The Outdoor, Cultural & Culinary Delights of Vietnam
Your next adventure: Travelling in Vietnam
Where in the world?: Vietnam, South East Asia
Activity: Travel, Trekking, Kayaking, Eating (!)
Wrap up: Vietnam boasts a rich colonial history, picturesque countryside, fascinating cities and a spectacular coastline. Eat to your heart's content and trek, kayak, or shop your way around.
Vietnam boasts a rich colonial history, picturesque countryside, fascinating cities and a spectacular coastline. Spectacular Halong Bay, the copycat tailoring in Hoi An, beautiful beaches of Nha Trang, a thousand smiles, the famous Reunification Express, superb food and the deep green of the paddy fields (like you've never seen before) are just a few of the reasons why you will love Vietnam.
With over 500 local dishes and a very heavy French colonial influence, you will find Vietnam a gourmet's delight. Not only is the food less spicy than Thailand, making it a little easier on a Western palate, it is also incredibly good value. Vegetarians are not forgotten here. Because the local version of Buddhism dictates that monks should be vegetarians, the local cuisine has developed accordingly. Seafood is available throughout the country and is very good value.
Bottled water is available everywhere and it is important that you drink this and not tap water.
Things to do
After all that eating, you'll need to do some exploring, and some of the best things to do in Vietnam are:
- Trekking in northern Vietnam, close to the border with Laos and Cambodia, visiting different ethnic minority people, such as the White Thai, Black Thai, Hmong, Dzao and Muong.
- Exploring the Mekong Delta, which is full of intricate waterways and is the primary rice-producing region.
- Discovering Saigon, now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. Whether it is eating a bowl of noodles at Ben Thanh Market, exploring the curious alleyways of Cholon, visiting famous war landmarks, or a boat trip down the Saigon River, anyone who visits Saigon is invariably swept up in its many frenetic activities and also its amazing night-life.
- Relaxing in the capital – Hanoi, which lies on the banks of the Red River in the north, and is the political and ideological centre of the country. A lot more sedate than Saigon, it boasts many fine French colonial buildings and scenic lakes.
- Kayaking in Halong Bay, among the 3000 limestone pinnacles.
Travelling in Asia can offer some of the most rewarding travel in the world: enlightening encounters with local people, fantastic scenery, great markets, exciting adventure activities and more. However, you must remember that Vietnam is a developing country whose infrastructure may differ from what you expect at home.
Expect poor road conditions and be prepared for some inconveniences due to such things as restaurants or tourist sites being closed and our regular transport services not always being available (this can be especially true during the Tet holiday period). Delays may occur, and at times your itinerary may have to be changed and transportation may have to be altered. Remember, such inconveniences, when handled with patience and in good spirit, are seldom insurmountable - in fact, they can often add to the excitement of the adventure!
Trains in Vietnam are quite basic in the standard of their facilities and the journeys are fairly long. The 'soft class sleepers', where up to four travellers may share a compartment, are by no means a luxury train journey, but worth it if you really want to see Vietnam.
Be culturally aware
Dress modestly when visiting people's homes, as well as certain temples and palaces. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the hot and humid climate. Shorts should be knee-length, and singlets and tank tops are usually not suitable except when on the beach.
Some tips on what to pack
If you are planning to do some walking you'll get the most out of your holiday if you are prepared. I'd recommend you take some lightweight walking/hiking shoes and try to avoid open toe sandal-type footwear. Also take lightweight, comfortable shorts, pants, and t-shirts (a synthetic, moisture-wicking, fast-drying material is great in warm weather). Other items I recommend you take include long-sleeved shirts for sun protection, lightweight breathable rain wear (being prepared for the rain is important), lightweight jacket, hat with a brim, daypack (large enough to hold extra layers, rain gear, a camera, snacks and sunglasses), sunscreen, sunglasses, water-bottle and alternate clothing and shoes for evening restaurants.
You may wish to bring a sleeping bag liner, particularly if you are travelling by train. For light sleepers, I recommend that you bring ear-plugs and eye-patches too.
If you are purchasing new footwear for your trip make sure you undertake some walking before-hand to ensure that they are comfortable and to avoid blisters on your holiday.
The best recommendation for packing is to pack light! Don't take more than you really need because lugging around heavy luggage can be a burden and remember, anything you may have forgotten or find you need, can be easily purchased locally. Backpacks and soft-sided duffle bags are easier to get on and off transport, up and down stairs, though rollers are also manageable.
When to go and what to expect
Vietnam occupies a thin strip of land along the coast and covers a wide latitudinal range. Consequently, Vietnam's climate can vary from the North to the South. In addition, Vietnam extends from sea level to over 3,000 metres and temperatures can also vary significantly according to altitude.
Vietnam's climate tends to vary from the North to South and also varies according to altitude. Southern Vietnam experiences only two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May through to November while the dry extends from December through to April. February, March and April are typically hot and humid. Coastal central Vietnam is characterised by coastal lowlands, and unlike the other regions of Vietnam, the most significant amounts of rainfall are experienced between the months of December and February. Dalat in the central highlands experiences cooler temperatures due to its altitude. From November to March daily highs range from the low to mid twenties (Celsius), while evening temperatures drop significantly lower. Northern Vietnam experiences cool to cold temperatures from November through to March while hot conditions predominate from May through to October. February and March are typically characterised by constant drizzle.
There is no 'best' time to travel as good weather conditions can be experienced in a certain part of the country all year round. Travellers to Vietnam should take appropriate wet-weather gear regardless of the time visited as heavy showers are unpredictable.
Steve Wroe! Steve lived in Asia for many years, including a 2 year stint as a tour leader for an adventure company. He has travelled the length and breadth of Asia and rates Angkor Wat as his favourite site, and the food in Vietnam as Asia's best.