many people travel by bicycle or moped. It is a city that appears lodged in a bygone age. In the middle of the city lies the peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) with the 18th-century Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple) sitting on an island in its center. The temple can be reached by The Huc Bridge (Rising Sun Bridge). To the north of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Old Quarter, a fascinating maze of small antiquated streets lined with markets and pavement restaurants and cafes. West of the Old Quarter and south of the West Lake is the former Ville Française. This is the old French administrative center and is characterized by enormous colonial-era châteaux and wide spacious boulevards. It also houses Hanoi’s most popular attraction, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. When visiting the Mausoleum, it is important to be respectful both in dress and attitude. Ho Chi Minh was the father of the modern state and is still held in reverential regard. His house, built in 1958, is also on public view. Other museums in Hanoi include the Bao Tang Lich Su (History Museum), the Bao Tang Quan Doi (Army Museum), Ho Chi Minh Museum, Bao Tang My Thuat (Fine Arts Museum), Bao Tang Cach Manh (Revolutionary Museum) and Independence Museum. There are a number of interesting pagodas in Hanoi. The One Pillar Pagoda, first constructed in 1049 (subsequently destroyed by the French just before they were ejected from the city and then rebuilt by the new government), was built to resemble a lotus flower – the symbol of purity rising out of a sea of sorrow. The Temple of Literature built in 1076 was the first university in Vietnam. It is a graceful complex of small intricate buildings and peaceful courtyards. To the northwest of the Citadel is the West Lake, which is about 13km (9 miles) in circumference. The shores of the lake are popular amongst the Hanoians for picnics and there are a number of cafes. The lake also contains the wreckage of a crashed American B52 bomber.
About 160km (100 miles) from Hanoi, near the port of Haiphong, is Ha Long Bay. This is an amazing complex of 3000 chalk islands rising out of the East Sea. The area is strange, eerie and very beautiful. Many of the islands contain bizarre cave formations and grottoes. Near Ha Long Bay is Cat Ba Island, a designated National Park and a rich repository of plants and wildlife.
About 250km (155 miles) north of Hanoi, high in the Hoang Lien Mountains, is the old hill station of Sapa. This area is inhabited by the Hmong and Zhao hill tribes. Every weekend there is a market when the local tribespeople come into town to trade. In the evening, they celebrate with huge amounts of potent rice alcohol. It is absolutely vital that when visiting this area tourists are sensitive to local culture and traditions. If one follows the road from Sapa 200km (125 miles) further into the mountains (this can only realistically be attempted by jeep), one reaches Dien Bien Phu, scene of the humiliating defeat of the French by the Viet Minh that finally put paid to French colonial occupation in Indochina. This is a wild, beautiful and remote region.