Welcome to Travel Vietnam
Few countries have changed so much over such a short time as Vietnam. Less than forty years since the savagery and slaughter of the American War, this resilient nation is buoyant with hope. It is a country on the move: access is now easier than ever, roads are being upgraded, hotels are springing up and Vietnam’s raucous entrepreneurial spirit is once again alive and well as the old-style Communist system gives way to a socialist market economy. As the number of tourists visiting the country soars, their talk is not of bomb craters and army ordnance but of shimmering paddy fields and sugar-white beaches, full-tilt cities and venerable pagodas; Vietnam is a veritable phoenix arisen from the ashes.
The speed with which Vietnam’s population has been able to put the bitter events of its recent past behind it, and focus its gaze so steadfastly on the future, often surprises visitors expecting to encounter shell-shocked resentment of the West. It wasn’t always like this, however. The reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975, ending twenty years of bloody civil war, was followed by a decade or so of hardline centralist economic rule from which only the shake-up of doi moi – Vietnam’s equivalent of perestroika – beginning in 1986, could awaken the country. This signalled a renaissance for Vietnam, and today a high fever of commerce grips the nation: from the flash new shopping malls and designer boutiques to the hustle and bustle of street markets and the booming cross-border trade with China. From a tourist’s point of view, this is a great time to visit – not only to soak up the intoxicating sense of vitality and optimism, but also the chance to witness a country in profound flux. Inevitably, that’s not the whole story. Doi moi is an economic policy, not a magic spell, and life, for much of the population, remains hard. Indeed, the move towards a market economy has predictably polarized the gap between rich and poor. Average monthly incomes for city-dwellers are around US$100, while in the poorest provinces workers may scrape by on as little as US$30 a month – a difference that amply illustrates the growing gulf between urban and rural Vietnam.
There is an equally marked difference between north and south, a deep psychological divide that was around long before the American War, and is engrained in Vietnamese culture. Northerners are considered reticent, thrifty, law-abiding and lacking the dynamism and entrepreneurial know-how of their more worldly wise southern compatriots. Not surprisingly, this is mirrored in the broader economy: the south is Vietnam’s growth engine, it boasts lower unemployment and higher average wages, and the increasingly glitzy Ho Chi Minh City looks more to Bangkok and Singapore than Hanoi.
Many visitors find a vast number of places to visit that intrigue and excite them in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the other major centres; but despite the cities’ allure, it’s the country’s striking landscape that most impresses. Vietnam occupies a narrow strip of land that hugs the eastern borders of Cambodia and Laos, hemmed in by rugged mountains to the west, and by the South China Sea – or the East Sea, as the Vietnamese call it. To the north and south of its narrow waist, it fantails out into the splendid deltas of the Red River and the Mekong, and it’s in these regions that you’ll encounter the paddy fields, dragonflies, buffaloes and conical-hatted farmers that constitute the classic image of Vietnam.
In stark contrast to the pancake-flat rice land of the deltas, Ha Long Bay’s labyrinthine network of limestone outcrops loom dramatically out of the Gulf of Tonkin – a magical spectacle in the early morning mist. Any trip to the remote upland regions of central and northern Vietnam is likely to focus upon the ethnic minorities who reside there. Elaborate tribal costumes, age-old customs and communal longhouses await those visitors game enough to trek into the sticks. As for wildlife, the discovery in recent years of several previously unknown species of plants, birds and animals speaks volumes for the wealth of Vietnam’s biodiversity and makes the improving access to the country’s national parks all the more gratifying.
10 Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
A long, narrow country squeezed in between the South China Sea and the Laos and Cambodia borders, Vietnam is a land of striking landscapes that range from the lush rice terraces and forested mountains in the north to the picturesque valleys of the Central Highlands and the fertile delta and beautiful beaches of the south. Included in the mix are booming modern cities, colonial towns, traditional villages, archaeological sites and otherworldly islands. An overview of the best places to visit in Vietnam.
