ABOUT VIETNAM

Before I first visited Vietnam, my impressions of this unique country were largely born through Hollywood movies of the Vietnam War.

 

All those images of rich tropical forest, peasants in conical hats and G.I’s shooting madly at anything were shattered when I flew in over Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. As the sun was setting, I could see the vastness of this city, a massive urban sprawl reaching out into the darkness.

 

I discovered a Vietnam of amazing diversity; modern bustling cities with a rich French colonial architectural presence; river life on the mighty Mekong Delta with floating houses and markets; amazing photo opportunities at ancient ruins of temples; the endless magic of Halong Bay, famous for its breathtaking limestone islands rising from the emerald green waters to the minority hill tribes of the north and days spent lazing on beautiful beaches.

 

Vietnam is becoming an increasingly popular place to visit. Its newness to tourism plus years as a closed country to the Western world have added to its mystery and appeal. Vietnam offers something for everyone. The days can be filled up with tours, shopping, sunbathing, trekking, boat cruising or snorkelling. Night times offer a chance to reflect on the day with a fresh cup of coffee in a cafe, dine in a local Vietnamese or historic French restaurant or explore the nightlife.

VIETNAM Destinations

SAPA

  • March 13, 2018
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Sapa is located in the north west of Vietnam and is a picture perfect village surrounded by huge mountains and valleys. The town is quite small with about 40,000 people although recent development is quickly changing the character of the town. Besides its natural beauty, Sapa is also famous for the hilltribes living nearby. You'll see them walking around Sapa, some still in their traditional clothes but best still, take a tour down into the valleys where they live. There are several choices of tour depending on how fit you are and how far you want to go. Make sure you're wearing some good walking shoes. The valleys are filled with gardens, rice terraces and lush vegetation. There are several markets and a trip to Sapa without visiting one is not to be done! Markets are in different locations throughout the week. For keen hikers, you can climb the highest mountain in Vietnam, Fansipan Peak at 3143 metres.

PHU QUOC ISLAND

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NHA TRANG

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Nha Trang is a city on the beach. The beach runs 6km along the length of the town. Dotted out at sea are some 71 islands with clear water and sandy beaches.   Most of the hotels, restaurants and the commercial district start across the road from the beach and make their way back several blocks. With a population of just over the 300,000 mark, it's not a big town and isn't too much of a mission to walk around or 'cyclo' around. There is a smattering of good restaurants (great seafood!) clubs and bars around although it seems to be lacking a little for such a popular party town. The best hotel by a long shot is the Anamandara, nearer the edge of town and the only true beach resort in Nha Trang.

MEKONG DELTA

  • March 13, 2018
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The mighty Mekong River flows more than 4000km from its source in the Tibetan Plateau and provides fresh water to millions on its way down to the sea via Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. In the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's southernmost province, the area is predominantly flat, fertile ground where the bulk of Vietnam's rice and orchards are grown. The river has huge amounts of fish and these are often farmed under floating houses.   Highlights of the Mekong Delta are undoubtedly found in its countless backwater canals and busy waterways. A simple trip on a typical small wooden boat down one of the hundreds of canals, surrounded by overhanging tropical foliage, simple houses and small kids waving at you is definitely a memorable experience or an early morning tour to the floating markets in Can Tho is a photographer's dream. If time is short, a night in Can Tho followed by a visit to the floating markets is a minimum. Day tours from Ho Chi Minh city are also available but really, you'd be missing out on so much.   The border town of Chau Doc is a quaint little place where life centres round the riverside market. The river is a busy scene with hundreds of wooden boats tootling up and down, fish houses and ferries. Chau Doc is a good stop off point between Vietnam and Cambodia and boat trips between here and Phnom Penh make a scenic and interesting alternative to flying.

HUE

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A city situated geographically in the middle between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. Hue carries a rich royal history dating back hundreds of years and used to be the capital of Vietnam under the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 - 1945. During that time, many now-historic sites were built and these remain the highlights of Hue. On the Old Citadel side of the river, beside the old French Bridge, there's a typical market and a few shops. Near one of the citadel's entrances are three restaurants side by side, selling delicious and authentic Hue cuisine. The middle one, Lac Thanh Restaurant is owned by Mr Lac, a deaf and mute man ' this is the original and is recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide (as no doubt you'll see on the big signs outside his shop) He's a great character and since his restaurant was so popular the two restaurants next door now employ deaf people too.   Across the river from the Old Citadel, you'll find the bulk of hotels, shops and restaurants. The area is small and pleasant to walk around. A few 5 star hotels are in the making but at the moment, the Morin Saigon, a colonial style hotel is number one and also has a good central location.

HOI AN

  • March 13, 2018
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Hoi An is a mellow town with a Chinese, Japanese, European and Vietnam heritage. The old quarter is protected to keep its historical and architectural values in place and rightly so it's not often you'll find 200 year old wooden houses, still occupied by descendants of the original Chinese immigrants. Over the last several hundred years, Hoi An was an international trading town built on a river attracting traders as far away as Europe. Nowadays it's a town focused on preserving it's heritage but with open doors to tourism.   On offer are a variety of hotels, from budget hotels a few steps away from the old quarter to the luxurious beachfront Victoria Resort. If you get into the mellow mood of things here, several days can drift by easily. Else if you're taking the train from north to south or vice versa it's a great stopping off point for a couple of days to stretch the legs.   About 4 km east of town is a nice beach for swimming. Cycles are around US$1 per day to rent and the ride through the countryside makes it a nice trip to the seaside. 10 km out to sea, the Cham Islands are where swallow's nests are collected. The 2 hour boat trip can be made to the islands where you'll find unspoilt beaches to enjoy. 10 km away is My Son (that's a place name) a small gathering of Hindu temples which are well worth a visit. The temples date from the 7th to the 13th centuries. Adding to the romance of their faded history, lush vegetation enshrines the monuments.

HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)

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HANOI

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Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It's an attractive city, with lots of old French architecture, parks, trees and lakes. With a fairly large population of 3 million, the city has a surprisingly pleasant atmosphere and is easy to fall in love with.   Hanoi was the headquarters for the Northern Communists since 1954. Repeated bombing by the Americans destroyed parts of Hanoi but almost all of the damage has been repaired.   Typical to communist countries, next to the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, there's the big square where hundreds of thousands could gather to hear political speeches. The area has a different atmosphere to the rest of Hanoi, rather stately and formal, with a presence of uniformed guards and large Vietnam flags flying overhead.
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HALONG BAY

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Halong Bay is one of the 'not-to-be-missed' highlights of Vietnam. The Bay spans 1500 square kilometers and boasts a staggering 3000 islands, almost all uninhabited, rising out of the water in sheer beauty and magnificence.   The islands silhouette against those further out and against the sky to produce the most inspiring of scenes. The highlight of Halong Bay is the ever changing views of the islands and horizon. The best way to see Halong Bay is to take a 1 or 2 night trip from Hanoi. Options include   accommodation on one of the larger islands or else sleeping in a boat cabin. Overnight options in Halong City are available, and from there day trips can be made around the bay.   Besides its breathtaking panorama, there are caves to explore and kayaking trips available.