The abundance of Vietnam’s natural wonders can leave visitors spoiled for choice. Relax on pristine beaches, savor verdant tropical forests, explore immense caves, splash in pools at cooling waterfalls, or trek through hilly terrain sculpted by rice terraces – there’s truly something for everyone.
From the mountains of Tibet, the mighty Mekong River flows 4,500 km (2,800 miles) to reach the sea south of Ho Chi Minh City. Here it becomes a maze of ecologically rich and incredibly picturesque tributaries. Small islands in the Mekong Delta offer idyllic accommodations, ideal for experiencing local life and visiting floating markets, or just for listening to the birds sing while relaxing in a hammock. At the other end of Vietnam, the Red River Delta is smaller in size, but culturally more significant, since it is the cradle of the ancient Vietnamese civilization and culture. Its rich mangrove forests are full of many species of plants and animals. Hundreds of tranquil pagodas are dotted around the countryside, and there are many bustling craft villages.
Coastline and Islands
Vietnam offers a plethora of seaside delights. From the southern tropical paradise of Phu Quoc Island to the northern limestone islands and grottos of Halong Bay, there is an amazing variety of coastal environments. Whether sunbathing, windsurfing, riding the waves, boat trips to offshore islets, or the freshest of seafood is your preference, all are easy to find.
Cool and misty, and home to diverse wildlife, thundering waterfalls, and peaceful lakes, this region of Vietnam, bordering on Laos and Cambodia, is one of the least visited. Bach Ma and Phong Nha-Ke Bang’s dense forests are home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna.
Northwest of Hanoi, a spec mountain range rises from the Red River valley, populated by two-thirds of Vietnam’s indigenous peoples. Vietnam’s highest mountain, Mount Fansipan, is accessible by cable car. For the hardier, treks through these mountains are a fantastic experience.
Influences from China, India, the ancient Khmer Empire, and more recently France and other Western countries have blended with indigenous styles, forming an amazing variety of architectural delights in Vietnam. Traditional pagodas and temples stand side by side with secular French colonial buildings.
Pagodas and Temples
Both pagodas and temples usually consist of several structures containing statues of the deities to which the faithful pay their respects, as well as open-sided pavilions for the worshippers to rest and chat outside the reverential and subdued atmosphere within the main buildings. Some honor Buddhist as well as other faiths’ deities.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TEMPLES AND PAGODAS
A pagoda (Chua) refers to a Buddhist or Taoist place of worship sometimes both at one site), whereas a temple (den) is a place where offerings are made to actual historical beings, such as kings and queens, or mandarins, whose eminence gives them a semi-divine status. An example of a pagoda is the Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, where primarily Taoist, but also Buddhist deities are worshipped, whereas the Temple of Literature in Hanoi venerates the historical personage of Confucius.
The Hindu Champa empire, which ruled parts of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the 4th to the 14th centuries, had its most holy site at My Son near Hoi An. Although heavily damaged by American bombers in the 1960s, some magnificent examples of Cham architecture remain.
Traditional Tube Houses
Varying from traditional to modern in style, the concept of these tall, narrow multistory urban family dwellings dates back to the 15th–18th centuries. They can be as little as 6.5 ft (2 m) wide, up to 262 ft (80 m) deep, and five stories or more in height. Each family chooses a color scheme, resulting in a multi-hued palette of habitats. There are many in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but some of the best preserved are in Hoi An.
French Colonial Architecture
Splendid neoclassical, modernist, and Art Deco buildings, often with orientalist embellishments, are the most enduring legacy of French Colonial rule in Vietnam (1880–1954). The best surviving examples are in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
The gem of Vietnamese citadels lies in Hue, the capital of Vietnam’s final dynasty the Nguyen. Built on the banks of Perfume River and modeled after Beijing’s Forbidden City, this 19thcentury complex of palaces, pavilions, and gardens have been carefully restored and present a superb overview of Vietnam’s imperial history.