Get to know an urban side of Vietnam that’s unadulterated by tourism
Developed into a major port by the French and then bombed heavily during the Vietnam War, seafood paradise Hai Phong is home to superb examples of colonial architecture. These structures can be found in the crescent-shaped, 19th-century core and dotted around the edges.
You could spend an entire day just strolling the tree-lined avenues, admiring the scenery and feeding any cravings for caffeine while watching the world go by. For those who like to travel independently, Hai Phong is well connected to Hanoi, Cat Ba Island and Halong Bay. English is less widely spoken here, but tailoring your own trip is pretty simple if you have a local guide or translator.
Things to do
Built on sand
Located on a small peninsula between the Lach Tray and Van Uc Rivers, 21km south-east of Hai Phong, Do Son beach is shaded by sandalwood trees and surrounded by mountains. It’s a small, sandy patch that can easily disappear at high tide but it’s a fine place to relax. If the tide is against you, try your luck at Vietnam’s first-ever casino at Do Son Resort Hotel opens in new window.
Stroll through the city’s Colonial Quarter, around Tran Hung Dao and Dien Bien Phu Streets, to admire the well-kept legacy of the French. End your walk at Tam Bac Lake, where you’ll see fishermen at work, or visit the fragrant Quan Hoa Flower Market, which was established by the French back in 1941.
In the swim
If you feast on one thing in Hai Phong, make sure it’s seafood. Here, it’s prepared in a similar way to the specialities found in Hanoi but it’s fresher. Try the seafood spring rolls (nem hai san), which are packed with crab, vegetables and noodles before being deep-fried. Eat clams, local speciality red crab noodle and lobster – all for bargain prices.
Cat Ba Island is easily reached from Hai Phong. The island, which is the largest of a group west of Halong Bay, has only one settlement in the form of Cat Ba town. Explore the island by boat, passing through the labyrinth of Lan Ha Bay, a miniature and quieter version of Halong. Visit floating villages to eat squid or kayak to isolated beaches. Rent a motorbike and explore the island’s few paved roads. Stop at Quan Y Cave, which served as an army hospital during the Vietnam War, and search for the endangered golden-headed langur – a primate not found anywhere else in the world.
Tower of strength
Although Du Hang Pagoda has been rebuilt several times, it remains a fine example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Find it on busy Chua Hang Street, about 1.5km from Dien Bien Phu Street in the city centre. There’s a small pond within the compound – bring some bread to feed the turtles and fish.
Travel time 15 minutes
Taxi Approx VND 50,000 (USD $2.50)
Motorcycle taxi VND 40,000 (USD $2)
Cyclo ride VND 30,000 (USD $1.50)Back to top
When to go
Hai Phong is best visited during the early autumn, from late October to early November and in the spring – around April. At other times, it can be chilly and wet.
The Do Son Tourism Festival, which takes place at the end of April on the Do Son seaside, is celebrated with dragonboat races, a golf tournament, volleyball games and buffalo fighting. In September, thousands turn up at the Hai Phong Stadium for the Buffalo Fighting Festival.Back to top
Hai Phong is served a range of metered-taxi companies, including Mai Linh, which has the best reputation in Vietnam. Try the motorbike taxis, which are a fun and cheap way to sightsee, but be sure to agree to prices before setting off, and don’t be scared to haggle a little bit.Back to top