Vietnam

In recent years Vietnam has become one of the “must visit” destinations in the Top Ten lists of magazines and newspaper travel supplements. It’s easy to understand why. Vietnam's long coastline of golden beaches, idyllic coves and natural wonders such as Halong Bay, combine with a long history, rich cultural heritage and breath-taking scenic beauty. Add to this its friendly people and relaxed atmosphere (excepting the mopeds...) and you have a country worthy of the plaudits it receives.

The countryside and landscapes of Vietnam is the quintessential image most of us have when imagining a true Asian landscape. Paddy fields, raised paths and causeways, small huts made of palm fronds standing on thick bamboo stilts. Water buffalo pulling single furrow ploughs through the flooded fields, driven by a local farmer in a straw, conical hat. This timeless scene can be seen across the country but so can many other stunning landscapes. In the south you can visit by boat the vast Mekong Delta, its maze of waterways nurturing the coconut plantations that line its banks. The best way to explore is in one of the traditional boats, their shallow draught and powerful engines transporting you from the wide rivers to small backwater channels that connect the isolated rural communities together. Here is the opportunity t visit the coconut plantations if you wish and sample the fish for lunch from the river. On Vietnams northern coast lies one of its biggest attractions, a UNESCO World heritage site and a favourite backdrop for film producers. Halong Bay is famous for the thousands of limestone pillars and islands that jut from the sea, their sheer sides and cliffs rising 100’s of feet into the air, topped with lush vegetation that hangs down like a mop of hair. The best way to explore is again by boat, this time in the sea-going junks that base themselves in Halong City. Trips of either one, two or three nights are the most popular on offer, cruising round this unique landscape and stopping to visit hidden cave systems, floating villages of the indigenous fisherman and hidden temples. The junks, in a similar system to hotels, are categorised and vary from tourist class to luxury. The many city in northern Vietnam is Hanoi. This atmospheric city, still with the old Market and lots of traditional buildings and colonial architecture, has a real feel of Asia about it. It is also home to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader during the war with America, which to is possible to visit and view his preserved remains. Other attractions include the main palaces and government buildings of the modern state, in areas completely different in character to the rambling old city.

The main city to the south is Saigon, a modern bustling city that is the commercial centre of the country and much more developed than Hanoi after widespread destruction during the war. There are attractions, such as some magnificent Chinese temples and its busy central market, but many of its attractions lie in its vicinity.

Perhaps the most famous are the Cu Chi tunnels, a preserved complex of Vietcong tunnels in the jungle to the north-west. Here you can witness for yourself the complexity and ingenuity of the builders. There is even a section you can crawl down, experiencing the heat and claustrophobia the soldiers must have felt despite this reconstruction being made bigger to allow larger framed westerners to get in. Other displays show how the Vietcong survived below ground for so long, what they ate and how they disguised the entrances and ventilation shafts. If you want you can even have a go at firing the weapons they use at the time.

For those wanting an insight into more traditional Vietnamese life then the city of Hoi An, situated in the middle of the country is the place to visit. An old trading centre that grew prosperous through the community of Chinese traders who based themselves here in the Middle Ages to trade with the local population, the old town is now a World heritage site. Traditional architecture of the old traders houses line the streets, their interiors preserved as they would have been when at their trading height. Temples appear on junctions and corners, their statues daubed with paint and the pungent smell of incense drifting out to passers-by. You need to explore by both foot and boat, as only a few miles upstream are villages and communities still living as they have for centuries, each community specialising in one craft to fulfil the needs of the nearby city and traders.

A perfect highlights trip would be along the lines of the following: Fly into Hanoi for a couple of nights, spend one night at Halong Bay on a junk, fly south to Hoi An/Hue for a night or two, continue on to Ho Chi Minh for 2 nights, spending an extra night or two in this area if visiting the Mekong Delta. We love to end with a stay on the beaches of Con Dao (45 minute daily scheduled flight from Ho Chi Minh with VASCO) , or alternatively you can stop off in Nha Trang enroute to Ho Chi Minh for some time on the coast. Many people choose to extend their visit with a short trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

When to go:
There is no best time to go to Vietnam. The shape of the country and its position means that whenever you decide to go it will be dry in some places and wet in others. The good news about this is that it will always be the best time to go somewhere! In the North of Vietnam the months of November to March are cold and wet. In the central zone September to December are the wettest, while the south is hot and humid for most of the year and therefore prone to heavy, sudden thunderstorms. June to August are often stated as the best months as Central Vietnam is enjoying its best weather and the north and south are outside their extreme periods. During the wet times, and especially during the central monsoon of September to November, tropical storms, or typhoons are fairly common and can disrupt travel plans, especially cruises on Halong Bay.

Families:
The majority of Vietnam is malaria free and its long thin geography means it is a year-round destination – the weather is always good somewhere! The Vietnamese people are extremely hospitable with a child-loving culture. Add to this all the varied activities on offer and the fact you can balance time out and about exploring with days lazing on the beach and you have a perfect family holiday destination. You can see Hanoi’s Old Quarter from a cyclo, catch a train to a hill station and visit local tribes, stay on a Chinese junk on Halong Bay, watch a traditional water puppet show, explore a floating market, join a dragon boat in Hue or feel the wind in your hair as you cruise the Mekong Delta by sampan. There are many exciting options for families with a sense of adventure so do ask us for a tailor-made quote.

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