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From the stunning natural beauty of Ha Long Bay to the bustling city streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is a beautiful country with many tourist attractions, historical sites, and cultural experiences to offer visitors.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was once a colony of the French, although the language is hardly spoken in Vietnam today.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
The capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is near the Red River (Song Hong) Delta, in the north of the country.
From the 1880s to World War II, Hanoi developed as a French colonial capital.
The region around Hanoi has been a wet-rice growing area for more than 2,000 years and is considerably cooler than the humid south.
Hanoi still lags behind Ho Chi Minh City in terms of population, commerce, and standard of living, but it is the seat of power.
For a long time that power was held by Ho Chi Minh, and you can visit his final resting place; the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
The Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's former house, and a new Ho Chi Minh Museum are all nearby. Hanoi's lakes and shaded boulevards also make for pleasant afternoon strolls.
Hanoi is very compact, and the citys most interesting places for tourists are all relatively close to each other, which makes it easy to enjoy the best parts of the city on foot or by cyclo.
Ho Chi Minh Trail:
From Hanoi to Saigon; with all the little should-sees in between. Travelling south from Hanoi, all the major cities are on the coast.
While in the North
The Tonkin region stretches from the Hoang Lien Mountains, across the Red River to the islands of Halong Bay.
The mountainous areas are home to many hill tribes, and Halong Bay has thousands of limestone islands in the Gulf of Tonkin; where exploring caves is the order of the day. Tours can easily be arranged from Hanoi.
Hue was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty and the site of the Emperor Gia Long's imperial palace - the Forbidden Purple City.
Outside the city walls are the tombs of past emperors.
If you're flying, ask for a window seat on the one hour flight from Saigon to Nha Trang.
As you approach to land over the sea, the views of Nha Trang's islet-studded bay are truly marvellous.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Also called Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is located on the Saigon River near the Mekong delta, in the south of the country.
Saigon was captured by the French in 1859, and made the capital of the colony of Cochin China, and later all of French Indochina.
Ho Chi Minh City is easily visited on foot. Most major tourist attractions are in District 1, which is fairly compact.
The main downtown area, district 1, is built on a bend in the Saigon River, while the large Chinese market area of Cholon (district 5) is a few kilometres to the west.
As the largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City offers a wide range of entertainment and culinary options.
Even if you don't stay in one of the upmarket hotels, a visit to them is a must.
The roof garden of the Rex Hotel is an excellent place for an evening meal. The streets below are full of mopeds.
All you can eat breakfast buffets are always a good deal and set you up well for the sweaty day ahead. Try the one in the Majestic.
Vung Tau - Saigon's Beach
When you've had enough of the noise in Saigon and the you've seen the Reunification Hall, the Revolutionary Museum, and the Notre Dame Cathedral, you can always take off to Vung Tau.
Ho Chi Minh City's closest beach resort can be reached by a picturesque hydrofoil ride down the Sai Gon River or by a rather circuitous highway route.
Travel in Vietnam
For twenty years Vietnam was a battleground of Communism against Capitalism, and a bloody nose for the Americans.
Buses go almost everywhere, and they're extremely cheap.
Foreigners will pay more than the Vietnamese, unless their bargaining skills are good and the driver is sympathetic.
The train now goes all the way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, but no-one in their right mind would want to do it all in one ride; there's too much see along the way.
Best used for the Hanoi to Hue stretch, and Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City; if you don't have time for Dalat.
Vietnam Airlines is the national airline, and Aeroflot fly between Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi on the way to Moscow.
Vietnam Travel Overview
The majority of tourists arrive in Vietnam in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then make their way up or down the coast, with the choice of travel method depending both on budgets and the amount of time.
With more limited time, flights present the best option to hop between the further apart destinations in the north, south and central areas of Vietnam.
Trains are also quite popular, especially overnight trains in a soft sleeper. Vietnams Reunification Express runs the entire coast between Hanoi and HCMC, with stops along the way in Hue, Danang and Nha Trang. In addition, the train is the main way to get between Hanoi and Sapa in the north.
On a tighter budget, the most popular way to get around is the open-tour bus allowing travellers to stop and stay in destinations as long as they like and the prices and convenience are hard to beat. For those who prefer to travel more independently, there are public buses that run many of the same routes, as well as many additional routes.
Private cars with driver can also be easily arranged for travel and can be a good option for those with families or groups, for popular routes that are not served by flights, or for longer routes with more customized stops.
For the more adventurous and those with plenty of time, a motorbike or bicycle can also be a great way to see the country, or just a good way to get around once you have already landed in a destination.
