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Where to go and what to do in Vietnam, Indochina’s rising star
Curving into an elegant S shape on the far shores of Southeast Asia, Vietnam is perhaps the most beautiful of all the emerging tourist destinations.
By: LUXE TRAVEL™ NETWORK
Luxe Travel has something to offer travellers of every taste. It can provide the ultimate beach break, an endless variety of cultural options, enormously varied – and hugely inexpensive – shopping opportunities and delicious cuisine.
It’s worth the challenge, because Saigon can provide some of the best shopping opportunities in the world. Visit before Christmas and you’ll return very popular. I found myself struggling to spend money on a sufficient scale. Laquer trays stacking into pagoda styles, decorative bowls? Embroidered cotton duvet covers? A few dollars each. Even the opening price on a beautiful silk rug was less than the maximum I’d decided to pay: I bargained a bit, but only to be polite. Loot-sized shoulderbags were on sale for about $5 but I’ve had experience of budget bags losing their first seams half-way to the airport and their contents in the hold so I bought a genuine Samsonite – and even that was cheap. http://www.privateluxuryjourneys.com/
The northern capital, Hanoi, is somewhat quieter. Much of the city centre was built by France in the colonial era, and has something of the atmosphere of a French provincial city. This a great place to explore the cultural side of this spiritual country. In city-centre parks locals practice Tai Chi, there are puppet theatres to visit and fantastic restaurants serving both French and Vietnamese cuisine. The post-war communist regime officially discouraged religion but you’d hardly notice this: incense-strewn Buddhist monasteries and Chinese temples are scattered around the Hanoi as well as huge churches and cathedrals dating back to the days of colonial France.
Religion pervades the countryside. Whole communities have grown up around pilgrimage sites where Christian and Buddhist stories blend in a whimsical, charming manner. And it’s in the country where Vietnam’s frenetic pace slows, the welcome warms, and you can really start to appreciate the country’s natural beauty. There are iconic highlights, including the towering limestone islands of Halong Bay, but where-ever you go on in the country there are beautiful scenes. Often they’re combined with human interest. Highland regions are still farmed by hilltribe minorities, rich with traditional dress and cultural interest. The landscape of central Vietnam was at the heart of the conflict with America and history lives on in countless ways, from city-centre palaces riddled with shellfire to isolated hills, honeycombed with tunnels, where the Vietnamese would spy on American troops. In the south the country flattens where the Mekong Delta spreads out towards the sea. Annual floods dictate the lifestyle here: houses are on stilts, boats take over as means of travel and rice is cropped on every side.
And that’s without mentioning Vietnam’s glorious beaches. These line Vietnam’s coast, palm-fringed crescents of golden sands, washed by tropical waters. While there are now a few luxury beach resorts in Vietnam these are, by international standards, rare. More often the beaches are deserted or home only to one or two family-run restaurants, where the menu is fresh from the sea. Best of all, while most tropical climates are pretty seasonal, Vietnam’s gentle curving length tracks most of the latitudes of Southeast Asia. This means that at any time of year some of Vietnam’s beaches will be at their sunny, tropical best. The north is great during the UK’s spring and autumn, the central area – with the beautiful fishing town of Hoi An and the superb beaches of Da Nang – is great in the UK Summer while the south is best in the UK winter.
Best of all, you’ll still find Vietnam delightfully unspoiled. It’s still a place where the school run sees an endless stream of schoolgirls wearing white Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, and the countryside is dotted with farmers wearing shell-like woven hats to keep the sun at bay. The dark shadow of the war with America and the decades of communism that followed did, to a great extent, keep travellers away and this is one country where tourism is really in its infancy: the time to visit is now.