Hanoi travel: what to discover, what to eat, how to get there…

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The northern port city of Hai Phong is home to a well-preserved “French Quarter,” a UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve, beaches, caves and exceptional cuisine.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Hai Phong has a subtropical climate typical of northern Vietnam: hot and humid with heavy rainfall in summer, dry and cold in winter.

The best time to visit the city is from March to April and September to October, when exploring its historical remains can be combined with outdoor fun at the beach and some boat tours.

Storms and rain are likely between July and August, but this puts visitors in a very different light on the place.

WHAT TO EXPLORE

In 1888, the President of France’s Third Republic, Sadi Carnot, issued a decree establishing Hai Phong and began constructing a series of large buildings over a seven-hectare area from Lac Long Bridge to Tran Hung Dao Street, as they are today is known.

This history gives the city its most important highlight of modern history, the “French Quarter” With Rows of colonial houses more than a hundred years old.

The Haiphong Opera House is a standout attraction. All building materials were brought from France and the work was supervised by French architects.

The opera house gathered the elite – French officials and wealthy locals – who could afford tickets to shows featuring famous French troupes as well as widely recognized local talent.

At the Hai Phong Opera House. Photo by Le Tan

In the main performance hall, the Hai Phong Opera House offers space for 300 guests on two floors. Its plush, red-upholstered chairs gleam with gold detailing. The high domed ceiling adds to its grandeur.

Just steps from the Opera House is Kim Dong Park, the centerpiece of which is a multi-roofed building built by the French in 1942. Today it serves as the Hong Bang District Public Library.

Hai Phong is also one of the main railway stations in the north of the country, and a train journey from Hanoi to Hai Phong is a journey to remember.

The city also boasts the country’s first local museum and is a must-see for all visitors.

Built in 1919 on an acre of mature trees, the museum houses an impressive collection of local historical artefacts that trace the heritage of the region, as well as a selection of precious gems, traditional objects and old photographs.

Hai Phong Museum. Photo by Le Tan

As part of the city tour through the “French Quarter”, a flower market on the east side of Tam Bac Lake adds to the considerable charm of the city.

The flower market has five magnificent kiosks with domed roofs built by the French in 1941 to buy fresh flowers.

Also within walking distance of the lake is a massive bronze statue of the female General Le Chan, a Vietnamese heroine and founder of Hai Phong.

Over 1,000 years old, the Hang Pagoda in Le Chan district is one of the country’s most important Buddhist centers.

The is around 22 kilometers from downtown Haiphong Do Son Beachwhich also houses the first legal casino in Vietnam.

What was once a popular resort area for the French is now a popular weekend getaway, particularly for sun-seekers from Hanoi.

An ancient mud tower and a Buddhist temple on Mount Ngoc Son are other attractions of Do Son, as is a buffalo fighting festival in September or October.

That very picturesque Cat Ba Archipelago, adjacent to World Heritage-listed Ha Long Bay, has 367 islands, of which Cat Ba is the largest. A cruise to this place with its limestone karst mountains rising from turquoise waters is not to be missed.

A corner of Cat Ba Archipelago in Haiphong. Photo by Giang Chinh

At Cai Beo wharf, visitors can take a boat or canoe to Lan Ha Bay, located east of Cat Ba Island, after purchasing admission tickets, which cost 30,000 VND (US$1.27) per person.

The private boat rental price is VND 2.2-3.8 million for a four-hour trip and VND 5.7 million for a six-hour trip. Each boat can carry up to 25 passengers.

A motorboat ride costs VND 500,000 – 1 million for a group of five to ten passengers.

An advantageous option is combo packages for 200,000-350,000 VND per person, including lunch. The itinerary includes Lan Ha Bay and the fishing village of Cai Beo, diving service and freestyle kayaking.

That Cai Beo village Considered the oldest of its kind in Vietnam and considered a living museum of Vietnamese fishing culture.

Home to around 300 households, the floating village consists of dozens of houses floating on green, clear water.

The fishing village of Cai Beo features dozens of houses floating on green, clear water. Photo by Pham Huy Trung

Kayaking in Lan Ha Bay includes the thrill of cruising through the light and dark caves that border Ha Long Bay.

A trekking tour to Cat Ba National Parkrecognized as a World Biosphere Reserve is a very rewarding experience.

The Kim Giao – Ngu Lam Trail is the most popular route, which takes about an hour to reach the summit.

