Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos
Stories by Ken Burns A kaleidoscope of traditions... A wondrous rebirth of once war-torn lands - a peaceful countryside dotted with tropical orchards and rice paddies, gleaming new buildings reflecting no
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is often referred to as Vietnam’s jewel and the Pearl of the Orient. Located in south Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city, with more than six million people and over one million motorbikes. Under the current regime the city is once more being rebuilt. Whole blocks are disappearing, being replaced by concrete, steel and glass structures. Central Saigon, which is still the official name for the city center, shows evidence of the French colonial city, with wide, tree-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafés and elegant French architecture. The city is divided into two sections: Saigon, the municipal and historical district, and Cholon (Chinatown), where the entrepreneurial talent and private funds are concentrated. Cholon appears to be the most populated and in general the most vigorous part of Ho Chi Minh City. It is well worth a visit for its bustle and activity and its pagodas, which are reputed to be the finest in the whole city.
Meaning “Bay of the Descending Dragon,” Halong Bay’s water is calm and undisturbed despite the jutting limestone mountains that soar out of the water and toward the sky. As if a tail of a Dragon plunged into the earth, the mountains are craggy, sharp, and barren, and are dotted with thousands of small caves of various depths and heights. At dusk, they all take on mysterious shades of gray, mauve and olive, lending credence to the local legends.
Da Nang is on the threshold of becoming a major destination for tourists from Europe, Australia and the United States, thanks to some unique attractions, spectacular scenery and the friendliness of the locals. The French influence is evident in Da Nang's provincial character which dates back to the 19th century, with later history wrought by war. It was here on the coast that the first U.S. combat troops landed on March 8, 1965. As the war progressed, Da Nang’s runway was expanded to become the largest in all of Southeast Asia. Da Nang fell to the Viet Cong in March 1975; this signified South Vietnam's defeat in the war. Among the city's numerous attractions is the much-touted Cham Museum, housing close to 300 Cham sculptures. Here history lovers get a glimpse into a very powerful era of Vietnam's past. Da Nang, however, may be most familiar to Americans who watched the movie Good Morning Vietnam and the popular television series China Beach - which immortalized a popular R&R GI resort of the Vietnam War.
Hanoi is a city with a history that dates back to the 7th century. In 1954 Hanoi was declared the capital of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam, and in 1976, following the Vietnam War, it became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This political history has made Hanoi one of the country's most fascinating cities to explore. The most renowned of all the monuments is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is dedicated to Vietnam's most well-respected President, who in 1945, led his country to independence. Other highlights include the Museum of History, containing ancient artifacts from Cambodia, Thailand, Japan and China, the 11th century One Pillar Pagoda and legendary Sword Lake.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac. Considered the gateway to this exotic country, everything of interest can be found within its reach – the temples of Angkor, the beaches to the south and the ethnic minorities and jungles of the north. Being the hub of the country, the city is filled cultural and historic attractions, such as national museums, monuments and the Silver Pagoda. The Silver Pagoda is probably the city’s most visited pagoda because of its vast display of historical objects. There are also over 5000 silver tiles which cover the floor. Over the past few years, the city has experienced an influx of tourists.
Luang Prabang is the crown jewel of Laos and perhaps the best preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia. The ancient capital of the former Kingdom Lan Xang, it is nestled in the mountains at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, and is an enchanting and charming destination. The town is adorned with gilded temples on nearly every street corner and saffron robed monks strolling through the quiet city center, giving it a unique charm of bygone days and rich cultural heritage.
Located in Northwestern Cambodia, Angkor, the Capital of the Ancient Khmer Empire was possibly founded around the Ninth Century AD by King Jayavarman II. However, the city reached its peak glory in the 12th Century under Kings Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII. The most beautiful and most famous monument in the city, Angkor Wat, lies about one kilometer south of the Royal town of Angkor Thom which was founded by Jayavarman VII.
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