North Central Vietnam

Thai Binh - Ninh Binh - Around Ninh Binh - Phat Dien - Cuc Phuong National Park Vinh - Around Vinh - Phong Nha Cave - Dong Hoi


IDD Code: (+84) 38
Hurriedly rebuilt after its wartime devastation, Vinh is only now lifting off the mantle of concrete ugliness that has been its reputation over the last 30 years, frees have been planted along its wide boulevards, new parks opened and the lakesides landscaped - injecting a much needed splash of green among the grey Stalinist patina. There's still not a lot to detain a tourist for more than a day, but it's becoming a more attractive option for breaking up the long journey between Hanoi and Hue. The capital of Nghe An province, it has a few almost-attractions nearby, including Ho Chi Minh's birthplace Kim Lien and the beach resort of Cua Lo,
While the area has been inhabited for at least 4000 years, it was in the 18th century that Vinh came to prominence. Leaders of the Tay Son rebellion aimed to set up 'Phoenix Capital City' here during their short-lived rule. In 1930 it was the site of a brutally suppressed May Day demonstration, where police fired on marchers, killing seven. Revolutionary fervour spread, with Vinh's various Communist cells, trade unions and farmers' organisations earning it the appellation 'Red-Glorious City’ From a pleasant citadel city, it was reduced to rubble in the early 1950s as a result of French aerial bombing and the Viet Minh's scorched-earth policy. Later,a huge the finished off anything that was left standing. The Ho Chi Minh Trail began in Nghe An province, and many of the war supplies sent south were shipped via the port of Vinh The US military's response was to once again obliterate the city in hundreds of bombard-ments from 1964 to 1972, which left only two buildings intact. Casualties were high on both sides - more US aircraft and pilots were shot down over Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces than over any other part of North Vietnam. The heavy loss of planes and pilots was one reason why the USA later brought in battleships to pound North Vietnam from a distance.
As Hwy !A enters Vinh irons the south. it crosses over the mouth of the Lam River (Ca River), also known as the Cua Hoi Estuary. Street numbers are rarely used in Vinh.
The city has an official website Incombank (tell: 359 S230,Đ 9 Nguyen Sy Sacn) Has an ATM and exchange services. Main post office (tell: 356 1408; Đ Nguyen. Thi Minh Khai; 6.30am-10pm) For phone calls and postal services. Also has an air-conditioned internet cafe attached. Vietcombank (53 ĐLe Huan) Has an ATM. Further ATM-may be found at 33 Đ Le Mao and Đ Quang Trang, a block north of the Saigon Kimlien Hotel. Vinh City Hospital (Benh Vien da Khoa, tell: 835 279; 178 Đ Tran Phu) For medical emergencies.
Sights & Activities
Although the shape of Vinh's Ancient Citadel is easy to see on any city map, there's not a lot left that's visible from street level, apart from the moat and the Left Gate (Cua Ta; Đ Dao Tan) and Right Gate (Cua Huu; Đ DaoTan). The citadel is not actually all that ancient, having been built in 1831. Its 4.4m-high walls once stretched for 2520m, supported by a 28m wide, 3.2m-deep moat. The citadel is now home to a sports stadium, homes, shops and government buildings, including one with an American plane and missile in front and another with a frieze showing the Vietnamese people in shackles. A pair of colourful giant dragons welcome you to Central City Park Vinh (Cong Vien Trung Tham TP Vinh; cnr Đ Le Mao & Đ Tran Phu; admission over 1.4m S000d/1-1.4m 3000d/under 1m free; Wed-Sun 3-11pm, holidays 8am- 11pm), a big new amusement park for kids, complete with a merry-go-round, small rollercoaster (no loops) and dodgems -or you can pedal around the lake Galadriel - like in a swan-shaped boat. On the other side of the lake a giant Ho Chi Minh statue strides boldly forth into the future.
Giao Te Hotel (9 Đ Ho Tung Mau;r 100,000-220,000d; One of the better state-run hotels you'll find, this quieter option is set back off the road near the park Breakfast is included in the price.
