Get To Know Vietnam – Seize The MomentBy Chanika from Vacations Team
Vietnam is synonymous with sweeping beauty and proud rich traditions, it both blends the hustle and bustle of modern life and the tranquillity of bygone times. Lush landscapes ranging from the Red River Delta in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, with stretches of unspoiled beaches, verdant forests and soaring peaks in between. Add a delightfully complex cuisine – a fusion of French-colonial influences and local staples — and incredible cultural diversity, and you have a recipe for the trip of a lifetime.
Ho Chi Minh City — formerly Saigon — is a bustling metropolis with rich cultural attractions that looks as much to the past as it does to the future. By day, absorb the sights and sounds of Cholon, the city’s vibrant Chinatown, and descend into the Cu Chi Tunnels, the subterranean network used by the Vietcong. Then in the evenings, get a taste of modern Vietnam by wining and dining in trendy luxury restaurants and lounges. Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam at its most dizzying: a high-octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the country forward with its pulsating energy. A chaotic whirl, the city breathes life and vitality into all who settle here, and visitors cannot help but be hauled along for the ride.
Wander through timeless alleys to incense-infused temples before negotiating chic designer malls beneath sleek 21st-century skyscrapers. The ghosts of the past live on in buildings that one generation ago witnessed a city in turmoil, but now the real beauty of the former Saigon’s urban collage is the seamless blending of these two worlds into one exciting mass.
Head north for the slower pace of life in Hanoi, the country’s cultural heart that still bears traces of centuries of change. Take a luxury tour of this genteel city of wide Parisian boulevards and temples via cyclo (the Vietnamese version of a rickshaw) and delve into traditional culture by attending a water puppet show and meandering through the One Pillar Pagoda. Hanoi also serves as the perfect jumping off point for discovering Ha Long Bay, a stunning landscape of countless jagged limestone islands rearing out of the water. Before all of that though, why not negotiate a passage past the ubiquitous knock-off merchants and you’ll find the original streets of the Old Quarter. Defiant real-deal farmers hawk their wares, while city folk breakfast on noodles, practise t’ai chi at dawn or play chess with goateed grandfathers. Dine on the wild and wonderful at every corner, sample market wares, uncover an evolving arts scene, then sleep soundly in luxury for very little cost. Meet the people, delve into the past and witness the awakening of a Hanoi on the move
Alternatively, head inland to Mai Chau where buffalo paths and rice fields unfold upon an ancient landscape that is still home to hill tribe villages. Set in an idyllic valley, hemmed in by hills, the Mai Chau area is a world away from Hanoi’s hustle. The small town of Mai Chau itself is unappealing, but just outside the patchwork of rice fields rolls out, speckled by tiny Thai villages where visitors doss down for the night in traditional stilt houses and wake up to a rural soundtrack defined by gurgling irrigation streams and birdsong. The villagers are mostly White Thai, distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China. Most no longer wear traditional dress, but the Thai women are masterful weavers producing plenty of traditional-style textiles. Locals do not employ strong-arm sales tactics here: polite bargaining is the norm.
Between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City lies tiny Hoi An, a village near the pristine China Beach. Here, catch a glimpse at yet another face of this fascinating travel destination — total peace and tranquillity. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent. The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here. And yet, down by the market and over on Cam Nam Island, you’ll find life has changed little. Travel a few kilometres further – you’ll find some superb bicycle, motorbike and boat trips – and some of central Vietnam’s most enticingly laid-back scenery and beaches are within easy reach.
Nowhere in Vietnam is changing as fast as Danang. For decades it had a reputation as a provincial backwater, but big changes are ongoing. Stroll along the Han riverfront and you’ll find gleaming new modernist hotels, and apartments and restaurants are emerging. Spectacular bridges now span the river, and in the north of the city, the landmark new D-City is rising from the flatlands. Venture south and the entire Danang Beach strip is booming with hotel and resort developments. That said, the city itself still has few conventional sightseeing spots, except for a very decent museum and a stunningly quirky bridge (or three). So for most travellers, a few days enjoying the city’s beaches, restaurants and nightlife is probably enough. Book an after-dark tour to see Danang at its shimmering neon-lit best. The city’s street-food scene also deserves close investigation