While Vietnam is known to many, it is only recently that it became accessible to tourist. The country covers a 2,000 kilometre long narrow strip along the South China Sea and includes riverine detals, cool upland mountains, untouched coastal stretches, thriving cities and the relaxed capital Hanoi.
Hanoi is more reserved than Ho Chi Minh City and features preserved French-style architecture, recreational lakes, stately monuments, galleries and busy street life. Halong Bay, as World Natural Heritage, to the north is a perfect holiday destination with inspirational limestone crags and islands.
There are many ethnic groups living a traditional way of life around Sa Pa to the northwest of Hanoi. Further South, the Ancient Imperial City of Hue, as World Cultural Heritage, on the Perfume River was once home to the Emperors of south contains good beaches at Nha Trang, Da Nang (Bac My An Beach), Vung Tau and Bai Sau.
The archaeological remains of the Cham people are best seen in Da Nang and Nha Trang. Nearby, Hoi An is a preserved fusion of architectural styles dating from the 16th Century. Viet Nam's best known hillstation and cool moutain retreat is Da Lat, a quaint holiday hideaway as well as home to various interesting ethnic groups. Ho Chi Minh City is the most obvious sign of doi moi - Vietnam's economic restructuring. The city once known as Saigon is vibrant, lively and progressive.
The city has museums and grand public buildings. The markets are good places for shopping and there is a lively entertainment and dining scene in the city. Cholon, known as Saigon's Chinatown, is nearby and there are interesting pagodas, shops and streets. In and near the Mekong Delta there are several tourist attractions including the Cu Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai Cathedral and untouched farming villages like Long Xuyen.
With over 78.7 million people there is a great cultural contrast within the country. The food is unique and combines subtle spices with fresh ingredients. Street stalls are common and pho or soup is popular as are coffee and baguettes.
There are many festivals with Tet or Vietnamese New Year being the most significant Vietnamese culture is complex with music being central to many activities. Water puppets are uniquely Vietnamese and there are some very good painters in the country.