Smaller than neighbouring Thailand and less cosmopolitan than nearby Hong Kong, Vietnam can sometimes slip off people’s list of must-see places before they die. But this beautiful and unassuming country deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list. Here is just a selection of the reasons why.
When you hear the name Vietnam the closest word-association might well be ‘war’. And it’s true that this country has faced decades of division and occupation from other countries. The long-term impact is still visible in Vietnam today. Influences range from the positive, such as coffee, baguettes and diversity; to the poignant, such as the museums and a lost generation. Take the good with the bad and learn about the tumultuous and conflicting history of this fascinating country.
Vietnam is home to some of the world’s largest and most spectacular caves. In 2009 Son Doong cave, the largest in the world, was first explored and has since become open to tourists. 40-storeys tall, with wispy clouds forming at the top and stunning stalactite formations across the cave floor – this is undeniably other-worldly. Well worth a visit.
Food is at the core of Vietnamese culture and with all the fresh meat, seafood and vegetables used to create the country’s signature dishes you’d be hard pressed not to find something you like. To truly experience the native cuisine, make sure to eat at the sidewalk stalls. You’ll find hundreds of these in the cities selling classic pho’s and other dishes such as bun ca; a fish and pork-based soup, and the iconic banh mi; a spicy filled baguette.
One of the main characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine is its freshness, with its array of delicious herbs, such as mint, coriander, basil and a host of less well-known local ones, and salads, like the delicious Bun Bo, a fresh noodle and herb salad that will help you cool down when the heat gets too much.
Whether it’s the view across the jungles and mountain ranges, seen from a trek along the Sapa hills; or the divine vista over the Halong bay, peering out across the 1600 islands which protrude out of the sea – Vietnam is home to some breathtaking sights. Their sunsets, in particular, are not to be missed.
From the buzzing metropolis of Hoi Chi Minh, where tradition meets the frantic pace of modern life in a head on collision, and the bustling streets of the political capital that is Hanoi to Hoi An, the beautiful historic town declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its wonderfully well-preserved streets from the 15th to 19th centuries – if you love your city breaks, Vietnam has all the variety you could need.
Visit Cat Tien national park for 72,000 hectares of lowland rainforest and a chance to see the almost-extinct Javan Rhinoceros. Sun bears, gibbons and a diverse biology of plants make this a truly un-missable experience.
Believe it or not, Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of coffee and while tea is still the most traditionally taken drink, they do have their own unique and delicious way of taking coffee. Often drunk with condensed milk and sometimes taken as a cappuccino with whipped up egg; your best place to try a cup of Vietnamese coffee is in a traditional sidewalk bar.
We’re not talking knee-high mud, wellies and Florence and the Machine – Vietnamese festivals are altogether more wholesome, spiritual affairs. Visit during Tet, the new year celebration for a colourful festival of renewal to welcome in the new year. Pick up good luck charms and try some of the region’s delicacies over a 7-day celebration.
Vietnam boasts over 2000 km of coastline – so if your idea of heaven is snorkelling in clear waters or sunbathing in a secluded cove you are likely to find your perfect spot here. Star beach in Phu Quoc is the ideal destination for those who are looking for the path less travelled.
Thailand may be the land of the smiles but in Vietnam the people are the descendants of dragons and angels (or so the folklore goes…) Like many of the countries in the Indochinese region, the Vietnamese are a reason to visit in itself. Polite, welcoming and friendly – they’re the cherry on the top of a truly remarkable country. So, why wait? Put Vietnam at the top of your bucket list and start planning your trip.