Few countries have changed so dramatically in such a short time as Vietnam. A war torn country that found peace and unification just four decades ago has seen tourist numbers gradually increase until today it is one of the most popular exotic holiday destinations in the world. There is little doubt that the huge increase in air travel availability has helped but that still means that it must bear comparison with the most sought after destinations in the world; it does and more. Vietnam tours offer rich variety; history and culture, wonderful cuisine, beautiful beaches and a huge contrast to the experience that many travellers to Vietnam have witnessed before.
Clearly Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are the best known major conurbations and several Vietnam tours set out from those two centres or incorporate them both.
• Hanoi in the North in many ways is the main culture jewel of Vietnam. There is plenty of evidence of its past even though war and time has destroyed some of its past. It flourished under the French who took control towards the end of the 19th Century. Any visit to Vietnam should include time exploring this atmospheric city with its tree-lined avenues, lakes and colonial architecture.
• Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is in the south east of the country is comfortably the country’s largest city and its economic hub. Activities range from general industry to food processing, finance, construction to tourism. Tour companies are only too happy to show visitors the City and the surrounding region including the famous Mekong Delta. Again the French influence can be found in the architecture and wide tree-lined avenues.
Vietnam is a diverse country that can probably be sub-divided into four distinct regions and there are regional climatic variations to consider as well. It is certainly possible to travel Vietnam’s length by road or rail but internal air travel is cheap and frequent for those with limited time but wanting to see as much as possible.
• Northern Vietnam centres on Hanoi and includes a number of national parks as well as Ha Long Bay. It has four distinct seasons with winter quite cold and summer hot and wet. Spring and autumn are arguably the most pleasant seasons. On Higher ground winter temperatures fall further with occasional snow.
• Central Coast includes the ancient city of Hue where Vietnamese kings made their headquarters. Summers are hot and dry but between September and February there are often high seas, strong winds and monsoon rain.
• Central Highlands offers the forest and indigenous tribal life that provides a sharp contrast to much of the country.
• Southern Vietnam is the economic heartland of Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta the highlights of any tour. From March into June it is hot and dry before the rains come; they can last until November but that does not mean there is relentless rain though flooding can occur. Once December arrives, round into March the weather is pleasant with evening temperatures around 20C.
History and Culture
Few visitors to Vietnam are not aware of its recent history that found the Americans replacing the French as an overseas’ presence. There is much more that they will learn on Vietnam tours about this great country. It has been occupied by the Chinese on a number of different occasions and the temples that remain as evidence form part of delights that tourists will see.
France was its colonial ruler and French architecture is common; the grand houses were not accessible to local Vietnamese whose lives were largely either on the land or in service. The Japanese occupied this land briefly during World War II before ultimately the struggle between North and South left its mark throughout Vietnam which stretches 16 degrees of latitude north to south. It is a very populous country of over 90 million, almost 60 million of whom were born after the War ended. They bear no grudge and people from all over the world are welcome to enjoy local hospitality.
Those interested in modern history can see plenty that relates to the Viet Cong’s ultimately successful struggle with the Americans.
Asian cuisine has become popular throughout the world and Vietnamese cuisine certainly bears closer examination. There are a number of influences, not least from the Chinese and the French. It all adds up to great cuisine because there is a vast range of fresh produce, plenty of herbs and spices and the sea offers up some excellent fish. Food plays an integral part in Vietnamese life which tourists taking any of the various Vietnam tours will soon discover. There are regional variations which would be expected in such a large country but everywhere any event is an excuse for cooking a special meal. The natural cuisine of the north tends to be less spicy than that of the south due to the produce grown locally but just as national cuisine has spread internationally so regional cuisine in Vietnam has spread nationally.
The Wonderful Coastline
It is great to relax on one of the wonderful beaches in Vietnam but not at the expense of seeing what this magnificent country has to offer. A cruise on Halong Bay should be on everyone’s list if they are in the northern part of Vietnam using Hanoi as their base. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site yet it is in the south that beaches dominate and a great deal of development has taken place as a result.
When it comes to deciding which of the Vietnam tours to book much will depend upon the time of year. The sights and sounds, and of course the cuisine are there all year round. However it is clearly best to avoid times when there is likely to be heavy rain every day. That is something that experienced tour companies can provide advice about because clearly they want to show everything that is good about their country so that visitors return a second time and tell their friends and family about what a great country they have ‘discovered.’