Indochina (Indochine in French), an area covering the present-day states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, was the name given to the French dependencies in Southeast Asia in the late 19th century. The name “Indochina” refers to the territory, which historically has the cultural influence of India and China, and physically bound by the India in the west and China in the north.



The French rule was established here between 1863 and 1887, when the French created the Union of Indo-China, a federation of the colony of Cochin-China (southern Vietnam, including Saigon) and the protectorates of Annam (central Vietnam, Hue), Tonkin (northern Vietnam) and Cambodia. The protectorate of Laos was added in 1893.


The area is most well-known for its nine years of war, the first Indochina war. The war started in southern Vietnam in September 1945, and in northern Vietnam in 1946. That was the fighting between the French and the Vietminh (led by Ho Chi Minh), representing the newly declared Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In southern Vietnam, the British Gurkhas helped the French troops to fight the Vietminh, ironically with the help of capitulated Japanese troops.


In northern Vietnam, Vietminh had to deal with 180.000 rampaging Nationalist Chinese troops, while preparing for imminent arrival of a French force. Unable to fight both at the same time, Ho Chi Minh decided against the wishes of most of his supporters to settle for negotiations with the French as the lesser of two evils. Ho took all necessary steps to make the Democratic Republic of Vietnam government acceptable to the French. He nationalized only a few strategic industries, brought moderates into the government and (officially) dissolved the Indochinese Communist party in November 1945. In February 1946, Vietnam became officially a “free” state within the French Union and the Indo-Chinese Federation.


Hanoi, for a thousand years the royal capital of Vietnam, for over 60 years the center of French Indo-China and since 1954 the capital of independent Vietnam. The name describes the situation of the city: the hinter land between the river. The main part of the capital of Vietnam lies in the heart of the Red River Delta. The Red River – indeed red due to its contents of alluvium, a natural fertilizer – rises on the Nguy Son mountains (1,776m) in Yunnan province of China. The length of the river is 1.116km, almost exactly half of it (556km) on Vietnamese territory.



Hanoi’s incarnations:


  • 200 AD: Long Bien
  • 900 – 1010: Dai La
  • 1010 – 1400: Thang Long
  • 1400 – 1428: Dong Do
  • 1428 – 1789: Dong Kinh
  • 1789 – 1931: Bac Thanh
  • 1832 – present: Hanoi


The capital of Indochina, Hanoi, was also called the “City of Lakes”. It grew rapidly towards the beginning of the 20th century. The French drew up detailed plans for a new town to be laid out beside the old one, the Old Quarter. Now a new destination was developing like a phoenix from the swamps. Lanes were reclaimed, the swamps disappeared making place for the elegant buildings of a modern Hanoi.


Floods are usually caused by tow tributaries of the Red River, the Da and Lo Rivers. The flood season last from June to October. Dykes of 14 meters have protected the city from floods since 1108, the highest level of alarm No3 is 11.5m.


Hoan Kiem, the oldest and most densely populated sector, is located on the banks of the Red River. The area is characterized by French colonial-style buildings and wide boulevards. Picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake (the Lake of the Returned Sword) is located here, which was named after the legendary tale of 15th century. The famous Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple stands on a small island connected to the shore by The Huc (attracting the morning sun light) Bridge. North of the lake stretches the Old Quarter with an area called the “36 streets”, representing the 36 guilds existing since the 15th century. These are narrow streets, each one named after the product it sells, lined by typical nha ong (tube houses), which was built to avoid tax on the width of the house in 15th century.



Northeast of Hoan Kiem is the Ba Dinh sector with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the national assembly and the Party headquarters buildings. The Tran Quoc Pagoda and Tran Vu Temple are also located there.


Hanoi’s highest point is Chan Chim Hill 462m, the lowest point is Gia Thuy commune at 12m below sea level, the average elevation of the city is 5m above sea level, gradually decreasing from the West to the East, following the natural course of the river towards the Gulf of Tonkin.


The average humidity is about 80%, October through April is considered the best time to visit Hanoi. Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and Apricot are recommended colonial hotels in Hanoi. Touring Hanoi usually followed by an overnight boat trip in Halong Bay, such as the Violet, Jasmine cruises. Contact Incense Travel expert to start customizing your Vietnam itinerary.



Buffalo Joe