Kim Giao is 300 meters high with rows of stone benches serving as a resting place before continuing to Ngu Lam which is 700 meters further. At the 220-meter high Ngu Lam peak, visitors can enjoy panoramic mountain views from a lookout tower. It’s also a great place for lunch.

For this two-hour hike, visitors must bring their own food and water as there are no shops along the route.

As the economic center of the northern region that is home to several international technology giants, Hai Phong has developed a nightlife that earns positive mentions from foreign visitors.

Some popular bars and beer clubs in Hai Phong are Play House Bar, Fleur d’Or Maison Bar, King Disco, Peerage Bar, Lucky Pub and Zozo BBQ Grill Bar.

The Tam Bac Walking Street along the banks of the Tam Bac River with food stalls, bye hoi and entertainment options is an ideal place to hang out at night.

WHERE TO SLEEP

In downtown Hai Phong, luxury hotels like Hotel Nikko, Mercure Hai Phong, and Vinpearl Hotel Imperia are close to popular tourist spots, with room rates ranging from VND1.2 million to VND2.5 million (US$50.72 to US$105.66) per night.

Vinpearl Hotel Imperia in Haiphong is seen from above. Photo courtesy of the hotel

Cheaper options include Vinhomes and Hoang Huy or Dreamland – Chihouse, Vancao Green Homestay with prices starting at VND 250,000 per night.

Hai Phong has several world-class resorts on pristine beaches, mainly in Cat Ba.

Flamingo Cat Ba Beach Resort, Hôtel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba – MGallery, Nam Cat Island Resort CatbaBay and Monkey Island Resort offer luxury living for VND 1-2 million per night.

WHAT TO EAT

Hai Phong is a land of culinary gems, which local authorities have highlighted by launching several food tours.

Connoisseurs of Vietnamese cuisine will recognize themselves immediately “banh da cua” as a Haiphong specialty. The dish of flat brown noodles cooked with crab meat, shrimp, pork balls and pork wrapped in them la much (Piper Lolot leaves), morning glory, spring onion and other vegetables has a nutritious broth.

A bowl of banh da cua served at a stand in Hai Phong. Photo by Bao Ngoc

Try the dish at 143/46 Lach Tray, 2b Pham Ngu Lao, Ms. Thais Stand at Chu Van An Market or 16 Phan Chu Trinh.

Spicy breadsticks filled with ‘pie’ or minced pork paste and served with a special chilli sauce are served at 28 Dinh Tien Hoang, 57 Le Loi and 184 Hang Kenh.

The breadsticks are best served with Hai Phong’s special chili sauce. Photo by Trung Nghia

Crab spring rolls filled with ground crab, lean pork, turnip greens, carrots, ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, rice paper, vermicelli, and spices are often served with rice vermicelli, lettuce, and cucumbers, and a sweet and tangy salty and sour dip.

A portion of crab spring rolls at a restaurant in Hai Phong. Photo by Minh Ha

Some addresses to try this dish are Mai Phuong stall on Cat Cut Street and No. 323 stall on To Hieu Street.

sui din, a cake made with crushed rice, sesame seeds, peanuts, and coconut, is boiled before being placed in a bowl and drenched with a sweet and salty sauce. This popular street food was brought to Hai Phong by Chinese immigrants living in HCMC.

Another specialty of Hai Phong is “banh duc tau”, a version of jelly ice cream cake served with fried shrimp, pork, and papaya, all soaked in a sweet, chilled vinegar sauce.

A bowl of banh duc tau. Photo by Bao Ngoc

A very popular stall serving this treat is located at 159 Hai Ba Trung Street in Le Chan District.

Haiphong is also famous for Dua Damor coconut soup and coconut milk coffee, which you can try at 124 Lach Tray or 100/124 Lach Tray.

Coconut sweet soup is served in glasses every day from late afternoon. Photo by Bao Ngoc

HOW TO GET THERE

From Hanoi, the quickest way is a 1.5-hour motorbike ride on the Hanoi-Hai Phong Expressway.

Transport companies Hoang Long and Anh Huy sell bus tickets for 120,000 to 135,000 VND per person. A limousine delivery service to the city center costs VND 230,000-250,000.

There are daily flights from HCMC to Hai Phong with fares ranging from VND 900,000 to VND 1.5 million.

The French-built quay bridge over the Tam Bac River is a symbol of the city of Haiphong. Photo by Giang Chinh

History of Phuong Anh, Hoang Phong

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