Visit Vietnam

Are you looking for somewhere a little bit different? Experience the cultural myriad of Vietnam; an unforgettable journey from thriving cities into gorgeous scenery of national parks, mountains and coastline.

Its people are energetic, industrious and patriotic. They are very welcoming and have a brilliant sense of humour: expect plenty of invitations to karaoke with shots of rice wine. Learn a few words in Vietnamese and they will love you for it.
(‘Xin chao’, pronounced sin chow, means ‘hello’ and ‘Cám on’ is ‘thank you’.)

Be prepared for lots of questions, as the Vietnamese do not hold back. They will ask you how much you weigh, how old you are, are you married etc. They may also call you fat. Please do not be offended; you probably are compared to them!

The Vietnamese cuisine is one of the best and healthiest in the world. Pho, the delicious national dish of noodle broth, is usually eaten for breakfast. Don’t be afraid to try the street food, some of the best food in the country is served on the tiny plastic seats by the side of the road.

Crossing the road can be a frightening experience. The trick is to stride forward purposefully and don’t stop until you make it to the other side. The bikes will drive around you – it’s terrifying at first but you will get used to it surprisingly quickly.

In Vietnam, everywhere you go is thriving with activity yet it is strangely serene. It’s developing at a very fast pace and yet is not yet overrun with commercialization. In the countryside, people work in the brilliant green rice as they have for hundreds of years and many people still live in relative poverty.

Here are some places you cannot miss:

North Vietnam

Hanoi – The capital city is Vietnam’s cultural heart, with beautiful colonial French architecture and in its centre: magnificent Hoan Kiem Lake. Pay your respects to the famous leader Ho Chi Minh, whose picture adorns nearly every Vietnamese room, in the mausoleum. Walking around the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter is fascinating: I’d recommended sipping a beer ‘bia hoi’ and watching the world go by: dawn tai chi at the lake, old men playing chess and traders in traditional conical hats.

Sapa – Close to the border with China, this market town high in the mountains has breathtaking views. Take a walking tour, exploring the surrounding rice terraces and hill tribes. Don’t miss some of the most spectacular scenery that Vietnam has to offer and witness the unique culture of remote villages.

Halong Bay – No trip to Vietnam is complete without a cruise in Halong Bay dotted with surreal-looking limestone islands. You can visit floating villages where its habitants never walk on dry land in their entire lives. Kayak into peaceful coves and look around vast caves with stalactites and stalagmites that the locals say look like lions, bathing women and poisonous snakes.

Central Vietnam

Hue – The old capital is home to the walled Imperial City and the Citadel where the ancient Emperor lived with his many wives – only they were allowed inside the Forbidden City. Stroll around its endless gardens or by the Perfume River and sample the town’s proudly unique dishes.

Hoi An – A well-preserved traditional Asian trading port, Hoi An is a World Heritage site and a highlight of every Vietnam trip. Famous for its impressive wooden architecture, be sure to see the beautiful Japanese-style bridge. There are tailor shops everywhere: this is the place to buy good value tailored clothing that can be made to measure within 24 hours. Every month on the full moon, motorbikes are banned from the Old Town, which is transformed with silk lanterns, traditional food, song and dance.

Nha Trang – This seaside destination has gorgeous, pristine beaches with miles of golden sand. The hot springs, diverse marine life and the colorful coral reef underwater have made Nha Trang become one of the best spots for scuba diving and snorkeling in Asia.

South Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City – The largest city that the locals still call Saigon, is the commercial centre of the country. There are plenty of attractions to see, from the stately Reunification Palace, magnificent Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. Go to the War Remnants Museum for a sample of the country’s experience during its turbulent 20th century. (Perspective is unsurprisingly biased.) However, Ho Chi Minh City’s main spectacle is its crammed and deafening streets: whole families on one moped and the daunting adventure of trying to get to the other side.

Mui Ne – Home to Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches and producer of Vietnam’s famous fish sauce (nuoc mam). If you are a keen photographer, visit the flowing white, gold and red sand dunes make fantastic shots. For something more active, go kite surfing, wind surfing or diving.

Mekong Delta – Known as Vietnam’s ‘rice bucket,’ the Mekong Delta is a bewitching watery landscape of green fields and sleepy villages, everywhere dependent on the mighty Mekong River. Producing enough rice for the whole country, this delta plain also cultivates sugarcane, fruit and coconuts. Visitors can explore the quaint riverside towns, barter in the colourful floating markets and dine looking out at the sunset on the water.

Safety and Etiquette:

• Don’t wear visible jewellery or digital cameras and keep bags secure. Violent crime is unusual in Vietnam, but petty crime is a daily occurrence in touristy areas. Be aware of your surroundings.
• When taking a ride by motorbike taxi (xe om) make sure they provide a helmet. Agree a price before you set off.
• Don’t wear short shorts or skirts to temples or pagodas.
• Physical displays of affection are frowned upon.
• Losing your temper in Vietnam is huge faux-pas. Smile and stay polite and you’ll have a greater chance of getting what you want.
• Avoid tap water and ice in drinks.
• Take off your shoes before entering someone’s house.
• Haggling when purchasing something is a normal practice, don’t be shy!

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