The first French concession was granted in 1874, an insalubrious plot of land on the banks of the Red River, southeast of where the Opera House stands today. Once in full possession of Hanoi, after 1882, the French began to create a city appropriate to their new protectorate, starting with the area between the old concession and the train station, 2km to the west. In the process they destroyed many ancient Vietnamese monuments, which were replaced with Parisian-style buildings and boulevards. Gradually elegant villas filled plots along the grid of tree-lined avenues, then spread south in the 1930s and 1940s towards what is now Thong Nhat (Reunification) Park, a peaceful but rather featureless expanse of green marking the French Quarter’s southern boundary.

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Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam's last paradise?

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