Year-round cool weather and idyllic scenery of misty valleys, lush pine trees and colorful flowers are some of the reasons that Dalat was once used by Vietnamese emperors and French colonials as a summer retreat. Today, this charming town in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam is a popular destination for those looking for relief from the heat. A walkable city, Dalat is a beautiful scene of French colonial architecture and villas set amid picturesque landscapes.
Located on the central coast of Vietnam near the Duy Phú village is the important archaeological site known as My Son. One of Southeast Asia’s most notable ancient sites, My Son was once a significant center of religious Hindu ceremonies where the kings of the Champa Kingdom built numerous temples devoted to the worship of the god, Shiva, between the 4th and 14th centuries.
Ho Chi Minh City
Lying along the Siagon River near the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon and served as the capital of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Today, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of the reunified country, offering plenty of reasons to visit, from its blend of historic and modern attractions to vibrant shopping, dining and nightlife.
Colorful floating markets, fruit orchards, rice paddies, sugar cane groves, bird sanctuaries and quaint villages are all what draw many to the Mekong Delta in southwestern Vietnam. Nicknamed “Vietnam’s Rice Basket,” the Mekong Delta is an agricultural region made fertile by the maze of canals and streams fed by the Mekong River. Stretching from the Gulf of Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta feeds more than a third of the country from its rich plantations, orchards, rice paddies and fish farms.
Located on one of Asia’s most beautiful bays off the coast of South Central Vietnam, Nha Trang is a popular seaside resort city. Picturesque mountains, beaches and lush islands all make it a favorite destination among tourists, Vietnamese and scuba divers. Adorned with resorts, palm trees and a lovely promenade, Nha Trang’s beach is its main draw. Amusement and water parks provide fun for everyone with roller coasters and wave pools.
Surrounded by pictorial mountains, rice terraces and a diversity of hill tribes in the remote northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a quiet town frequently used as a base for trekking in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains and touring rice paddies and traditional villages. From the town, there are many organized tours that aide tourists in mountain hikes and exploring the nearby rice paddies and remote villages. These tours present views of beautiful waterfalls and the opportunities to experience the food, customs and way of life among the local tribes.
Situated on the banks of the Perfume River in Central Vietnam, Hue once served as the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. Today, the vestiges of this former glorious period are reflected in the city’s architecture, culture and cuisine, making it one of the best places to visit in Vietnam. Of the city’s monuments, the Citadel is the most famous. Once the seat of the Nguyen emperors, the Citadel is a sprawling complex of grand palaces, ornate temples, walls and gates Another important landmark on the river is the city’s official symbol, the Thien Mu Pagoda.
Located off the coast of the South China Sea in South Central Vietnam, Hoi An is a beautiful, old city dating back 2,000 years to the Champa Kingdom. The city’s historic architecture, traditional culture and textiles make it a popular destination in Vietnam. At the heart of Hoi An is its atmospheric Old Town which is small enough to walk around easily. The narrow, winding lanes of the Old Town are lined with beautiful old architecture, traditional wooden houses and hundreds of tailor shops selling clothing, shoes, bags, souvenirs and custom-made services.
For the last century, Hanoi has the Indochina and Vietnam Wars to emerge as the booming capital city of a reunified Vietnam. At the heart of Hanoi is its Old Quarter, an open-air museum of historic Asian and French colonial architecture that has largely remained intact despite the bombings of the Vietnam War. Here among scenic tree-lined boulevards, tourists can browse busy markets, sip coffee at quaint cafes and visit prominent sites like the Grand Opera House, the Presidential Palace and Saint Joseph Cathedral.
Ha Long Bay
With its aqua-green water and cluster of limestone rocky outcrops rising from the water like sea dragons, Ha Long Bay resembles a scene from a fantasy story. Located about 130 km (80 miles) east of Hanoi in northern Vietnam, this otherworldly bay features more than 2,000 jungle-covered islands pitted with intriguing caves, grottoes, sinkholes and lakes. Many of the islands have been sculpted over the centuries by natural processes into fantastic formations.