Mention Haiphong and most people think of an industrial city known for its woolen mills, shipyards and canning factories. But Haiphong is more than a stop on the way to Halong Bay.
With over one million inhabitants, Haiphong is Vietnam's third largest city and the most important port in the north. It is also a place with a long history, some of which is preserved in the French colonial architecture that miraculously survived two wars. The port and most of the industries were developed largely by the French who took possession of the area in 1874. They built lasting monuments, as well, including the opera house (Thanh Phoi Theater) and the several Catholic churches.
Travelers will want to see temples like the Thien Phuc Pagoda built in 1551, the Linh Quang Pagoda built in 1709 and the Hang Kenh Communal House, once a community center and temple. The Du Hang Pagoda, among the city's most ornate buildings, stands as a 300-year-old example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Just outside the city sits Mount Elephant and the Chi Lai museum of Neolithic and bronze artifacts.
The trip to Haiphong from Hanoi is 103 kilometers along Highway 5. It can also be reached by train or plane. The pace of life in Haiphong is a little slower than that of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City which makes it a worthwhile stop, especially considering its close proximity to two other favorite destinations: Do Son Beach and Cat Ba Island, the largest island in Halong Bay.
See photos of Haiphong in A Portrait of Viet Nam by Lou Dematteis.