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Top Rated Attractions in Rest of Vietnam

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Hanoi Opera House

There is nothing more striking in Hanoi than looking down Trang Tien Street and seeing the Hanoi Opera House standing strong at the end. Built by the French in 1911, and renovated in the late 1990s, this is an incredible building. The facade is colonial French with pillars and balconies overlooking the city center. The 900-seat opera house plays host to visiting foreign performances as well as Vietnamese symphonies.

President Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The resting place of the remarkable revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, this monumental mausoleum stands at the same place where the then-President read the Declaration of Independence. The glorious centerpiece of Ba Dinh Square, the mausoleum boasts an architecture which is a skillful melange of both modernist as well as traditional Vietnamese styles. Inside, the mortal remains of the great politician are placed in a glass case amidst much protection. One of the most precious landmarks of Hanoi, this mausoleum proffers an increasingly somber experience, lending deep insights into the legacy the man has left behind, setting a striking example, not just for the country, but for the entire world. Cradled in the spiritual center of Vietnamese Independence, the mausoleum features a quiet line that forms to view 'Uncle Ho's' body, which is a vision of sheer respect and dignity. Sitting in front of Ho's stilt house, this moving mausoleum is one of the priceless possessions of the city.

St. Joseph's Cathedral

St. Joseph's Cathedral, which anchors one of Hanoi's most touristy streets, offers a glimpse into a bygone era. Speckles of light still dance through stained glass work, leaving a kaleidoscope of color on the towers, which stretch toward the sky. Its doors first swung open in 1886, during the earliest days of colonial rule, and the cathedral still holds mass twice daily. During other hours, visitors can enter through a door on the side of the cathedral.

Hoan Kiem Lake

This small lake between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter is central to Hanoian folklore. A ghostly shrine (the Turtle Pagoda) standing on an islet at its center pays homage to a golden turtle. In the 15th century, this heroic reptile is said to have returned a magic sword to its home in the lake after it had been taken. These days, the sculptured park along the banks plays host to postcard sellers, hawkers, old men playing chess, freelance money changers, lone photographers looking for a lucrative snap and, at about 5am every day, locals practicing tai chi.

One Pillar Pagoda

Dubbed as one of Vietnam's most important temples, this unique pagoda stands in the midst of a tranquil lotus pond. Unfortunately, the original One Pillar Pagoda was destroyed in 1954, and a reconstructed version stands in its place. Originally constructed under the orders of Emperor Ly Thai Tong to commemorate the long-awaited birth of an heir, the pagoda was rebuilt by the Vietnamese government in 1955. When it was initially built, the Emperor believed that the luck had been foretold in a dream about the Goddess of Mercy handing him a male child on a lotus flower. So, for the entire pagoda to be built on a single stone pillar makes sense, as it exemplifies a blossoming lotus emerging from a sea of sorrow. Deeply entrenched in the Buddhist belief of purity, this pagoda is skilfully fashioned from wood, standing gloriously under traditional, pointed roofs. In the heart of the pagoda is an ornate sanctum enshrining Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara, and fringing the pagoda is a tapestry of verdant trees, a placid pond and rambling green lawns.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

The Thang Long Water Puppet show depicts an hour or so of Vietnamese culture via traditional music, song and puppetry. The spectacle is quite unique, though you might have a hard time picking up the nuances since it's performed entirely in Vietnamese. Brochures outlining each act are available free in the lobby, so you'd do well to pick one up on the way in. The price is VND100,000 for first class seats and VND60,000 for second class. Since the difference equates to roughly USD2, you might as well go for the former, which will put you right up in front of the action. The performances are often sold out, so it's highly advisable to book in advance the day before, particularly for groups. -Martin English

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