Northeast Vietnam

Con Son Den Kiep Bac - Hai Phong - Around Hai Phong - Ha Long Bay - Ha Long City - Cat Ba Island - Bai Tu Long Bay - Mong Cai Chinese Border - Around Mong Cai - Lang Son - Cao Bang - Aroud Cao Bang - Ba Be National Park - Thai Nguyen - Around Thai Nguyen


IDD Code: (+84) 31
Fed up with old-timers telling you Hanoi was so much more authentic in the early 1990s? Fear not, for Haiphong is a graceful city that has the flavour of Hanoi a decade ago. Bicycles are as common as motorbikes and the verdant tree-lined boulevards conceal some classic colonial-era structures. Stroll around the centre and soak up the atmosphere. Despite being one of the country's most important seaports and industrial centres, and officially Vietnam's third-largest city, Haiphong today seems a somnolent place with clean streets and an understated air of prosperity. In general, the city is far less hassle than major tourist magnets, with barely a tout in sight. Haiphong makes a sensible stopover for travellers making their own way to or from Cat Ba Island or Halong Bay. A combination of bus, boat and train make an economical and easy way to link the popular places of the northeast.

The French took possession of Haiphong back in 1874 when it was just a small market town. The city developed rapidly, becoming a major port. Heavy industry was a natural choice thanks to its proximity to coal supplies. One of the most immediate causes of the Franco-Viet Minh War was the infamous French bombardment of the 'native quarters' of Haiphong in 1946, in which hundreds of civilians were killed and injured. A contemporary French account estimated civilian deaths at more than 6000. Haiphong came under US air and naval attack between 1965 and 1972. In May 1972 President Nixon ordered the mining of Haiphong Harbour to cut the flow of Soviet military supplies to North Vietnam. As part of the Paris cease-fire accords of 1973, the USA agreed to help clear the mines from Haiphong Harbour - 10 US navy mine-sweepers were involved in the effort. Since the late 1970s Haiphong has experienced a massive exodus, including many ethnic-Chinese refugees, who took much of the city's fishing fleet with them, Information
EMERGENCY: If you need medical treatment it is best to head to Hanoi. Vietnam-Czech Friendship Hospital (Benh Vien Viet-Tiep; Pho Nha Thuong) is the best of the hospitals, but rely on it for emergencies only.
INTERNET ACCESS: There are centrally located internet cafes on Pho Dien Bien Phu, charging around 3000d per hour, and there seems to be at least one internet cafe on most other streets in the city. Free wi-fi is available at New Story (84 Pho Dien Bien Phu), a somewhat kitsch cafe-bar.
MONEY: Vietcombank (11 Pho Hoang Dieu) Not far from the post office, this beautifully housed bank can deal with cash and cheques, plus has an ATM.
POST: Main post office (3 Pho Nguyen Tri Phuong) A grand did yellow dame on the corner of Pho Hoang Van Thu.
Sights & Activities: Haifa day on your hands in Haiphong? There are a few low-key sights to keep you busy, but the museums have the most obscure opening times in the country.Haiphong Museum (Pho Dien Bien Phu; admission free; 8-10.30amTue&Thu,7.30-9.30pmWed&Sun) is in a splendid colonial building and has a small collection. Don't change your travel plans Just to visit, however. Nearby, opposite the Navy Hotel, is the Navy Museum (Bao Tang Hai Quan; Pho Dien Bien Phu; 8-11am Tue, Thu & Sat), possibly popular with visiting sailors and veterans. Check out the Opera House (Pho Quang Trung) if there is anyone able to let you inside. Smaller than the Hanoi Opera House from the out side, the interior is lavish. Du Hang Pagoda (Chua Du Hang; 121 Pho Chua Hang) was founded three centuries ago. Though it has been rebuilt several times, it remains a fine example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and sculpture. Pho Chua Hang itself is narrow and bustling with Haiphong street life, and is fun to wander along.
