by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Participant in Vietnam
This past week was my last hurrah in traveling in Vietnam. I will be in Hanoi for a few more days before I head back to New York – just in time for the NBA playoffs (let’s go Knicks!). Since this was my last excursion, I took a week off from work to travel around central Vietnam via the Hanoi-Saigon Railway: Quang Binh Province, Hue, and Hoi An.
My first stop was Quang Binh Province. This area is not as popular as other tourist sites since it is relatively new, but it was well worth the visit. In the province is Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The park is home to 2 popular caves, Phong Nha Cave (which the park was named after) and Paradise Cave. Until April 2009, Phong Nha Cave was the largest cave in Vietnam. It was then replaced by the exploration of Son Dong Cave, also located in the park, which is now the biggest cave in the world. Unfortunately, the Song Dong Cave is still closed to the general public; experienced cavers can visit for a small price of $18,000 per group of 6-7 people. I did, however, get a chance to visit the other two caves, which were amazing on their own.
My next stop was the imperial city Hue, another Unesco World Heritage Site. Hue was the capitol of the Nguyen dynasty in the 1800s, and is now the home of a centuries-old citadel (complete with walls, gates, and a moat) that makes up a large portion of the city. In the citadel, modern buildings are scattered among old structures and people still live within the confines of its walls. Many old buildings were destroyed during the American War (the “Vietnam War” to Americans), and signs of restoration were present. Nonetheless, the citadel, especially the Imperial Enclosure, still retained its regal grandeur.
My favorite part of Hue was the night market that lines the street next to the Truong Tien Bridge. The market comes alive with people at around 6pm selling food and goods. It was a great place to wander around on a warm evening while browsing through the different stalls.
My last stop in my travel was Hoi An. The Old Town, which was a 15th – 19th century trading port and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site, was the most scenic town that I have ever visited. Because of its history, the town exhibits European, Japanese, and Chinese cultures in its architecture, such as the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Chinese Congregation Hall. The town was well preserved and quaint. It was obvious that this was a major tourist spot not only by the large number of foreigners, but also by the services that were offered, from the tailor shops, to pedicabs, to children selling trinkets and toys. Although prices for food and goods were higher than usual, my time in Hoi An was the best from my travels.