Vietnam is an amphibious country of lands and waters equally inhabited by its people. Remote villages on high mountains and crowded floating markets. From plains sown with green rice fields, lush forests, mangroves and old commercial emporiums. Where great rivers flow that form marvelous deltas and islands of unusual shapes emerge from the sea. An ancient tree deeply rooted in its tradition, but with its branches swayed by new winds of modernity.
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Culture & History
Vietnam is a traditional and conservative society, especially the older generations, who remember the long and hard years lived and every millimeter of territory for which they fought. Traditionally Vietnamese life has revolved around family, countryside and faith, so the pace of rural existence has not changed for centuries. Everything was turned upside down by war, communism and globalization. Although different generations still share the same roof, the same rice and the same religion.
In Vietnam, family status is even more important than salary. Family reputation commands respect and opens doors. Family is paramount to Vietnamese and includes second and third cousins. This clan meets to celebrate holidays and successes, but also in times of mourning or trouble. It constitutes a point of support for the elderly.
Thailand may contest the top spot, but in Southeast Asia, nothing really comes close: Vietnamese food is that good. Incredibly subtle in its flavors and outstanding in its diversity, Vietnamese cooking is a fascinating draw for travelers – myriad street-food tours and cooking schools are a testament to this. Geography plays a crucial role, with Chinese flavors influencing the soups of the north, spices sparking up southern cuisine, and herbs and complex techniques typifying the central coastline, rightly renowned as Vietnam’s epicurean hot spot. And up and down the country you can mingle with villagers, sample local dishes, and sip rice wine in Vietnam's many regional markets.
You can find in Vietnam and enjoy how rich and varied its gastronomy is. Influenced mainly by Chinese cuisine, with rice and noodles as the usual ingredient and with the final spicy touch of many of its dishes, Vietnamese cuisine also has traits or inheritances of French cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is mainly enjoyed in small local restaurants and on every corner in one of its countless street stalls.
PHO (noodle soup) Without a doubt the national dish and daily option to eat anywhere and at any time. Pho is a typical noodle soup with meat (Pho Bo) or with fish (Pho Ga). There are also vegetarian options (tofu).
Goi Cuon (spring rolls) is Vietnam's traditional spring roll made of rice paper and served cold with shrimp and vegetables with different sauces. Its fried version is Cha Gio, the main base being ground meat.
Cau Lao (noodle soup) is the typical noodle soup of the Hoi An area. As such it is a noodle soup with pork meat seasoned with different herbs and lime.
Bun Cha (noodles with meat) is the typical dish of the Hanoi area. The base of the dish is a soup served separately along with rice noodles, Goi Cuon, grilled meat dumplings, and rice.
Vietnamese culture is complex, diverse, and represents something of a history lesson. The nation's labyrinthine, teeming trading quarters are rich in indigenous crafts and reflect centuries-old mercantile influences. Ancient temples display distinctly Chinese influences in the north and Hindu origins in the south. Meanwhile the broad, tree-lined boulevards and grand state buildings that grace the capital date from the French colonial period. And it's impossible to forget Vietnam's pivotal position close to the epicenter of East Asian power and prosperity, for its cities' skylines are defined by clusters of glass-and-steel corporate HQs and sleek luxury hotels.
You can find North Vietnam at, in the capital city of Hanoi, the main cultural center of Vietnam for more than 1,000 years. Learn about the history and culture of the country's various ethnic groups at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, and gain a local perspective on the Vietnam War at the B52 Victory Museum. Tour the 10th-century Temple of Literature, dedicated to the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Join local residents and practice tai chi near Hoan Kiem Lake.
To the south of Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial and economic center. Skyscrapers tower over ancient temples and historic colonial buildings. Try the food from the street stalls that sell their products next to elegant bars and luxury boutiques.
Take in the views from the Saigon Skydeck, an observation deck on the 68th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower. Visit the gardens and the 18th century temple of the Giac Lam Pagoda. For a pleasant cultural experience, attend a musical performance at the Saigon Opera House.
Outdoors & Adventure
Unforgettable experiences are everywhere in Vietnam. There’s the sublime: gazing over a surreal seascape of limestone islands from the deck of a traditional junk in Halong Bay. The ridiculous: taking 10 minutes just to cross the street through a tsunami of motorbikes in Hanoi. The inspirational: exploring the world’s most spectacular cave systems in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The comical: watching a moped loaded with honking pigs weave a wobbly route along a country lane. And the contemplative: witnessing a solitary grave in a cemetery of thousands of war victims.
If you have the bills, Vietnam has the thrills and chills. Some require a little physical effort, such as motorbiking switchback after switchback up the jaw-dropping Hai Van Pass in central Vietnam. Others require even more sweat: kitesurfing the tropical oceanic waters off Mui Ne or hiking the evergreen hills around Bac Ha or Sapa. And when you’re done with all that adrenaline stuff, there’s plenty of horizontal ‘me’ time to relish. Vietnam has outstanding spas – from marble temples of treatments to simple family-run massage salons with backpacker-friendly rates.
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