Sleeping: Haiphong sometimes plays host to large numbers of mainland Chinese tourists, although numbers had evaporated during our last visit. To guarantee a bed in one of the more expensive hotels, it is best to book ahead. There are no genuine budget options in Haiphong. Hotel du Commerce (tell: 384 2706; fax 384 2560; 62 Pho Dien Bien Phu; r US$10-18; In a venerable old building from the French period, this could be Haiphong's ultimate retreat if tourists took .in interest in the town. Fortunately for budget travellers, it remains a characterful place with high ceilings and gigantic bathrooms. Basics include satellite TV, fridge and hot water, but think atmosphere above amenities.
Khach San Thang Nam ( 55 Pho Dien Bien Phu; r USS15-18;This place is one of the best all-rounders in town, with bright, clean rooms and all mod cons, including satellite TV. It doesn't get more central than this.
Monaco Hotel ( 103 Pho Dien Bien Phu; r USS20-40; One of the newer hotels in town, the decor here is a cut above the competition. All rooms are well appointed, but US$40 buys an apartment complete with a kitchen.
Ben Bind Hotel (tell: 384 2260; fax 384 2524; 6 D Ben Binh; r USS25-40; Conveniently located op¬posite the ferry pier, this is a huge old place set in spacious gardens. The old cheapies were swallowed up by the renovation, so it's no longer a budget option, but the current crop of rooms is much smarter.
Huu Nghi Hotel (tell: 382 3244; fax 382 3245; 62 Pho Dien Bien Phu; rUS$35-45; An ugly skyscraper on the outside, it blossoms into a smart business hotel on the inside. The four-star rooms include satellite TV, minibar and individual shower and bathtub. Hotel facilities include a swimming pool and tennis courts.
Harbour View Hotel (4 Pho Tran Phu; s/d USS70/80;The leading address in Haiphong, it is designed in classic colonial style. Rooms are stylish, while the facilities include a swimming pool, gym and spa. The hotel is popular with French tour groups, although staff tend to speak English, leading to much Gallic angst, Healthy discount rates are often available. There are plenty of other options:
Duyen Hal Hotel (tel: 384 2134; 6 D Nguyen Tri Phuong; f 200,000-300,000d;A good-value central option if other places are full.
Haiphong Station Guesthouse (tel: 385 5591; 75 Đ Luong Khanh Thien; r 150,000-180,000d; Overpriced given the air of dereliction, but it's literally in the train station for an early ride.
Haiphong is noted for its sumptuous fresh seafood, which is available al all the popular restaurants in town. The best options for cheap eats are the glut of eateries on Pho Minh Khai. Another good hunting ground is Pho Quang Trung, with a whole strip of point-and-cook tanks outside. This strip is also brimming with popular bia hoi (beer) bars and cates. Fanny Ice Cream (tell: 153 0475; 4 Pho Hoang Van Thu; ice cream from 10,000d) Famous in Hanoi, Fanny has expanded to Haiphong. Indulge in fine French ice cream while strolling along the old French boulevards. Com Vietnam (tell: 384 1698; 4 Pho Hoang Van Thu; mains 20,000-60,000dj A bank-and-you'll-miss-it courtyard restaurant, it's consistently popular with the local crowd, thanks to affordable local seafood and Vietnamese specialities.
Van Tue (tell: 374 6338; 1 Pho Hoang Dieu; mains 20,000-150,000d) This is one of the biggest Vietnamese restaurants in town, with a menu to match. The seafood selection is dizzying, as is the home-brewed Czech beer if you drink too much.
BKK (tell: 382 1018; 22 Pho Minh Khai; mains 30,000-60,000d) The card proclaims 'trendyThai restau-rant' and it's damn right. Set in a thoughtfully restored colonial-era house, this is boutique dining. The menu includes all the Thai favourites, plus a serious amount of seafood. It can double as a bar for those looking for clever cocktails and a sophisticated ambience.
