When the French took possession of Haiphong in 1872, it was only a small market town. Today it is the country's largest port and North Vietnam's main industrial center, with a population of more than one and a half million. Development started during colonial times because the close proximity of coal reserves favored the growth of industry. Haiphong was the initial arrival point of the French; their final departure also took place from here on May 15, 1955. Because of its importance as a major port, Haiphong was subjected to heavy U.S. bombing during the Vietnamese War. Before then, the city suffered devastating losses during the first Indochina War when the French bombarded Haiphong in 1946.
Despite a resurgence of the city, it remains a relatively unattractive metropolis. Much of the French colonial architecture survived the bombardment and can be seen in the area around the theater square in downtown Haiphong. Also of interest are the numerous street markets, a casino and a resort. Haiphong serves tourists as a gateway to Hanoi, capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Located on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi has been a major settlement since 1010 A.D.; it is the oldest capital city in Southeast Asia. Throughout history, the city was sought after by many who realized the advantage of its convenient location along the Red River Delta and the abundance of its natural resources. From the colonial French era between 1880 and 1930 there remains an attractive quarter with tree-lined streets and small French-style houses. Old Hanoi, or the ancient city, is a network of narrow alleys with dilapidated, crumbling houses set on nearly 40 streets named after the original craftsmen and artisans who settled the area. Although not as popular as Saigon and lacking the hustle and bustle of its sister to the south, Hanoi has plenty to offer the visitor.
See the Fine Arts Museum, the Water Puppet Theater, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. There are ancient streets blooming with the same lotus flowers that have existed here for centuries. Hundreds of pagodas and temples around famous lakes and verdant parks also lend Hanoi a particular charm.