An Expert insight to Vietnam
Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling, Vietnam is a country of breathtaking natural beauty with an incredible heritage that quickly becomes addictive.
Vietnam is a deceptively large country – at almost 130,000 square miles, it’s almost the size of Germany. The Mekong Delta alone is around the size of Switzerland. With a coastline of over 2,000 miles and fabulous beaches; outstanding countryside with 30 National Parks and 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – there’s more to see than you can imagine.
Northern Vietnam and Hanoi sees fewer visitors than Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the coastal cities in the south, but it's full of culture. Historically, and to this day, it has been significantly poorer than the southern part of the country. Cultural and political differences remain strong - the language is pronounced differently in some ways, and there's definitely a more authoritarian feel in the cities.
The largest city in northern Vietnam is the capital of Hanoi. But there are numerous other locations such as: National Parks and the scenic privince of Ninh Binh, with rock formations - sometimes known as 'Halong Bay on land', the stunning Mai Chau Valley, the mountain resort of Sapa and the historical battlefield of Dien Bien Phu.
This is one of the most diverse and least visited regions of Vietnam, stretching from Vinh down to the Central Highlands. There are outstanding beaches along the coast, notably around Da Nang and Hoi An. This region also boasts four of Vietnam’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites: Phnog Na/Bang Ke Bang National Park, Hue Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary.
With stunning landscapes and ocean views, coupled with the serenity of local villages, this is among our favourite areas of Vietnam.
The old capital of the former South Vietnam, now renamed Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon), exhibits an obvious energy - with numerous motorcycles, bustling markets and an overall air of sophistication in this busy city. In Vietnam’s southern highlands the scenery is spectacular and the climate soothing. No wonder the colonial powers sought out Dalat as their Summer retreat.
This is also the gateway to the Mekong Delta. where lifestyles and traditions have changed little over the years.
The Mekong Delta
Touring the orchards, paddy fields and swamplands of the Mekong Delta, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into the pages of a geography textbook. A comma-shaped flatland stretching from Ho Chi Minh’s city limits southwest to the Gulf of Thailand, the delta is Vietnam’s rice bowl, an agricultural miracle that pumps out more than a third of the country’s annual food crop from just ten percent of its total land mass.
Rice may be the delta’s staple crop, but coconut palms, fruit orchards and sugar-cane groves also thrive in its nutrient-rich soil, and the sight of conical-hatted farmers tending their land is one of Vietnam’s most enduring images.
Vietnam’s capital is a city of lakes and parks, of tree lined streets resplendent with French colonial villas and mansions – a European capital in the centre of Asia. The Old French Quarter is a maze of crammed narrow alleyways that are still named after goods that were once traded on there. With the charm of a bygone era, Hanoi is home to a myriad of roadside cafes and bars, where the traditional beer (“Bia Hoi”) flows freely accompanied by some remarkable cuisine. Wide, bicycle filled boulevards and faded but elegant architecture dominate the landscape as the industrious city people go about their daily lives.
The ancient art of water puppetry continues to this day in this historic city where Ho Chi Minh’s monumental mausoleum is housed.
East of Hanoi lies ones of Vietnam’s real wonders; Halong Bay. The name translates as “dragon descending” and the area is steeped in mystery, myth and legend. Comprising spectacular limestone karsts, cliffs, arches and coves, this coastal landscape is one of Vietnam’s most memorable sights. The bay encompasses 1,500 sq kilometres and is dotted with well over 3,000 limestone islands and islets.
Hue is one of Vietnam’s main cultural and academic centers and was formerly the capital of the country from 1802-1945. It is a beautiful town located on the shores of the Perfume River with a distinct social and culinary identity. Its vast, 19th-century Citadel is surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls. It encompasses the Imperial City, with palaces and shrines; the Forbidden Purple City, once the emperor’s home; and a replica of the Royal Theater.
The town is particularly well known for its many specialty food best sampled at local stalls and street kitchens. Hue is also famous for its noodles dishes and has its own delicately flavoured version of noodle and rice soups.
Hoi An is located on Vietnam’s central coast, with fine beaches nearby and is known for its well-preserved and charming Ancient Town, which is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.
A stunningly beautiful riverside (especially at night), and cuisine that is exceptional - even by Vietnamese high standards - make this a must-see town.
Da Nang is known for its sandy beaches and history as a French colonial port. It's a popular base for visiting the inland Ba Na hills. Here the Hai Van Pass has views of Da Nang Bay and the Marble Mountains, which are 5 limestone outcrops that are home to pagodas and caves containing Buddhist shrines.
Resembling a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps, Dalat was originally the playground of the French who built villas in the clear mountain air to escape the heat and humidity of the coast and of Saigon. Many of its hotels and houses are built in a European/ French style. The city spreads across a series of pine-covered hills, with a small lake in the center and surrounded by a man-made lake and higher peaks, making for some lovely scenery quite different from the rest of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) What’s in a name?
Following the fall of Saigon on 30th April 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. However the old Saigon name is still often used by both Vietnamese and visitors, especially when referring to the most central part of the city, District 1. Bulging with a population of around 9 million, Ho Chi Minh City, is Vietnam’s largest and most exciting city. While Hanoi is the center of government, Ho Chi Minh City is the nation’s economic heart. Long before traffic choked the center of the city, Saigon had already been christened the ‘‘Paris of Asia’’ for its wide boulevards lined with stately trees and magnificent French villas.
For a moment you may be fooled by the smells of coffee and baking bread, and by old Renaults sounding their horns at roundabouts. However, the motorcycle (Xe om) is the most popular form of transportation - with an estimated 4.5 million on the road.
Cai Be & Can Tho
Cai Be is a district in the west of Tien Giang province. Cai Be has total area of 41,000 ha, and a population of 280,000 people living in 24 communes and a capital town of same name. Local economy is mainly based on horticulture and tourism with a great number of fruit orchards. Cai Be has a small floating market which is yet to be touristy as the Cai Rang floating market in Can Tho. Cai Be is in the northern side of My Thuan Bridge, the gate into Vinh Long province and the whole Mekong Delta in general.
A population of around a million makes Can Tho the delta’s biggest city, and losing yourself in its commercial thrum for a few days is the perfect antidote to time spent in the quiet backwaters of the delta. Although a city, its breezy waterfront comes as a pleasant surprise.
Some of the best restaurants in the delta are located here; what’s more, the abundant rice fields of Can Tho Province are never far away, and at the intersections of the canals and rivers that thread between them are some of the delta’s best-known floating markets.