Vietnam has come a long way since the dark days of the late 1960s when a savage war waged throughout the country. The conflict has long since been immortalised in film and literature, with movies such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now showing just how deadly and barbaric the conflict became at its worst. Yet Vietnam has moved on from its reputation as a war-zone – its cities are no longer crumbling remains, and old Soviet style queues have been replaced by vibrant street markets and bustling city centres. Nowadays Vietnam is seen, along with Thailand, as the number one tourist destination in South-East Asia, with beach bums, culture vultures and gap year backpackers all heading to this languid and sultry nation. Here is a look at the best this seductive country has to offer.
Photo by Dave_B_ on Flickr.com. Used under Creative Commons Licence.
From bustling Ho Chi Minh City in the north to sleepy Hanoi in the south, Vietnam has some of South-East Asia’s finest cities. Traditional Vietnamese styles merge with French colonial elegance, a human scale and a tropical climate to make these some of the best city break destinations on the planet. Of course it takes some getting used to the manic mopeds careering down the streets, or the masses of people crowded down each and every alleyway, but once you get to grips with these beautiful and mysterious cities you may never want to leave. As an added bonus, amenities and attractions in Vietnam are still dirt cheap, so you do not have to shell out heaps of cash to enjoy yourself, as can often be the case in nearby Thailand.
Despite the troubles this nation has gone through in the past, Vietnamese people are known to be amongst the friendliest on the planet. The one thing you will keep on seeing again and again on a visit here are the wide smiles on people’s faces. Locals tend to go out of their way to help you, while children are endlessly curious and inquisitive in the company of strangers. If you are heading on out to Vietnam on a Gap Year voyage of discovery, why not think about combining your trip with a spot of voluntary work abroad with children? This really is the best way to break down barriers and get to know people from another culture, whilst also giving something back to your host nation.
Whether you are travelling up the mighty Mekong River in search of the gigantic Vietnamese catfish, floating in serene Ha Long Bay where the locals live on rafts, or wandering through the flat rice paddies of the south, you cannot help but fall in love with Vietnam’s beautiful landscape. Karst mountains rise unexpectedly out of the sea, tropical rainforests of amazing size crowd the riverbanks, and astonishing waterfalls cascade over rocks and gorges. To get the best out of this remarkable land, hire a bicycle and use some pedal power to get around the sights and sounds, visiting ancient Khmer and Buddhist temples on the way, and enjoying the fragrant airs and peaceful sounds you will soon come to associate with this country. Vietnam is truly one of the world’s top destinations for cycling holidays abroad.
One element of Vietnam that simply cannot be overlooked is the wonderful cuisine on offer there. Strolls through any town will be a gift to the senses, with aromas of wonderful street food wafting up from every street corner, bright chilis, herbs and spices arranged on market stalls, and aromatic tastes that melt on your tongue. Try native dish Pho, a subtle soup flavoured with coriander, five-spice and raw meat, to discover one of the world’s finest lunches, or pick up a hand-made Banh Mi, a rice baguette often stuffed with spicy sauce, pickled carrots, pate and roasted pork belly, to eat on the run.
John is a travel writer who has voyaged the world in order to find the very best cycling holidays abroad.