Young, beautiful, colonial, green, colourful, modern, traditional, chic, gentle, historical, old – multiple adjectives cannot begin to describe the extraordinary country of Vietnam. Stretching from the mountainous North, where it borders China, down to the mouth of the mighty Mekong in the South, Vietnam appears like multiple countries rolled into one.
From stunning beach hideaways along the endless coastline to the ethnic hill tribes and colourful markets in the north; from traditional family life along the banks of the Mekong to thousands of years of history at the former imperial place of Hue – Vietnam has it all.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site is the lovely, sleepy town of Hoi An. Situated south of Hanoi, on the edge of a shallow river, Hoi An was established 200 years ago as a trading port with Japan and China. It is the perfect place to have clothes made, enjoy the art galleries and appreciate wonderfully preserved Chinese Clan houses. You might want to base yourself at one of the deliciously comfortable hotels on nearby Cua Dai beach and take gentle excursions into Hoi An.
If you are interested in Vietnam’s Imperial past, you must visit Hue. The sense of majesty and its powerful links to the past cannot be escaped. The Imperial citadel dominates the town, and all around are pagodas and tombs to courtiers and successful mandarins. Despite its majesty, the people of Hue are Vietnam’s most gentle. Many older residents don’t even lock their doors!
A totally different world can be discovered on the coastline south of Hue. Here is sheer and unabashed luxury coupled with the ultimate in service. A few days here could be the perfect respite before heading to heady Ho Chi Minh (Saigon).
Ho Chi Minh is the epitome of a South-East Asian city; noisy, young, bustling and a bit brash. But scratch beneath the surface and you will quickly discover its past. There are still some wonderful old colonial buildings standing proud despite their faded grandeur. Take a cyclo to what was Paris Square, home to the imposing, red bricked Notre Dame Cathedral and the grand Old General Post Office. For a more modern take on history, explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Viet Cong stronghold during the Vietnam War. Try and squeeze through one of the man holes yourself. You’ll find yourself wishing you had skipped that fabulous meal last night!
We also have our more lateral diversions; one in the North and one in the South. If you are keen on hiking and mountains, a trip to Sapa is a must. High in the hills, Sapa boasts one of the most colourful markets with tribes from all around gathering. Traditionally it was where boys met girls and they dressed up for the occasion. Even now the colours and craftsmanship in these traditional outfits will amaze you. Equally colourful is a trip to the Mekong Delta. Here your picture book image of Vietnam becomes a reality. You can watch tiny children skip alongside the delicate green coloured paddy fields followed by seemingly docile water buffalos. See how the river is the community’s lifeline; for bathing, for washing clothes and dishes, for cooking water or simply for having fun at the end of yet another hot and steamy day.