Haiphong (Hải Phòng) is Vietnam’s third largest city, a port near Hanoi.
Haiphong is mostly significant as the largest city at the delta of the Red River, which is northern Vietnam’s main river and the first major river delta from the Chinese border, historically a source of military conflict and also the center of the largest major flat (ie. agriculturally suitable) region in the country, and therefore a population center of political importance. Its use as a port region is ancient, including opium trading from upriver warlords in Yunnan (China) and general shipping during the French colonial period up to the present.
Fly to Haiphong
The three main airlines serving Haiphong are Jetstar, VietJetAir and Vietnam Airlines. Most routes are domestic but there are some international flights from Bangkok and Seoul. The newly modernized Cat Bi International Airport (Sân bay Quốc tế Cát Bi) is located south of the city. Taxis are available as well as public transport.
Van Don Airport is due to open at the end of 2018, with mainly domestic flights across Vietnam. It’s at Quảng Ninh, 60 km northeast of Halong.
Travel by train to Haiphong
Four trains per day run from Long Bien station in Hanoi, journey time is just over 2½ hours. A ticket for an air conditioned soft seat costs around 70,000 dong. The central station, Ga Hải Phòng is located at 75 Lương Khánh Thiện.
Take a bus to Haiphong
Frequent buses run from Lương Yên station in Hanoi (near the old quarter) to Tam Bạc station in the centre of Haiphong (50,000 dong). Another option is to take a bus from Gia Lâm station in the outskirts of Hanoi to either Niệm Nghĩa (3 km from the city centre) or Cầu Rào station (~6 km) in Haiphong (65,000 dong ). Gia Lâm station can be reached from the Old Quarter by Bus 34 (3,000 dong).
A number of ferries serve Haiphong, including several daily fast hydrofoils to and from Cat Ba. The main terminal is Phà Bính ferry terminal, located at the northern end of Cù Chính Lan street. Beware of touts trying to scam you on this route by selling expansive tickets.
A taxi or private car from Hanoi to Haiphong costs about USD80 one way.
- At the port (city centre, Ben Binh St) ferries depart to Cat Ba (up to 100,000 dong)
- To visit Đồ Sơn Beach, about 20 km southeast of Haiphong, go to Lạch Tray St and board any bus marked Đồ Sơn (17,000 dong).
- Hai Phong City Museum (Bảo tàng Hải Phòng), 11 Đinh Tiên Hoàng (Corner of Điện Biên Phủ and Đinh Tiên Hoàng streets.), . Open mornings and afternoons from 2PM. Open late evening Tu and Su, closed Sa..
- Military Zone III Museum, 254 Lê Duẩn (In Kien An District, five km southwest of town), .
- (Bảo Tàng Hải Quân), 353 St, Anh Dung Commune, Kien Thuy District, .
- Shop Cuong Lien, 87 Nguyen Duc Canh St. Shoes – Along Nguyen Duc Canh St which is south of the Ho Tam Bac man-made pond, you will find many shoe stores. This is the best one. It carries many styles of brand name sports and formal shoes. This shop is presentable and clean, compared with the other shoe stores on the same street.
Stalls about town offer the normal array of Vietnamese cuisine. Alleged local specials include anything cua (crab) or seafood, for example:
- “bánh đa cua”- noodle soup with crab and other traditional Vietnamese ingredients. Delicious. Try it once and you won’t forget it!
- “bánh bèo”- a white cake made from rice, filled with meat and eaten with a special sauce
- “bún tôm”- a kind of noodle soup, with shrimp
- “chè bưởi”- sweetened porridge, made of beans, glutinous rice and mostly grapefruit, often with added coconut sauce and dry-salted coconut slices
There are also quite a lot of lau (sit around and BBQ your own stuff / hotplate) restaurants.
Foreign food includes:
- A couple of alleged ‘Texas BBQ’ establishments
- A terrible Indian establishment
- A pricy-looking Thai restaurant
- Pizza Hut
- Lipton Iced Tea – a branded Lipton tea bag in a narrow drinking glass filled with drinking water with sugar and ice cubes added. Makes a refreshing alternative to coffee.
- Hai Phong Beer (from 6000 dong/glass) – locally made beer.
- Haiphong Brewery (Hia Phong Local Beer), 16 Lach Tray, Ngo Quyen, . Bia hoi, fresh from the brewery that is directly behind this location. Many beer stands here. Look for the bar to the right of the alley where motor bikes are carrying yellow kegs in and out of the brewery. Decent food in an open kitchen. 10,000 dong for a tall glass (500 ml), 4,000 dong for a regular. The beer is pleasant with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Way better than Hanoi beer! Arguably best beer in Vietnam. A must-visit if you are in town and thirsty. 4,000 dong.
