Vietnam: A Land of Timeless Charm
Blessed with a ravishing coastline, emerald-green mountains, breathtaking national parks, dynamic cities, outstanding cultural interest and one of the world’s best cuisines, Vietnam has it all.
Lush green mountains, scenic beaches, ancient pagodas, and the allure of a fascinating culture attract millions of visitors to Vietnam each year. The country offers adventures and curiosities around every corner. Be ready for a wild ride in a colourful and chaotic land – along the way, you’ll discover tranquil places and opportunities to connect with local people.
Vietnam is a nation going places. Its people are energetic, direct, sharp in commerce and resilient in nature. This is an outrageously fun country to explore, the locals love a laugh (and a drink) and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to socialise with them and hear their tales. The American War is over, and yet its impact endures – you’ll find reminders of that cataclysmic conflict everywhere you travel. That said, the country was never broken and emerged with its pride intact. Poor in parts but never squalid, Vietnam is developing at an astonishing pace. For travellers, there are issues to consider (including minor scams), but little real danger – on the whole it’s a safe, wonderfully rewarding and incredibly varied country to explore.
Unforgettable experiences are everywhere in Vietnam. There’s the sublime: gazing over a surreal seascape of limestone islands from the deck of a Chinese junk in Halong Bay. The ridiculous: taking 10 minutes just to cross the street through a tsunami of motorbikes in Hanoi. The inspirational: exploring the world’s most spectacular cave systems in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The comical: watching a moped loaded with honking pigs weave a wobbly route along a country lane. And the contemplative: witnessing a solitary grave in a cemetery of tens of thousands of war victims.
You’ll witness children riding buffalo, see the impossibly intricate textiles of hill-tribe communities and taste the super-fresh and subtle flavours of Vietnamese cuisine.
The nation is a budget traveller’s dream, with inexpensive transport, outstanding street food, good-value accommodation and bia hoi – perhaps the world’s cheapest beer.
Top Reasons to Visit Vietnam
BEAUTIFUL BEACHES & ISLANDS
The laidback islands and glorious beaches along Vietnam’s extended coastline are world-class. Isolated Con Dao, blissful Phu Quoc, and rugged Cat Ba are tropical escapes.
Vietnam’s long alluring coastline boasts some of the world’s best beaches with spectacular ocean-washed stretches of sand and offshore islands with delightful coves. While beautiful beaches can be found along the entire coastline, it’s the south-central coast that is home to the best beaches in Vietnam. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are the big hitters, but there are hundreds of kilometres of empty beaches to discover, including the invitingly empty shores of the Con Dao Islands. Vietnam’s beaches are the perfect place to relax and chill out with each area having its own specialty – Mui Ne Beach has a burgeoning water-sports scene; Nha Trang has the hottest nightlife in central Vietnam, while China Beach has the best surfing.
Best of Vietnam’s beaches & islands:
Vietnamese food is one of the freshest and most delicious cuisines in the world. Fresh herbs, fiery chillies, fragrant noodle dishes – pho is just the beginning.
Eating out in Vietnam is nothing short of exceptional. Savoury, spicy, sweet and sour: Vietnam’s characteristic balance of the four tastes in every meal (or even every mouthful) makes for rewarding culinary exploration. From street food served by hawkers to Hue’s imperial-style banquets, it’s rarely less than wonderful. But in many ways there is no national cuisine, as each regions has a unique culinary tradition. Not only are there three distinct regional cuisine traditions, but each city also has its own unique specialties.
Best places to sample Vietnamese cuisine:
AMAZING BOAT TRIPS
Cruise gently through the orchards and floating markets of the Mekong Delta, or glide between karst cliffs on the calm waters of Halong Bay – Vietnam is best done by boat.