Chie (te: 3821018; 18 Pho TranQuang Khai; mains from US$3-15) Probably the best Japanese restaurant in town - yes, believe it or not, there is more than one. Exquisite presentation and serious sushi and sashimi thanks to an endless supply of fresh fish.
Drinking & Entertainment
It's hardly Hanoi, let alone HCMC, but there is a subtle buzz to the place. Bia Haiphong is the local brew and it gets the thumbs up from aficionados of the amber nectar. La Villa Blanche (Pho Tran Hung Dao). For a one-size-fits-all night stop, head to this old French mansion. Aptly nicknamed the White House in English, it has a shady garden housing several bargain bia hoi shops. It fills up with locals from mid-afternoon and the food is impressive.
Bar la Marine (tell: 382 2934; Pho Ly Tu Trong) In the same compound as La Villa Blanche is this claustrophobic cavern of a place that is minor institution with Francophone expat Mind your head, particularly if partaking s the extensive spirit selection.
Saigon Cafe (cnr Pho Dien Bien Phu & Pho Dinh Tien Hoang) One of the trendiest spots in town, it was about to get trendier thanks to an expensive renovation. A loungey cafe-bar with an extensive food and drinks menu, plus live music most evenings.
Maxims (tel: 3822 934; 518 Pho Dien Bien Phu) A sort of vague relation to the famous Maxims in Saigon, it has live music from classical to jazz most nights.
Getting There & Away
AIR: Vietnam Airlines ( 30 Pho Hoang Van Thu) serves the Haiphong-He Chi Minh City (HCMC) and the Haiphong Danang routes.
BOAT: All boats leave from the ferry pier (Đ Ben Bind), 10 minutes' walk from the centre of town. Hydrofoils leave for Cat Ba (45 minutes) three times a day in the high summer sea son and just once a day the rest of the year Summer season services depart between 7am and 11am. The rest of the year, the services leave at about 9am. Transtour runs the Mekong Express (100.000d), which is the safest and most comfortable option. Tahaco (tell: 374 7055) has smaller hydrofoils, which are cheaper at 70,000d. There are no longer hydrofoils operating to Halong City, as the road journey is faster. Transtour also has a fast boat to Mong Cai (200,000d, four hours) leaving at 7.30am daily. There is also a slow ferry (70,000d, eight hours) departing daily at 6pm. Do the maths, it arrives at an ungodly hour.
BUS: Haiphong has three long-distance bus stations. Buses to Hanoi (35,000d, two hours) leave from Tam Bac bus station (Pho Tam Bac) about every 10 minutes throughout the day. Buses to points south such as Ninh Binh leave from Niem Nghia bus station (ĐTran Nguyen Han). Lac Long bus station (Pho Cu Chinh Lan) has buses to Bai Chay (Halong City; 25,000d, 11/2 hours), and from there connections to Mong Cai on the Chinese border by boat or road. Lac Long also has buses to/from Hanoi, convenient lor those connecting with the Cat Ba hydrofoil,
CAR & MOTORBIKE: Haiphong is 103km from Hanoi on Hwy 5. This expressway (Vietnam's first) between the two cities was completed in 1999 and is one of the biggest and busiest roads in the country.
TRAIN: Haiphong is not on the main line between Hanoi and HCMC, but there is a spur line connecting it to Hanoi. There's one express train daily to Long Bien station (24,000d, two hours) at 6.10pm and several slower trains (18,000,21/2 hours). There are two train stations within the Haiphong city limits- Thuong Li train station is in the western suburbs ot the city, while Haiphong train station is right in the city centre.
Getting Around: Haiphong is .serviced by several companies that use metered, air-con taxis. Try Haiphong Taxi (tell: 383 8383) or Taxi Mai Linh (tell: 383 3833). I here are also plenty of cyclos (peciicabs) and xe om (motorbike taxis) cruising around town (between 5000d and 15,000d, depending on distance),