1. Travel

Vietnam is a Feast for the Eyes and Other Senses


A family rides on a motor scooter in Hanoi, Vietnam

A family rides on a motor scooter in Hanoi, Vietnam

(c) Lois Friedland

Vietnam is an edgy but exciting country to explore. Here, vacationers bounce back and forth between noisy cities where more than 500 motor scooters and bikes surround every car, and a bucolic countryside where water buffalo pull farmers on a foot plow through watery rice fields.

Centuries of History Shaped the Country

American travelers old enough to personally remember the Vietnam war may have mixed feelings at they explore this country, especially when their guides discuss the "American" war, although the conflict ended in 1975. It's been said that "winners write history" and the first time one sees a memorial honoring the Viet Cong or squirms through the Cu Chi Tunnels slams that fact home.

However, this country was actually at war for thousands of years, first with the Chinese and others in the region, then with the French before the U.S. Exploring the remnants of the Imperial Era, such as the Temple of Literature in Hanoi and the Citadel in Hue (where American soldiers reportedly found kimono-clad, grey-haired concubines still in residence) offer fascinating insights into the blend of ethnic cultures that make up today's Vietnam.

Exploring the Major Cities

Ho Chi Minh City, which many locals still call Saigon, has more than five million residents and Hanoi has some four million residents. Cars move around the traffic-choked streets by honking incessantly to warn people on motorbikes they are being passed. In both cities much of daily life spills out onto the sidewalk; locals gossip and vendors stand outside the single-car-garage-wide storefronts. The streets are lined with shops, stalls, pushcarts, and vendors with their wares spread out on the pavement, selling everything from soup to live animals, T-shirts, and postage stamps. Many restaurants are inexpensive but serve superb Vietnamese cuisine, with preparations that are very different than in other Asian countries. There are many excellent French restaurants, too, the legacy of the French occupation.

Seeing Key Sights

When you visit Ho Chi Minh City, tour by the lacquerware factory, where the crafts are made by disabled Vietnamese. The pictures, decorative items and tableware are beautiful and very reasonably priced. It's an easy half-day trip, partly through the countryside, to the Cu Chi Tunnels, and quite an experience crawling through them. From Saigon, it's an easy day trip to the Mekong Delta and a floating market.

Visit Hue and Float on the Perfume River

Hue, in the middle of the country, was Vietnam's capital city during the last Imperial dynasty. The colorful Imperial buildings are located in the Forbidden City, which is inside the wall-encircled ancient Citadel where the Viet Cong holed up during Tet offensive. Take a ride in a Dragon Boat on the Perfume River to visit some of the temples.

See Photos of Vietnam

Visit Vietnam Is a Colorful Country.

Travel Tips

  • Cabs are inexpensive, but a personal driver and guide is very inexpensive when compared to the cost of a similar service in the U.S. or Europe.
  • The US dollar is accepted as readily as Vietnam Dong.
  • Expect hot and humid weather much of the year.
  • Visas are required and must be obtained before you go. Contact the Vietnam Embassy. If you plan on visiting any other country (such as a side trip to Angkor in Cambodia) in the middle of your trip to Vietnam, be sure to ask for a multiple entry visa.

To Learn More About Vietnam

For more information about this country visit Vietnam .

Vietnam is an eye-opener for the mind and the senses. If you're interested in visiting this country check out ways to travel here in Package or Solo trips. If you're interested in a bicycling trip to Vietnam visit Picks for Dream Bicycle Trips.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.