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Vietnam

Recognized one of the most interesting countries in the world to discover, Vietnam is full of beauties and mysteries. Her landscapes will delight you, her long and often misunderstood history will intrigue you, and her friendly people will inspire you.

OVERVIEW
Recognized one of the most interesting countries in the world to discover, Vietnam is full of beauties and mysteries. Her landscapes will delight you, her long and often misunderstood history will intrigue you, and her friendly people will inspire you.

Most visitors to Vietnam are overwhelmed by the sublime beauty of the country's natural setting: the Red River Delta in the north, the Mekong Delta in the south and almost the entire coastal strip are a patchwork of brilliant green rice paddies tended by women in conical hats.

There are some virgin beaches along the coast, while inland there are soaring mountains, some of which are cloaked by dense, misty forests. Vietnam also offers an opportunity to see a country of traditional charm and rare beauty rapidly opening up to the outside world.

CLIMATE
With a multitude of altitudes and latitudes there's always somewhere that is pleasantly sunny and warm if you're prepared to find it. Temperatures are usually hot around the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs), but if you head north and along the coast they cool down to comfortable temperatures towards January. The weather is determined by two monsoons; the winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March bringing wet chilly winters to areas north of Nha Trang, but dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the southwestern monsoon brings warm, humid weather and buckets of rain to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains.

THE SOUTH: The dry season is from December to June with March to May being particularly hot and humid. Temperature ranges from 27°C to 36°C. The wet season, with short and heavy rain showers, is from July to November. Temperatures average between 22°C and 27°C.

THE NORTH: Unlike the South, North Vietnam has four seasons. Winter is from December to February - it can be extremely cold in Hanoi and the mountainous regions, with overnight temperatures of 4°C and daytime highs between 10°C and 20°C. Thermal clothing is a good idea if trekking in winter. Summer is June to August – expect hot and humid conditions at this time. Temperatures average 27°C to 30°C with high humidity.

WHEN TO GO
Travelers should take the Tet Festival (late January or early February) into account when planning a trip. Travel (including international travel) becomes very difficult, hotels are full and many services close down for at least a week and possibly a lot longer. On the other hand, The Tet Celebration creates a million-dollar chance to take an insight into the traditional side of this country.

WHAT TO DO
Vietnam offers a varying feast for the eyes. Check out tranquil Mui Ne Beach, or the bustling party scene further north in Nha Trang. Explore the splendid rock formations, sea cliffs and grottoes of Halong Bay. Trek through the northern mountains or sashay through the colonial elegance of Ho Chi Minh City.

HANOI - THE CAPITAL CITY
Vietnam's small and pleasant capital lies at the heart of the northern Red River Delta, and is a city of lakes, leafy boulevards and open parks with a French colonial feel. Hanoi was founded in 1010, and became the center of government for the Indochina Union under French rule in 1888. In 1954 it became the official capital of independent Vietnam. Today ancient crumbling buildings dating from the 11th century lie scattered among grand French colonial residences, while shrines and monuments to Vietnam's first president, Ho Chi Minh, sit in the shadow of modern high-rise buildings. The streets of the Old Quarter preserve age-old customs, where trade takes one back half a century, and temples, pagodas and monuments reflect the historic character of Vietnam.

Although a city of historical importance, and the social and cultural center of Vietnam, it is a surprisingly modest and charming place, far slower and less developed than Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Hanoi has retained its appealing sense of the old world, despite the onset of a brisk tourism trade in 1993, absorbing the boom of hotels, travelers' hangouts and Internet cafes, and the gradual infiltration of western-style food and fashions into the once inaccessible city.

As the early morning mist rises from the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, tracksuit-clad elders perform the slow movements of tai chi, like park statues coming to life. Streets become filled with activity, mopeds and bicycles weave among pedestrians, while cyclo drivers (three-wheeled bicycle taxis) clamour for attention, and postcard vendors cluster around tourists like bees sensing an open honey pot.

Hanoi is fast becoming one of the most enticing and interesting cities in Asia. As a cultural center there are traditional water puppet shows, and music and dance performances. It is also a good base for excursions to the beautiful Halong Bay, or into the Hoang Lien Mountains inhabited by several hill tribes.

 

HO CHI MINH CITY
Ho Chi Minh City, better known by its former name of Saigon, is a brazen, industrious and dense metropolis, the largest city in Vietnam and the business capital of the country. With a population of five million, it is crowded, noisy and dirty, yet it is also exciting and historic, the essence of the nation. Located on the Saigon River on the edge of the Mekong Delta, Saigon became the capital of the Republic of South Vietnam and was the American headquarters during the Vietnam War. Two years later the Communist north took control of the country, the city's name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City, and recession and poverty ensued.

Despite its quite recent past, Ho Chi Minh City nevertheless possesses various beautiful buildings, displaying a characteristic combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and European cultures. These include Nha Rong (Dragon House Wharf), Quoc To Temple (National Ancestors Temple), Xa Tay (Municipal Office), Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre as well as many pagodas and churches (Vinh Nghiem, Giac Vien, Giac Lam, Phung Son pagodas...). Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife has become very cosmopolitan in recent years and there are literally hundreds of bars, pubs, night clubs and discotheques to pick from for a night on the town. Although overshadowed by modern and Asiatic influences, a little of Ho Chi Minh City's French colonial charm still remains, evident in the graceful architecture, wide boulevards, and a sidewalk cafe society. It is not for the attractions that one visits Ho Chi Minh City however, but for the vibrancy of its street life, and its proximity to the Mekong Delta. Further afield, popular day trips from Ho Chi Minh City include the incredible Cu Chi Tunnels built by Vietnamese resistance fighters during the long years of struggle for independence and the bizarre Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh.

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