Vietnam is an exotic land with bountiful beauty; stunning unspoiled beaches and tropical islands, vibrant-green rice paddies, ravishing rainforests, jungle-clad hills, limestone islands jutting out of the sea, magnificent mountains and awe-inspiring cave-systems. Its people are a curious mix of traditional and reserved, yet technology-loving, fun, friendly and hospitable, quick-witted and business-minded. Its cities are a heady blend of graceful, historic Orient and energetic, modern Indochina.
Culture lovers will be enthralled by the melting-pot of influence ranging from Chinese to Indian (Cham), Japanese and of course French that has left its mark on the nation’s food, temples and architecture. The nation’s atmospheric capital, Hanoi blends elegant French-style boulevards with the hectic pace of its historic heart, the very Vietnamese Old Quarter, where hawkers, shops and street-food stalls jostle for space amongst ancient architecture and temples. Vietnam’s biggest and most bustling city, Ho Chi Minh City (often referred to by its former name, Sai gon), fuses graceful old architecture of French and Vietnamese design with thoroughly modern malls and tower-blocks.
The central region displays the strongest traces of traditional Vietnamese culture in the pagodas, palaces, royal tombs and citadel of the imperial capital Hue and the graceful port-town of Hoi An. However, even these regions display traces of foreign influence, from the Japanese bridge in Hoi An to the nearby ancient Cham temple site of My Son.
Head to the hills and you’ll encounter spectacular scenery and the more traditional, slower pace of life lived out by the 50-odd ethnic groups that reside in Vietnam.