Dong Do Hotel (tell: 846 989; 14 Mai Hac De; r 110,000-170,000d;A basic place at a good price on a noisy street.
Phu Nguyen Hai Hotel (81Đ LeLoi;s/dUS$15/20; Built in 1928. this charming place has tatty bathrooms but otherwise nice rooms with views. Right next to the bus station, the street's noisy and incredibly difficult to cross even by Vietnamese standards. Breakfast is included. Saigon Kim Lien Hotel (25 Đ Quang Trung; s USS22-32, d USS26-36, ste US$60;The only hotel approaching upmarket status, the Saigon has a fancy foyer and good views from the rooms.
Eating & Drinking
Truong Giang (tell: 838 523; 2 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; meals 40,000d; lunch & dinner) When it's all getting too crazy, this pillar house over a lake is a good escape from the hustle and bustle. Its grand entrance past a fountain and over a red-carpeted bridge is at odds with its shabby reception-lounge charm. There's no English menu, but the staff will help you order. The fish is very good.
NgoiSaoXanh (tell: 567878; 17 Đ Ho Tung Mau) This cafe opposite the park is a charming dive -bamboo walls are complemented by carved wooden Disney figures. The upstairs area has views over the park. You can get pho bo (beef noodle soup) and a drink for less than 20,000d from the covered street stalls on D Phan Dinh Phung. There arc-bars aplenty on D Quang Trung and a Maxi-mart (Đ Nguyen Thai Hoc) on its northern corner.
Vinh Central Market sprawls out from the south end of Đ Quang Trung. Nearby Đ Dang Thai Than has market-style clothes shops.
Getting There & Away
AIR: Vietnam Airlines (tell: 595 777; 2 Đ Le Hong Phong) con-nects Vinh with HCMC (US$72) twice a week. There's another booking office in the foyer of the Saigon Kimlien Hotel (see left). The airport is about 20km north of the city.
BUS: The chaotic bus station (tell: 833 997; Đ Le loi) is easy to locate right in the centre of town. Regular buses head to Danang (116,000d, 81/2 hours), stopping at Dong Hoi (four hours) and Dong Ha (51/2 hours) on the way. Minibuses cruise the main street looking for additional fares. All the open-tour buses pass through town en route between Hanoi and Hue, and while it's easy to ask to jump off here, it's harder to arrange a pick up. Buses also head to Tay Son on Hwy 8, near the Lao border, and there are also services through to Phon-savan on Hwy 7 opposite). Be aware that Tay Son was formerly called Trung Tarn, and this is usually what you'll see written on the bus.
CAR & MOTORBIKE: From Vinh it's 96km to the Lao border, 197km to Dong Hoi and 292km to Hanoi.
TRAIN: The Vinh train station (Ga Vinh; tell: 853158; Đ Le Ninh) is on the northwestern edge of town. The Reunification Express heads to destinations including Hanoi (113,000d, 51/2 to eight hours, seven daily), Ninh Binh (73.000d, 31/2 to 41/2 hours, four daily), Thanh Hoa (50,000d, 21/2 to 31/2 hours, six daily), Dong Hoi (50.000d, 3l/2 to 91/2 hours, eight daily) and Hue (143,000d. 61/2 to 10 hours, seven daily).
Nong Haet/Nam Can (7am 6pmi) is the northernnost of the two crossings to Laos from Nghe An province. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays it's possible to catch a bus at 6am from Vinh to Phonsavan (US$12, 11 hours, bookings Mr Lam, tell: 038-383 5782). Otherwise catch a morning bus from Vinh to Muang Xen (29,000d, seven hours), which departs when full. Grab a motorbike for the spectacular 25km uphill run to the border (50.000d) and get ready to wait around on the Lao side. Local transport on to Nong Haet is about 5000k if anything shows up. From Nong Haet, there are several buses a day on to Phonsavan (20,000k, four hours) starting from 7am sharp, it might also be possible to charter a private car from US$30. From Phonsavan it is easy to connect to Luang Prabang or Vientiane Heading in the opposite direction, the motorbike drivers on the Vietnamese side of the border may try to demand as much as US$10 for the 25km journey downhill.