named Chamber of 10 Hells. Out the door and to the left of this main chamber is a semi-­enclosed room presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell, sitting alongside his red horse, while the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, an important part of any Taoist temple, has an altar on the top floor.

To the right of the tree­lined courtyard in front of the temple grounds is an overcrowded tortoise pond, earning the temple its nickname, Tortoise Pagoda.

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Thanh Toan Bridge

Thanh Toan Bridge

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Thanh Toan Bridge spans a canal in the countryside village of Thuy Thanh, around seven kilometers east of Hue. It’s a small, covered bridge – the sister to Hoi An’s famous Japanese Covered Bridge (although some argue Hue’s is more distinct in many ways). The structure is both Japanese and Chinese in style and has a square-timber arch decorated with ancient ceramics, along with inscriptions in traditional Chinese script.

There is a story behind the origins of Thanh Toan Bridge: It is said to have been built during Emperor Le Hien Tong’s reign in the mid-18th century, with construction initiated by Tran Thi Dao, the wife of a high-ranking mandarin in the Emperor's court. Tran Thi Dao established the bridge to create smooth transportation and communication around the village, which was divided in two by the canal. Emperor Le Hien Tong recognized Thi Dao’s initiative and charity by exempting the village from imperial taxations.

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Tram Ton Pass (Deo Tram Ton)

Tram Ton Pass (Deo Tram Ton)

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A winding mountain road that snakes the periphery of Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest mountain, connects the outpost towns of Lai Chau and Sapa. This is Tram Ton Pass (Đèo Trạm Tôn), sometimes called Heaven’s Gate Pass for its elevated and sweeping vistas of the other peaks in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.

Nine miles north of Sapa at the start of the pass, a lookout more than 6,200 feet above sea level affords a taste for those not traversing the entire route—from there you can see the two-lane road twisting above valley floors into the distance. Tram Ton Pass also follows a climactic division apparent in the contrast of green trees poking through resting clouds closer to Sapa in the east, and the sunnier, dustier and drier terrain nearing Lai Chau to the west. Along the route, ribbons of rainwater drain through crevasses high above forming thin roadside waterfalls.

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West Lake (Ho Tay)

West Lake (Ho Tay)

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West Lake (Ho Tay), the largest freshwater lake in Hanoi, provides a tranquil escape from the chaos of Vietnam’s capital. Lakeside cafés offer gorgeous views; historic attractions such as the Tran Quoc Pagoda and Quan Thanh Temple provide insight into Vietnam’s past; and 5-star hotels offer fine dining and luxury accommodation.

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Thap Ba Hot Springs

Thap Ba Hot Springs

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The Thap Ba Hot Springs are a destination for travelers who want to experience Vietnamese thermal mud baths as a reasonable rate. Travelers can choose from communal, individual or couple options and sit back and relax into the steaming hot mud of this ancient site. The relaxing oasis offers visitors access to several pools ideal for a quiet swim, as well as a nearby waterfall perfect for unwinding after a serious mineral soak. A couple of on-site restaurants, massage facilities and comfortable sun beds make Thap Ba Hot Springs the perfect place to spend an entire day. Travelers say the helpful staff knows little to no English, they’re still somehow able to always point visitors in the right direction.

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Cao Dai Temple (Toa Thanh Tay Ninh)

Cao Dai Temple (Toa Thanh Tay Ninh)

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Near Tay Ninh town, in Long Hoa village, this temple is considered the greatest of all Vietnam’s Cao Dai temples. Founded in 1926, the Cao Dai Temple (Tòa Thánh Tây Ninh) complex functions as a Holy See for the Cao Dai religion (Caodaism), Vietnam’s third most popular belief system after Buddhism and Catholicism. Visitors are welcome at prayer sessions in the Great Temple.

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Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh)

Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh)

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The Forbidden Purple City (Tử Cấm Thành), which sits at the center of Hue’s Imperial Enclosure, was once reserved for exclusive use by the emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Only eunuchs passed through its halls, since even his most trusted servants weren’t allowed beyond the gates. Today, this historic citadel sits mostly in ruins, destroyed during several wars throughout the nation’s history. Despite some recent rebuilding efforts, travelers can easily spend a long afternoon wandering paths that crisscross the grounds, exploring portions of the foundation, now overgrown with foliage, and examining the painting, woodwork and architecture that still remains. A 10 kilometer moat surrounds what was created to resemble the Forbidden City of Beijing, and 10 gates protect these once royal grounds.

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Kenh Ga

Kenh Ga

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The fishing village of Kênh Gà has been described by travel bloggers as amalgamation of Halong Bay, the marshy fens of England and Mediterranean Europe. And, perhaps visually, that’s true—Kênh Gà is a working community set amidst limestone karst formations and rice paddies and its waterfront main drag is dominated by a bright yellow-steepled Catholic church. But it’s also a vibrant rural village whose residents, until recently, used to live entirely on the water as a floating village. The town retains its watery roots and the sleepy, green-brown Hoang Long River serves as its main drag. Villagers sell vegetables, fish along the riverbanks and even ferry children to the local school by boat, and it is still possible to find some families who continue to live aboard floating houseboats.

Kênh Gà, which loosely translates to ‘chicken canal,’ was supposedly named for its population of wild chickens and a local hot spring (included in some tours) that was used to soak chickens to ready them for plucking. The village is only accessible by boat and affords a glimpse into a community whose way of life has been little-changed by time.

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Pu Luong Nature Reserve

Pu Luong Nature Reserve

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Home to spectacular limestone panoramas and terraced rice paddies, Pu Luong Nature Reserve is the ideal choice for travelers looking to get off the beaten path. Although the reserve is a popular weekend getaway for Hanoi locals, Pu Luong sees few foreign visitors and has therefore managed to maintain an authentic feel and tranquil atmosphere.

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