IN & AROUND HANOI

PMGY volunteer in Vietnam are based in a quiet, friendly neighbourhood approximately 45 minutes from the Old Quarter of Hanoi. There is everything you need within walking distance of the Volunteer House: ATMs, supermarkets, laundrettes, chemists, as well as some great cafes and local bars.

 

High-octane Hanoi is a feast for the senses. The first thing that hits you is the sound of swarms of buzzing motorbikes followed swiftly by the amazing wafts and tastes of incredible street food found throughout the city. Full of distinctive character as well as a confident buzz, Hanoi is now considered a pretty cool city.

 

For many, simply being in Hanoi and soaking up the atmosphere is entertainment in itself but there are many fascinating places for you to visit whilst you’re not volunteering both in the city and further afield.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex in Hanoi

HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM COMPLEX

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. A traffic-free area of botanical gardens , monuments, memorials and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups of Vietnamese who come from far and wide to pay their respects to ‘Uncle Ho’. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.

 

You will realise very early on that HCM still holds a very special place in the hearts of the Vietnamese people. Crowds queue for hours in order to pay their respects to the iconic leader. The seriousness of the guards and the reverence paid to HCM by the Vietnamese people is an eye opening experience.

HOA LO PRISON MUSEUM

This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War.

 

The vast prison complex was originally intended to house around 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Hoa Lo was never a very successful prison, and hundreds escaped its walls over the years – many squeezing out through sewer grates.

The entrance to Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the 'Hanoi Hilton' by US POWs
A local Vietnamese vendor sells their wares in traditional style

THE OLD QUARTER

Take a step back in time into the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It will feel like a different world in comparison to the rest of the city where change takes place daily.

 

It is a warren of old style narrow, meandering streets full of antique brick houses where merchants and artisans would have gathered to sell their wares. Set around Hoan Kiem Lake, a visit here will give you the chance to explore how the locals lived a hundred years ago.

Volunteer Vietnam

FURTHER AFIELD

SAPA

Sapa is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days; overlooking a plunging valley, with mountains towering above on all sides. Views of this epic scenery are often subdued by thick mist rolling across the peaks, but even when it’s cloudy, local hill-tribe people fill the town with colour.

 

Although don’t expect a quaint alpine town, as nowadays modern tourism development has mushroomed haphazardly. But you’re not here to hang out in town. This is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking base from where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seems a world apart. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm.

The magical UNESCO World Heritage site, Halong Bay, Vietnam

HALONG BAY

Towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible. The geological explanation may be a bit more boring but doesn’t make this seascape any less poetic.

 

Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands (1,969 in total), dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, Vietnam’s number one tourism hub.

HOI AN

Just over an hour’s inexpensive flight away lies graceful, historic Hoi An. Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, but the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.

 

Hoi An owes its easy going provincial demeanour and remarkably harmonious old-town character more to luck than planning. Had the Thu Bon River not silted up in the late 19th century – so ships could no longer access the town’s docks – Hoi An would doubtless be very different today. For a century, the city’s allure and importance dwindled until an abrupt rise in fortunes in the 1990s, when a tourism boom transformed the local economy. Today Hoi An is once again a cosmopolitan melting pot, one of the nation’s most wealthy towns, a culinary mecca and one of Vietnam’s most important tourism centres.

The grand architecture of Hoi An relfected in the water at night

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