- Amber bar (Amber Local Beer), 16 Lach Tray, Ngo Quyen. Upstairs of the Haiphong Brewery. If you are looking for a Amber beer, then this is the place to go. Very delicious, but definitely more expensive than other local beers. 35,000 dong for a tall glass (500 ml), 25,000 dong for a regular. 25,000-60,000 dong.
Where to stay in Haiphong
- Classic Hoang Long Hotel, 25 Tran Quang Khai St, . This is an exceptional hotel, in perhaps the tallest building in Haiphong. The bar/restaurant on the 17th floor has stunning views of the city. USD70-135, but an introductory special slices the prices by 45%.
- Imperial Boat Hotel, 48 Điện Biên Phủ, . New centrally located luxury hotel.
- Somerset Central TD Hai Phong City, Tower A, TD Plaza, Lot 20A, Le Hong Phong St, Dong Khe Ward, Ngo Quyen District, . This property offers studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Facilities include a gymnasium, outdoor swimming pool, children’s playroom, living room and library.
- Do Son (Beach) — 20-23 km from Haiphong. Do Son is resort frequented by the Vietnamese, but by few Westerners. The beaches are not the greatest as silt affects the quality of the water. A visit to nearby Cat Ba is advisable if you want to swim, as the water quality is much better. Do Son sits along the ocean coast, and is filled with low-end hotels, restaurants, and karaoke bars. It has a reputation as a centre for prostitution. There is a casino (one of very few in Vietnam) at the Do Son Resort Hotel. It’s worth visiting for a peaceful day or two away from the bustle of Haiphong.
- Ha Long Bay
- Hanoi — about 100 km from Haiphong, 2-3 hours.
Travel by Train in Vietnam
Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major tourism destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It’s a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.
Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available–they’ve simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station–a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has an English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.
Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. As of July 2019 tickets (now termed ‘boarding passes’) do indicate the class of ticket.
This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don’t know you’ve been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class.
By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation. With the new boarding passes this scam is less of an issue although buying your ticket directly from the train station remains the best option.
In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with a bus service from Lao Cai to the tourism destination of Sa Pa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke try to book a seat in the middle of the carriage as people smoke in the areas at the end of each carriage and the doors are often left open.
Historical Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884.
Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French influencing Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the war of independence against the French. The last Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 with a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at the 17th parallel, with a communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngô Đình Diệm establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South supported by the United States.
South Vietnam would be plagued by numerous domestic problems, including corruption, nepotism and electoral fraud. Diệm, who was a Roman Catholic, enacted laws that discriminated against the Buddhist majority in favor of the Catholic minority, which led to the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating in protest at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew during the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the South Vietnamese government.
This escalated into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War in the West (the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War). What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces withdrew following a cease-fire agreement in 1973.
Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Saigon and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed. Vietnam’s war against the United States was one of many that they have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history.
Most of the nation’s population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.
After unifying the country, the communist government proceeded to root out the remaining capitalist elements in the south. Many business owners were killed while others, known as the boat people, became refugees and attempted to escape to Western countries, resulting in the establishment of Vietnamese communities in the United States of America, Australia and Canada.
The ethnic Chinese, long resented by the ethnic Vietnamese for their perceived economic clout, were particularly hard-hit by the purges.
Following the collapse of the state-run economy, the government implemented market-oriented reforms and introduced capitalist elements in 1986 with a policy known as đổi mới. This policy has proved highly successful, as it spurred impressive economic growth and infrastructure development.
Discriminatory laws against the remaining ethnic Chinese were repealed, and many have used their business acumen to contribute greatly to the revitalization of the Vietnamese economy, also regaining some of their previous economic dominance in the process.
In recent times, some former refugees or their descendants, most of whom were raised and educated in the West, have also returned to Vietnam in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Today, Vietnam is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of ASEAN with a young population and vibrant economy.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Saigon
In general, Saigon is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work.
Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country.
You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don’t hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you’re having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it’s done by people on motorbikes. It’s easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don’t buy sim card before the immigration at the airport, they will charge you $10 for a sim card. After immigration and baggage area, you can find sim card booth. They sell sim card for $6 only.
Don’t buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835.
A favourite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you’re distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn’t ask for.
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they’ll approach men acting like they’re up to normal prostitute business, but they are to pickpocket.
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