Meaning "peace" in Vietnamese, Hoa Binh province is the gateway to Vietnam's northwest, strapped around the foothills of the mountains that run up from the plains. Well regarded for the trekking centre of Mai Chau, this province and it's capital of the same name, Hoa Binh, is a popular option with Hanoi-based travel agents who don't want to take their passengers too far.
The province is best known for the large reservoir which runs through its centre, and which was formed by the damming of the Song Da river. The river strikes to the northwest of Hoa Binh, well into Lai Chau province. Dammed for hydro-electric purposes, almost 200 workers died during its construction and there's a monument to their memory at the dam site. The dam has been one of the major driving forces behind Vietnam's surge of industrialisation and development in recent years.
Few independent travellers choose to spend much time in this provincial capital. It's not really far enough away to shake the chaos of Hanoi, and the scenery, while pretty, is far more impressive further out. If you're travelling under your own steam either Hoa Binh or Mai Chau make for convenient spots to break the journey — but our vote would certainly go for the latter if you were tossing up the two.
In and around Hoa Binh itself, the main activities typically include a boat trip up the Song Da river and a visit to a small, but interesting museum which displays some ancient human remains including an orang-utan skeleton.
Hoa Binh is 74 km southwest of Hanoi. There isn't much to it — Highway 6 is the main road through town, called Cu Chinh Lan or Phuong Lam at various points, which follows along the reservoir, about a block from the edge. It meets up with a four-way intersection, where the museum is located — the dam and some restaurants are to the right, and going left leads 61 km to Mai Chau. Left again and you'll find Tran Hung Dao, which is a by pass road that eventually meets back up with the highway to Hanoi. You will find a post office, the bus station and a few other government establishments located on this road, running parallel to Highway 6.
There are a number of ATMs in town which offer withdrawals from foreign cards. There are three main banks, with ATMs situated along Cu Chinh Lan: BIDV has the most central branch, near the market, although Agribank has a branch at the end of Cu Chinh Lan near the museum. Both offer foreign exchange. Western Union is also available at a few places along this road.
There are two Post Offices — one on Cu Chinh Lan and another, offering long distance services, on the bypass road opposite the bus station.
Internet is available throughout town but is often closed during the middle of the day.
BIDV: Cu Chinh Lan (across from number 200), Hoa Binh. T: (0218) 856 077. Hours: 07:30 to 11:30 and 13:30 to 17:30, closed Sundays.
Agribank: Cu Chinh Lan, Hoa Binh. T: (0218) 852 269, F: (0218) 852 778.
Post Office: Cu Chinh Lan, Hoa Binh. T: (0218) 853 859, F: (0218) 853 798. Hours: 07:00 to 20:00
By Sarah Turner.