Few countries in the world elicit such a consistently passionate response among travellers as Vietnam. Blessed with beautiful natural landscapes, a wealth of evocative historic monuments and great cultural diversity, the nation has emerged from decades of war, political oppression and poverty to become a destination that bewitches even the most jaded of holiday makers.
While the capital, Hanoi, in the north, retains the gentility of former colonial times, go-ahead Ho Chi Minh City, in the south, showcases the nation’s more upbeat, modern face. Between the two lie a chain of former Imperial capitals, replete with ancient temples and palaces, as well as colonial ports whose boulevards are lined with 18th and 19th-century French villas.
Trips along the Mekong Delta in the far south or into the mountains of the Tokinese Alps in the north bring you face to face with a more timeless vision of Vietnam, where buffalo plod down dirt tracks, women in conical straw hats work the rice fields, stilted villages rise from vast flood plains and local markets are thronged with hill people dressed in elaborate traditional costumes.
Poverty is far from absent in this rural hinterland, but it’s most definitely on the wane. Since the spectacularly successful Doi Moi reforms of the 1980s, the economy has surged forward at dizzying speeds. Vietnam is now officially the fastest growing country in Asia, with a growth rate of 7 percent.
For visitors, this dramatic transformation is most discernible in the country’s new beach resorts and bijoux historic towns, where hotels offering first-world standards of comfort and service have mushroomed amid the coconut groves. Travelling between them, whether on a colonial-style cruiser or local sampan, you cannot fail to be impressed by the understated warmth and gentleness of the Vietnamese people themselves – a testament to this beautiful country’s capacity for rejuvenation, given the traumas it has lived through over the past half century or so.
TransIndus tours to Vietnam guide through all the main highlights, and plenty of lesser known gems besides, from the distinctive limestone pinnacles of Halong Bay to the watery world of the Mekong Delta. Accommodation comes in many and varied forms. You could to stay in colonial beachside mansions, bijoux boutique hideaways with views to die for, traditional Vietnamese lake lodges jutting on to the water, or city hotels in the stalwart, French Metropolitan mould.
Area: 329560 sq km
Population: 86 million (around 25 million people more than the UK)
Religion: Mainly Buddhist (around 80%)
Languages: Vietnamese. English is fast gaining popularity among the younger generation with French spoken by some of the elderly in the main cities
Time: +7 hours (GMT)
When to go
As a rule of thumb, autumn (October–December) and spring (February–April) tend to be the most congenial.
Vietnam is affected by two monsoons: the southwest monsoon, from March through September, and the cooler northwest monsoon, which blows from October until April. These weather systems have a varying impact on different parts of the country, with the south feeling the brunt of the southwest monsoon and the center and north receiving their highest rainfall during the winter months. With such complicated weather patterns, it is impossible to pinpoint a single time of year as the best.
Bear in mind that to catch the beach resorts of the south at their sunniest, the dry period between December and March is the optimum period but the north may see some rain may during January and early February.
Average maximum temperatures are much higher in the south, hovering around 27–30°C in HCMC. In Hanoi, temperatures drop to a cool 17–20°C from December–March, peaking at 30°C in the summer months. Higher elevations such as in Sapa, of course, mean lower temperatures.
Thai Airways flies daily to Vietnam via Bangkok. Travelling through Singapore or one of the Gulf hubs are other options, and recently, Vietnam Airways direct flight from London Heathrow to Hanoi and HCMC have become increasingly popular.
A highly developed air network links most tourist cities in Vietnam.
Rail travel is possible on the Reunification Express, connecting Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City although not of the standard seen in more developed nations. The Livitrans train also connects cities along the coast and is of tourist standard. The Victoria Express offer a luxury overnight train journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai, for the hill station of Sapa.
A memorable journey can be taken on board the Pandaw cruise that plies the Mekong from Saigon to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Overnight cruises on traditional junks in Halong Bay are also a popular option.
Most of the country now has good roads and travel is comfortable although the Vietnamese have their own version of road etiquette! We recommend travelling by road for shorter distances. You see the countryside, pass through villages, towns and local markets and can stop if you find something interesting. Some roads are not in good condition but the drive is always worthwhile. Our drivers are familiar with local conditions and are trained to drive safely. Private road travel is by car or minivan. The car used is generally a spacious Toyota Corona, Altis or Camry seating three plus the driver comfortably. It is a sturdy vehicle, ideal for local roads. For parties of 3 or 4 a bigger vehicle is used, usually the Hi Ace Van, which can seat five plus the driver.
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TransIndus, as always, has been so helpful. Thank you. Big thanks for arranging my visit to Kim Lien High School, you are certainly more than holiday provider!Mr & Mrs Howat, Tailor-made Vietnam read more comments