Red River Delta


The Red River slides across its delta like a “great warm stream of tomato soup” as the journalist James Cameron put it, a long the way feeding brick kilns, rich farmland and the country’s most densely populated provinces, Though the northern delta barely makes it above sea level, it’s been canalized and cultivated for so many centuries that there’s little water in evidence. The landscape is crisscrossed with ancient dykes, averaging a massive 14m high, and is studded with temples, pagodas, churches, family graves, communal houses and all the other leftovers of successive of generations.

At least one journey out of Hanoi into delta country is recommended for the experience, though, apart from the dramatic Perfume Pagoda, there are no absolutely compelling sights. Among dozens of historic buildings the most strongly atmospheric are the Thay Pagoda and Tay Phuong Pagoda, buried deep in the delta, as well as Keo Pagoda, all of which are fine examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Most delta towns were flattened by US forces intent on destroying their industries, but the villages are worth exploring - in particular the craft villages, which remain more traditional than most you’ll find in Vietnam, concentrating on one craft, such as embroidery, wire or noodle-making, to the excursion of all else. These villages are difficult to get to on your own, but Bat Trang pottery village is an interesting example within easy striking distance of Hanoi, while Chuyen My, a woodcarving village south of Vietnam, is one that’s worth visiting with a guide. Finally, Co Loa, an ancient citadel just north of the Red River, makes an interesting half- day jaunt from Hanoi, mostly on account of  its historical significance since there’s little to recall its former grandeur. Alternatively, combine it with the peaceful temple of Soc Son, beyond the airport, for a relaxing day away from it all; though the temple’s nothing special in itself, there are attractive picnic spots nearby and some little-known lakes for summer swimming.