In a region that is on the move, Vietnam is without rival in providing the traveller with images of an authentic, enchanting culture, together with examples of Asian economic dynamism still in its infancy.
Highlights in the north of Vietnam includes Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National Park, Perfume Pagoda, Hoa Lu and Tam coc, Cuc Phuong National Park, Ba Be Lake and National Park, Tam Dao Hill Station, Hoa Binh, Mai Chau, Son La, Dien Bien Phu, Sapa, Fansipan Summit, Bac Ha Hill - tribe Market, Northern Mountain (Northwest and Northeast) and the Vinh Moc Tunnels.
In the centre of Vietnam, popular attractions include Hue, DMZ, Danang, Marble Mountains, Hoian, Cua Dai beach, My Lai, My Son Hollyland, Nha Trang, Cana, Phan Thiet, Dalat, Dalat Flower Garden, Hill tribe Museum, Lak lake, Kontum and Pleiku.
Highlights in the south of Vietnam include Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vung Tau, Tay Ninh, Cu Chi, Mekong Delta, Mytho, Con Phung Island, Can Tho, Ca Mau, U-Minh Forest, Chau Doc, Con Dao Island and Phu Quoc Island.
Vietnam Travel Tips
Vietnamese people are very gracious, polite and generous and will make every effort to make guests feel comfortable. Do not be surprised if somebody you have just met invites you home to meet the family and friends. These are the experiences that will enrich your visit to Vietnam.
From the worker's simple outfits in the rice fields to western style business suits in the city, the Vietnamese are conservative in their dress. Visitors wearing shorts are tolerated, even though you may see many shirtless Vietnamese men in shorts.
Wear conservative clothing if you visit a culturally sensitive area such as a temple or pagoda -- the less bare skin the better.
Keep in mind that, although tolerant, people may be judgmental. Unfortunately you cannot expect hospitality at every turn and you may experience problems with petty theft and pick pockets. This is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Nha Trang. In other areas, especially in the north, reports of these activities are extremely minimal. It is not something to be paranoid about but be aware of your surroundings.
Below is a list of do's and don'ts to help you avoid some of the social taboos during your visit. Take heed of these pointers and you will be rewarded with a culturally and socially enriching experience.
Store your cash, credit cards, airline tickets and other valuables in a safe place. Most 4-star hotels have in-room safes, otherwise ask the reception to keep your valuable things in their deposit facility.
Take a hotel business card from the reception desk before venturing out from your hotel. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or cyclo much easier.
Carry a roll of toilet paper in your daypack on long excursions from your base hotel. You never know when you might need it!
Dress appropriately. Not only for the prevailing weather, but also not to cause offence to the local people. Vietnamese have conservative dress codes, and it is only in larger cities that these codes are a little more relaxed. Do not wear revealing clothing.
Drink plenty of bottled water. During the summer months you should be drinking a minimum of 2 litres per day. If you drink tea, coffee and alcohol you should increase you water intake accordingly as these will help to dehydrate you.
If invited into a Vietnamese home, always remove your shoes at the front door when entering.
Ask for permission when taking a photograph of someone. If they indicate that they do not want you to, then abide by their wishes.
Offer money or push the issue.
Never carry more money than you need when walking around the streets.
Do not wear large amounts of jewellery. There are two reasons for not doing this (1) It is considered impolite to flaunt wealth in public; (2) It is more likely that you may become a victim of a pickpocket or drive-by bag snatcher.
Don't be paranoid about your security, just be aware of your surroundings.
Don't wear singlets, shorts, dresses or skirts, or tops with low-neck lines and bare shoulders to Temples and Pagodas. To do this is considered extremely rude and offensive.
Avoid giving empty water bottles, sweets and candies or pens to the local people when trekking through ethnic minority villages. You cannot guarantee that the empty bottles will be disposed of in a correct manner, and the people have no access to dental health. If you want to give pens, ask your guide to introduce you to the local teacher and donate them to the whole community.
Never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar when in someones house.
Never lose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties. Always maintain a cool and happy demeanour and you will be reciprocated with the same.
Do not try to take photographs of military installations or anything to do with the military. This can be seen as a breach of national security.
Never take video cameras into the ethnic minority villages. They are considered to be too intrusive by the local people.
The above advice is meant to help you have a perfect trip to Vietnam.
Do not be overly paranoid though. Generally, Vietnamese people are very appreciative if they see you trying to abide by their customs, and very forgiving if you get it wrong, or forget. If you make the effort, you will be rewarded.
Learn Vietnamese reading, Vietnamese writing and Vietnamese speaking with these free words and sentences that can help you with common greetings and basic phrases during your travels in Vietnam.
Vietnam Travel Guides
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