A travel GUIDE TO VIETNAM
Get lost in Vietnam's lush jungles, rugged mountains and 92 million-plus people that make up the country. Vietnam is the perfect stop off for anyone that loves the great outdoors. The country's peaked mountains are brilliant for climbing, hiking and biking. The bays and beaches provide the perfect backdrop to a tropical holiday and the price to travel through Vietnam is downright amazing.
Whether you want to just relax in Halong Bay or you want to get lost in the big city of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam offers a diverse range of places to visit. If you are looking to travel around Vietnam on a budget, you are in luck as food, accommodation and beer won't set you back too much. Expect to spend about £2.00 on a Vietnamese meal, £1.00 on a beer and around £5.00 on accommodation. It will allow you to use your money on what really matters when visiting the southeast Asian country; finding fun in the sun.
Vietnam was heavily influenced by foreign rulers at one time. The Chinese's dominance helped lead to the country's politics, government, moral and social dealings as well as art and literature. Later the French colonised the country and brought with it all that entails. Religion and the Latin alphabet were all introduce to the country, and combined with previously established norms.
In the 1940s, Japan invaded the country and took control until a socialist led liberation movement began. This led to the Vietnam War years later and the country still shows the scars of it.
Since the 1990s, Vietnam has had a more open door policy to the west. More and more people are travelling to Vietnam today, and the country is far more open than it was 30 years ago. Vietnam, however, is still a mysterious place where superstition is a big part of life. It is a country that is beautiful and full of exciting adventures waiting to be explored.
Places to visit
Ho Chi Min
Start your trip to Vietnam in the buzzing city of Ho Chi Min. The city's streets are liked clogged arteries of transport, restaurants and people moving every which
way. Must-see attractions include the Notre Dame Cathedral, which was constructed by the French from 1863 to 1880. For the tourist that loves Asian temples, the Jade Emperor Pagoda is the city's best for viewing Buddhist images. No visit is complete until you see the War Remnants Museum to get a sample of what the Vietnam War was truly like.
Hue appeals to the traveller that cannot get enough history. Monuments, tombs and pagodas make up this great city, and it is brilliant to tour for a day or two. Hue Citadel is one of the best venues for sightseeing and it can take up to one day to fully visit the entire complex.
The country's capital, Hanoi, is a fast paced city with vendors lining the streets selling food, clothing and other trinkets to passersby. Like Ho Chi Min, Hanoi offers visitors a true taste of authentic Vietnamese city life. Complete with crazy motorbike drivers and air pollution, the city is overwhelming. Luckily, Hanoi is quite compact and getting around won't be difficult. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is one of its best sites, but the Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the city's most relaxing spots to take a break around. Escape there when the city is just too much.
If you are looking to watch your weight while travelling, Vietnamese food offers diners plenty of great taste and healthy eating rolled into one. Vietnamese cooking is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world thanks to its lack of dairy and oil.
The spices the cuisine uses add a wealth of flavour to the dishes and give the food intense flavours. Meanwhile, the combination of fresh meat and vegetables gives the food a texture like no other.
Everywhere you look in Vietnam you will see people eating pho, and it is the most common dish in the country. Pho consists of salty broth, rice noodles, herbs and chick or beef. You will see people eat it at every street food stand you encounter. It won't cost you much and you'll find it is delicious despite being quite basic.
Goi cuon are spring rolls that are far more healthy than their counterparts from other Asian countries. The rolls are filled with greens, meat or seafood, and coriander before being rolled and dipped into fish sauce. What results is a delicious morsel of healthy Vietnamese eating.
What to see?
If you are looking to get out of one of the country's big cities, head to Nha Trang. The sandy beach town is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The beach has plenty of space for lounging and tanning, while the surf is great for swimming. After you work on your tan, go to the Po Nagar Cham Towers to see the ancient place of worship.
Whether you are a history buff or someone that just wants to see something different, the Cu Chi Tunnels are an amazing look into the Vietnam War. The 250 kilometre tunnels were built for Viet Cong soldiers to move around Ho Chi Minh City. They are an amazing glimpse into what soldiers did to communicate.
Once you are back above ground, My Son is a temple city worth exploring for an entire day. The ancient ruin site is made up of 20 temples and each shows different influences from countries around Asia.
Finish off your trip with a visit to Halong Bay and explore the caves that dot the area. It is a beautiful piece of Vietnam and one that is just as breathtaking after dark as it is when the sun is out.
You won't have trouble finding great nightlife in the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. However, outside the large cities the nightlife may not be quite as lush.
Apocalypse Now is considered the biggest club in Ho Chi Minh and is packed most nights of the week. If you are on a budget, however, it may be a club to avoid as it is expensive compared to other Vietnamese night spots.
Ho Chi Minh has a dedicated area to budget travellers called Pham Ngu Lao. The area has a number of bars, restaurants and other venues for those looking for fun but on a budget.
The party in Hanoi isn't quite as vast as it is in Ho Chi Minh. In fact, bars close around midnight. If you know where to go, you can find a late night party, however. Despite the early closing times, Hanoi has beer bars and clubs that provide just about everything before closing time.
Nha Trang's nightlife is full-on thanks to the expat community that has developed there. Start your night at Bar Oz before going to Crazy Kim Bar to drink until the sun comes up. If you are too drunk to walk back to your accommodation, just crash in one of the hammocks at the bar.
Like many countries in Asia, there are organisations dedicated to placing volunteers with groups inside Vietnam. Many of these organisations may charge a placement fee, so it isn't necessarily ideal when travelling.
The best thing to do if you want to volunteer is to find a group to volunteer with and contact them before you arrive. Once you hit the ground in Vietnam, you will be ready to join forces with them.
There is also a chance to meet with a group once you have arrived as Vietnam always needs more volunteers. There are a number of areas to volunteer in from education and orphanages to wildlife and environmental.