Hanoi, VietnamIn the fall of 1010, King Ly Thai To (Ly Cong Uan) moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Dai La. On the way, the king saw a vision of a golden dragon ascending from the Red river ( song Hong). The King decided to change Dai La to Thang Long (Ascending Dragon). Thang Long remained the capital city until the end of the Tran dynasty when in 1397, the capital city was moved to Thanh Hoa-Tay Do (Western Capital) and Thang Long became Dong Do (Eastern Capital).

Vietnam was invaded by China in 1407, and the city was renamed Dong Quan. In 1428, after ten years of fighting, Le Loi liberated Vietnam and renamed the city Dong Kinh. In 1527, the city was renamed Thang Long. In 1802 when King Gia Long (Nguyen Dynasty) moved the capital city to Hue, the name Thang Long remained but, Long no longer means dragon, Long in this case means prosperity. Ha Noi, was the name given to the city by King Minh Mang in 1831. Ha means river and Noi means within - Ha Noi means within the river.

Hanoi, VietnamHanoi, VietnamFor many of us that grew up during the Vietnamese War, Hanoi stood for the enemy or those that we thought stood along side them such has "Hanoi Jane" (Fonda). Today thankfully those days are in the past. Except for the odd war souvenir you can still find in the marketplace you would be hard pressed to know there had even been a war between the United States and Vietnam as the local citizens hold us no animosity. In the minds of the Vietnamese the war had been a historical war of independence fought over 30 years with the French and then Americans. It was a struggle that has been replaced by a new struggle, that of developing economic prosperity, one where the United States was now an ally. When visiting Hanoi, you can see the mad rush for modernity, even in the old town there is a feeling of entrepreneurship that has previously swept other nations of Asia as it now sweeps over Vietnam. I was told that the reason why a street facing property was so highly valued was due to the possibility to create a storefront business on the bottom floor. I also learned that the reason house were often not decorated on the side was due to the distinct possibility that a neighbor would construct their house along side and that any decoration was thus wasted.

For many Vietnamese families education holds the key to a better life and the position of teacher is well respected. I was present at a local cap and gown ceremony that marked a local high school's graduation. In the countryside the village life remains on the surface little changed except for the wide availability of electricity and the ubiquitous satellite television dish. While in Hanoi I had the opportunity to visit the famous Water Puppets. Water puppetry (Mua roi nuoc) or "Making puppets dance on water" is a tradition that dates back as far as the 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large bamboo rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them.

While there are many cars most Vietnamese travel about using motorbikes or scooters. In fact it's not rare to see an entire family of three to four on a single bike. ordinary bicycles are still very popular for those that cannot afford a scooter. Repairs to these two wheel vehicles takes place on the sidewalk and gasoline is often sold in one litre bottles.

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 Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. According to legend long ago when their forefathers were fighting foreign invaders from the north, the gods from heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons descended upon what is now Ha Long bay and began spitting out jewels and jade. Upon hitting the sea, these jewels turned into the various islands and islets dotting the seascape and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders. The locals were able to keep their land safe and formed what is now the country of Vietnam. The Dragon family fell so much in love with this area for its calm water and for the reverence of the people of Vietnam that they decided to remain on earth. Mother dragon lies on what is now Ha Long and where her children lie is Bai Tu Long. The dragon tails formed the area of Bach Long Vi known for the miles of white sandy beaches of Tra Co peninsula.

VietnamToday the bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular day trips out of Hanoi. In fact many tourists spend the night on one of the many wooden house boats. Besides the tourist trade you still see families who make a living from fishing including a few dozen who live in floating houses despite the repeated attempts by the Vietnamese government to move them to dry land.

The day I visited Ha Long Bay was cold and overcast but warmed up later in the afternoon. I was on a private tour with my own guide and it felt a little strange to have an entire boat to myself. The food provided was excellent but unfortunately much more than I could eat by myself. Besides a lazy day on the water a few of the island had caves that you can explore. Like caves in other parts of Asia that I have visited this one included caverns lit with colored lights. It seems that the natural beauty of their interiors are not enough to hold an Asian tourist's interest without the added use of "Technicolor".