Vietnam will show you the sides of Asia you’ve been dreaming of. Lush rice paddies at the foot of the magnificent highlands, colourful water markets along the rivers of the Mekong Delta and the endless city life of Hanoi, where everything from schoolchildren to refrigerators to huge stacks of vegetables are transported on the backs of countless motorbikes. Although Vietnam’s big cities are rapidly transforming into modern Asian metropolises, traditional culture is never far away.
Life in the city
Head to Hoi An with its Venetian-style canals and beautiful old town. Take advantage of the old harbour, stroll through the winding streets and refuel in good restaurants and shops, or relax on the beach. Once a fishing village, the city is now a listed monument and has become a major attraction for visitors. Hanoi is, of course, the pinnacle of Asian city life. It is an incredible myriad of ancient traditions, old and modern architecture, sounds, smells, bustling trade and famously crazy traffic. It’s both chaotic and enchanting – a great place to discover ancient and modern Vietnam. Most of the sights are in the Old Quarter, including the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and the beautiful Bach Ma Temple. Spend a day or two in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, the country’s largest city. Nowhere are the contrasts between old and new as ubiquitous and vibrant as here, where you’ll find ancient pagodas and traditional street life at the foot of huge skyscrapers. The main attractions include the Reunification Palace and the Giac Lam Pagoda. The ancient imperial city of Hue, with its magnificent citadel and imperial tombs running along the Perfume River, is also worth a visit.
Landscapes and nature in Vietnam
Few countries are lucky enough to have such captivating landscapes as those of Vietnam. For many travellers, the country’s greatest treasures are its stunning limestone landscapes, perfect beaches, islands, mountain ranges, rice paddies and lakes. One of Vietnam’s main attractions, Ha Long Bay, consists of thousands of limestone pillars and islands overlooked by dense jungle vegetation. Amidst the bustling harbour life, you’ll find floating fishing villages, caves and island lakes. Nearby Lan Ha Bay is equally spectacular but less busy. Head to Sa Pa and the Muong Hoa valley for views of local rice paddies against a backdrop of bamboo forests. To the north is also Tam Coc, near Ninh Binh. This area is famous for its karst landscapes, rice fields and caves, and it is best to hire a boat to explore.
Phu Quoc, off the coast of Cambodia, is the country’s largest island. Its charming palm-fringed beaches and rainforests rival any other island in the world. The most famous in the south is, of course, the Mekong Delta. Here the Mekong River flows through a maze of small streams into the South China Sea. It is a green and lush region that provides half of Vietnam’s agricultural produce. It offers panoramic views of rivers and rice fields as far as the eye can see. Here, natural landscape and culture go hand in hand, as life revolves around water. The rivers of the Mekong are an important means of transport and host floating markets.
The country’s national parks offer the best choice in terms of natural wonders. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is famous for its natural caves and grottos, with underground rivers and cave beaches and magnificent stalagmites and stalactites. For wildlife, try Cuc Phuong National Park.
Museums in Vietnam
To better understand Vietnam’s ancient traditions, culture and history, visit one of the many museums, some of which have excellent collections. The Ho Chi Minh City Museum of War Remnants will leave a lasting impression, especially the harrowing collection of war photographs. Although the tone is not exactly neutral, there are English designations. The HCMC Museum is housed in a building that is worth seeing on its own and gives a nice insight into the city’s history. For a broader collection of history, visit the beautiful History Museum, which displays artefacts from various Vietnamese cultures. In Hanoi, the Museum of Ethnology of Vietnam is a great place to immerse yourself in the lives of the country’s tribal peoples. In the city centre, the Museum of Fine Arts exhibits everything from high-quality wood and stone sculptures to fabulous ceramics and textiles. Descriptions in English.