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. Made up of shimmering paddy fields and sugar-white beaches, full-tilt cities and venerable pagodas; Vietnam is a veritable phoenix arisen from the ashes. As the number of tourists visiting the country soars with eager travellers hoping to experience lifestyle and culture so vastly different from their own, there is no better time to travel to Vietnam.
Places to visit in Vietnam
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.
Regions in 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.
Nature and wildlife in Vietnam
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.
Best time to travel to Vietnam
Due to the tropical climate in Vietnam, the summer months between May and October are humid and hot with heavy rainfall. The best time to visit Vietnam is during the dry season, in either Autumn or Spring. The weather during the spring is pleasant although it can still be cold in the far north and in areas of higher altitudes.
Creating an itinerary for when you travel to Vietnam
With so many spectacular places to visit in Vietnam, from cities to rural landscapes and beaches, creating an itinerary that fits all the best places into one trip can be quite a challenge. If you are visiting Vietnam for the first time, below is a potential itinerary for places to visit.
Days 1 – 3: Ho Chi Minh City and the Cu Chi Tunnels
Explore Ho Chi Minh City, the capital city of Vietnam formerly known as Saigon. This busy metropolitan has much to offer in the form of restaurants, bars, and shopping. Visit the war remnants museum which is home to tanks, planes, and weapons from the American War.
As part of your Ho Chi Ming stop, it is recommended to take a day excursion to the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of underground tunnels and traps in the depths of the jungle where the Viet Cong avoided their enemies. You can climb through the tunnels and the knowledgeable guides do a fantastic job of educating visitors about the war and the survival tactics of the Vietnamese.
Days 3 – 5: Nha Trang
Nha Trang is a coastal city with a backdrop of verdant mountains. Check out the Tran Phu Beach for some relaxing and swimming and head to Thap Po Nagar to see the magnificent 7th Century temples amongst jungle ruins.
Days 5 – 7: Hoi An
Hoi An is a charming centuries-old town that has rightly earned its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture is a combination of Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and French and its atmosphere and beauty is not to be missed. Offering history, culture and pristine beaches just one hour away, it is also the capital for tailor-made clothing that comes for half the price compared to at home. Hire a bike and explore the rice fields with a local guide who will you the authentic Vietnamese way of life.
Days 7 – 10: Hanoi and Halong Bay
Hanoi is considered the capital of the north and is vastly different to that of the south. This idealistic city is busy yet has laid-back vibes and is much calmer. Watch a traditional water puppet show in one of the famous theatres, an authentic past time for locals all over Vietnam. Take a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake and explore the old quarter.
A must-see in Vietnam is the famed Ha Long Bay. The pioneering mountain islands amongst calm jade waters. Ha Long Bay is a short 3-hour car journey from Hanoi and makes for a perfect day excursion. Many guides offer tour packages, so you will have no problem being looked after on your trip.
History of Vietnam
The reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975, ending twenty years of bloody civil war that was also prolonged by the Americans, was followed by a decade or so of hardline cenralist economic rule from which only the shake-up of doi moi – Vietnam’s equivalent of perestroika – beginning in 1986, could awaken the country.
Food and drink in Vietnam
Pho, a traditional hot noodle soup with vegetables and meat is the most famed dish in Vietnam along with Banh Bao, a bun-like creation filled with meats. Iced coffee is a delicacy in Bietnam, made with a drip-filter and sweet, condensed milk. Your taste buds are sure to be treated when you travel to Vietnam, and for a price that is kind to your wallet.
Top Image: Vietnamese Farmer © Tom…Foto / Shutterstock