Taking in some of Vietnam’s most spellbinding scenery from the water is a supremely relaxing and rewarding experience, and there are several such journeys that should be considered when visiting this beautiful country. The watery deltas at the northern and southern ends of the country provide the greatest interest for people seeking to explore Vietnam by boat. Cruises in Halong Bay and boat rides through the Mekong Delta are the main highlights here. Travellers can get a taste of the Mekong Delta aquatic life in journeys ranging from paddle-powered explorations of the canal networks to luxurious overnight cruises heading into Cambodia. Meanwhile, an overnight trip on a junk boat with ethereal, misty morning views of limestone cliffs is Halong Bay’s primary attraction.
Best of Vietnam’s boat trips:
Misty mountains, vibrant green rice paddies, and sapphire seascapes are some of the scenic landscapes you will witness while travelling through Vietnam.
If you want visual dramatics, Vietnam delivers in spades. Cruise an azure ocean pierced by surreal-looking limestone islands in Halong Bay, slalom through the majestic island karst mountains of Cao Bang. Hike mountain tracks and explore tribal villages near Sapa and Bac Ha. Then witness the spectacular sandy bays of the central coastline and explore the reefs and coves of the Cham and Con Dao Islands. See the astonishing cave systems of Phong Nha, national parks like Cat Tien, and the bewitching backwaters of the Mekong Delta.
Best of Vietnam’s natural landscape:
For such a small country with a long history of Chinese domination, Vietnam has a remarkable foundation of unique, ancient civilisations, which have had a profound cultural influence on it.
There’s a lot more to Vietnam’s cultural scene than bootleg DVDs and karaoke. Experience the ancient art of water puppetry, before graduating to the more challenging cultural spectacle of hat tuong (Vietnamese opera). Experience the diversity of northern Vietnam’s ethnic minorities from the Black H’mong around Sapa to the Flower H’mong people of the Bac Ha region. Get to know them with a traditional village homestay. If you can time your travels, visit the northwest’s fascinating and incredibly colourful weekly markets for a unique experience.
Not-to-be-missed cultural experiences:
HISTORY & COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
Vietnam’s war-time and colonial era is a thing of the past but its interesting history is worth exploring today. From Hue’s Imperial City to the Cu Chi tunnels, Vietnam’s past enthrals.
Vietnam’s long history of foreign invasions has left a legacy in the form of diverse architectural styles and war remnants found throughout the country. The ancient buildings of the central coast indicate the Cham influence, while Chinese elements are reflected in the pagodas, especially in Hanoi and Hue. French influence is pervasive in the colonial buildings in Hanoi, and to a lesser extent in Hoi An.
Understand Vietnam’s war history and the tumultuous events of the 20th century in the museums, war cemeteries and battlefields around the isolated town of Dien Bien Phu and in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Military and history buffs will find plenty to interest them here.
Must-visit historical places in Vietnam:
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
The peak tourist season in Vietnam is from November to March, when Vietnam receives the lowest rainfall, overall. This is generally the best time to visit. That said, the tropical monsoon climate affects the north and south of the country differently, so visitors will find that they need to make choices about when and where to go.
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The south is generally about 5°C (8°F) warmer than the north. The south is at its most pleasant from November to late April, before the heat of the summer becomes too oppressive.
The north is warm and sunny from October to December, before the cold and rain of winter sets in. This is the best time to visit Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world. From January to March, the winter weather is unpredictable and can dampen the experience of Halong Bay considerably. The north does not get too cold in the winter, generally staying above 15°C (59°F) in the daytime.
In the centre of Vietnam there is generally more rainfall, especially in Hue from September to February. The best time to visit the centre is February to May.
Where is Vietnam located?
Bounded by the warm waters of the South China Sea, Vietnam lies in the southeastern corner of the Indochinese peninsula. To the country’s west are Laos and Cambodia, separated from Vietnam by the Annamite Mountains or the Truong Son Range, while to the north lies the great bulk of China. Vietnam itself is long and thin – just 31 miles (50 km) wide at its narrowest – with an extensive coastline stretching for 2,040 miles (3,260 km) from the Gulf of Tonkin in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south.