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Did You Know … ?

  • The Kinh (Viet) account for close to 90% of citizens, but Vietnam has another 53 ethnic groups.
  • The country’s paper currency is really plastic.
  • Vietnam is only 31 miles across at its narrowest east-to-west point.
  • For Americans, it was the Vietnamese War, but for the Vietnamese, it was the American War.
  • Rice is food in every sense; the Vietnamese word for rice and food is the same: com.

Memories of ’Nam

Mention of Vietnam evokes, for many Americans of a certain age, images of a costly war that failed to keep South Vietnam from succumbing to the communist north. After the south fell in 1975, the united country was grimly communist. Today, the comrades are still at the helm, but they have long since unleashed the livelier ways of capitalism, and the Vietnamese have taken to it like fish to water.

Visitors find a country and population on the move. They also find a friendly and welcoming people, whether dealing with hotel staff or sampling the soup at an outdoor food stall.

These fortunate circumstances complement the country’s unquestionable natural beauty, as well as some beauty of the manmade kind. Speaking of natural wonders, about three-fourths of the country is mountains and hills, with rugged mountains in the far north and, traveling south, a long run of forested highlands. Vietnam’s minority hill tribes live in these mountains and highlands, providing much color and interest for the tourist.

Most Vietnamese, however, live at the lower altitudes — along the coast and in the deltas of the Red and Mekong rivers. Those lands support lush and watery rice fields, as well as orchards and fishing villages. The east coast is about 2,000 miles of sandy beach.

As for manmade beauty, look for that in the temples and tombs of old, plus the more recent French colonial buildings. France came here in 1802 and was pushed out in 1954. The French left behind some fine examples of French architecture — plus some ideas about fine foods, too. Temples and pagodas reflect the influence of long associations with China, especially in the north, as well as the influences of ancient Indian-Hindu and Khmer (Cambodian) empires that, at various times, held sway in the south. The Chinese and Indian influences are apparent in the food, too.

The south is tropical, and the north has a hot and rainy season, May to September, and occasional monsoons.

Vietnam’s tourist industry does a good business with returning American veterans, but it has a compelling story for the broader North American market, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Sign on at a cooking school. There are options in Hoi An and in the big cities.
  • Travel by train. Use the Victoria Express to get from Hanoi to a good location to visit several hill tribes. Or, you might use the overnight sleeper from Hanoi and Hue.
  • Overnight in bungalows in the Cuc Phuong National Park, and visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center there. Also, hike in the park’s rain forests and visit the Cave of Early Man, so named because 7,000-year-old bones and tools were found there.
  • Sign on for a three-day trek to climb to the top of Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Fansipan, which is 10,312 feet above sea level.
  • Come to Vietnam as a volunteer. The work could involve teaching, construction, medical assistance or wildlife conservation.
  • Sign on for a multiday trekking adventure out of Mai Chau in northern Vietnam. Your itinerary would involve homestays in traditional villages.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At the Chuong village in northern Vietnam, meet the people best known for making conical hats. See how it is done, and try your hand at the craft, too.
  • Join a guided tour to the underground network of tunnels — the Cu Chi Tunnels — outside Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). They were used by the Viet Cong while fighting U.S. and South Vietnamese armies, and by the Vietnamese when they fought against the French colonial power.  Vietnam veterans can take in this and other points of special interest by joining a tour custom designed for them.
  • In Hue, the Imperial Citadel is a must-see; it was modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing.
  • Visit one or several hill tribe villages in northern Vietnam. Shop for local handicrafts and enhance your collection of travel photos.
  • Take a sunset cocktail cruise off the coast of the country’s premier beach town, Nha Trang. Or make that a daytime outing to islands off the coast, and snorkel or dive.
  • Sample Vietnam’s national dish, a noodle soup called pho. The soup is served with long rice noodles, fresh vegetables and meat or seafood in a broth.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Walk through local food markets in any town or city on your itinerary. The photos will be colorful.
  • See a traditional dance performance by one or more of the country’s minority tribal groups. Shows are offered in several places.
  • Eat in a French restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
  • See a tailor in any of several cities to have clothes custom-made, or buy silk to take home.
  • Practice your yoga or tai chi, and use the spa at your resort in the coastal Quy Nhon. Or, set aside serious time for sun and sand at Mui Ne, another beach resort on the coast in the southern part of the country.
  • Play golf on the Ocean Dunes Resort Golf Course in the coastal resort of Phan Thiet. There are other courses available to you, as well.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism at and select your language.