Magical Vietnam

Vietnam travel tips and places to visit

Introduction

Explore the magnificent complex of Hue Monuments (UNESCO World Heritage List) situated around Hue City in Thua Thien-Hue province - the cultural and religious hub during the last royal dynasty of Vietnamese history, the Nguyen Dynasty (1802–1945 CE). Discover the Forbidden Purple City (Tu Cam Thanh) and enjoy scuba diving along Vietnam’s most beautiful coastlines like Nha Trang, Hanoi, and Binh Dinh beaches.

Visit Ho Chi Minh City and don’t miss the War Remnants Museum, Notre-Dame Basilica (yes, they have one in Vietnam!), and marvel at the neoclassical Saigon Central Post Office. Proceed toward the lively Ben Thanh Market and enjoy delicious Vietnamese street food from the bustling food stalls – the dishes combine bitter and sweet, fried and steamed, crispy and soft ingredients in the most flavoursome and mouth-watering combinations!

Enjoy the breathtaking scenery of one of Vietnam’s top tourist attractions, Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin where emerald waters and rainforest-crowned limestone mountains attract tourists, rock climbers and divers from all over. Escape the hustle and bustle of big city life in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Cat Tien National Park, and the Tonkinese Alps and enjoy trekking, cycling or simply relaxing in zero technology heaven.
 

Why travel to Vietnam

Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asian known for beautiful scenery, serene beaches, amazing street food culture, historic sites, and hospitable people. Here you will discover one of the largest protected Karst (land made of limestone) landscapes in Southeast Asia with sinkholes and caves.

Vietnam is also home to six sites, monuments and attractions on the UNESCO World Heritage List including the Complex of Hue Monuments, Ha Long Bay, the ancient ton of Hoi An, My Son Sanctuary, The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, and the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty.
 

Complex of Hue Monuments

Hue was established as the capital city and cultural and religious hub of Vietnam under the Nguyen dynasty from 1802 to 1945. This rich heritage of the historic site survived three wars including the Vietnam War. Explore the historic castle of the Emperors (the citadel), the Royal Mausoleums and Palaces of Tu Duc and Minh Mang, and take a trip on the Huong River (Perfume River).

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay located in the Gulf of Tonkin is home to 1600 islands and islets mostly untouched by humans that you could explore on board a relaxing cruise. Ancient temples and pagodas are also some of the treasures of this scenic place. 

Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An is a carefully preserved old city divided by canals. Here you will see a blend of different cultures across several epochs including Vietnamese tube houses, a Japanese bridge, and Chinese temple. 

My Son Sanctuary (Quang Nam Province)

Located near the village of Duy Phu, My Son is a cluster of Hindu pagodas erected between the 4th and the 14th century AD (developed over ten centuries) during the dynasties of Champa. My Son is perhaps the longest populated archaeological location in Indochina, which is evidence of a now-vanished Asian civilisation.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (Hoang Thanh Thang Long)

This historic and cultural complex was built during the Ly Dynasty (1009–1225), and the ruins have been systematically unearthed only recently. The Imperial Citadel of the Thang Long complex includes the 41m Flag Tower of Hanoi, which was constructed in 1812 and is one of the few historic sites that was not damaged under the French administration (1896-1897). Here you will find other archaeological remains and relics like the North Gate, and the D67 Tunnel and House, which was used as headquarters of the Vietnam People’s Army headquarters during the war (1954–1975); a marvellous site to explore on foot or a bicycle!

Citadel of Ho Dynasty

The Ho Dynasty built this impressive structure during 1400-1407. The main attraction is Tay Do Castle (built from stone blocks) with its four gates. The castle is mostly in ruins so some may find very little to see here, however, if you would like to explore all UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam and learn more about the Ho Dynasty, then you might consider visiting.  

Visiting Vietnam is like stepping into an authentic bowl of Vietnamese flavours. Vietnamese chefs aim to balance the five elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet. Here you can sample an authentic beef broth and noodle soup (Pho Bo), which originated in Hanoi so if you’re there, head towards the Old Quarter and look for a busy street vendor – take a look under the lid to make sure it’s boiling! Other delicacies include lemongrass shrimp over rice vermicelli (traditional type of pasta) and vegetables (dish name: Bun Tom Nuong Xa), and don’t forget the light and delicate Vietnamese summer rolls with a soft center and beautiful texture, and the Cha Ca (fried morsels of fish) seasoned with herbs and spices on a hot pan tableside. Lip-smackingly delicious!

If you’re feeling lucky, then you could also sample crickets, duck egg foetuses, and even dog meat, just some of the gastronomic options to tantalise your tastebuds!

Go shopping at the Ben Thanh Market in Saigon or try the street markets lining the big street in most cities where you can buy pretty much anything and especially things you’ve never heard or seen before! The list includes snake wine, war souvenirs, a cup of coffee brewed from beans digested by a Chon (weasel) served piping hot, and we haven’t even started.

 

Interesting facts

Quick facts about Vietnam
  • Largest City: Ho Chi Minh City
  • Official language: Vietnamese
  • Religion: None
  • The currency is the Vietnamese dong
  • Time Zone: Indochina Time (UTC+07:00)
  • Vietnam was originally two words, Viet Nam
  • Major airports in Vietnam include the Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), Da Nang International Airport (DAD) located in Hanoi, and Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN)
  • Motorbikes are a universal form of transportation
  • Vietnamese culture is a blend of Chinese, Japanese, French and American colonisers
  • The red national flag pays tribute to those who died in wars. The golden star with five points represents farmers, workers, intellectuals, youth, and soldiers.
  • The most common name in Vietnam is Nguyen
  • The most important festival in Vietnam is the Tet Nguyen Dan (equivalent of the Lunar New Year), which celebrates rebirth.
  • Vietnamese fashion is marked by the flowing robes (Ao Dai) and conical hats (NonLa)
  • The street food culture is perhaps one of the best in the world
  • Vietnam counts as one of the largest producers of cashew nuts and the second largest producer of coffee in the world
  • Australian citizens require a visa to travel to Vietnam

The challenges of travelling to Vietnam

Getting around Vietnam can be challenging for first-time English-speaking tourists. Here Google Translate (https://translate.google.com.au/) may offer some assistance, but it may also get you into trouble because Vietnamese has very limited syntactic similarity to English! The physical tones, though not as many as in Cantonese, can be difficult to produce. Harder still is the vocabulary and word usage. Then you have the special alphabet! Most tourists find that despite their efforts, the locals never understand them. 

In general, Vietnamese people are friendly, helpful and always smiling. However, when you’re out and about, you need to watch your belongings, and you’re advised to hide your valuables (i.e. keep your iPhone, wallet, etc.  out of sight). Beware as pickpockets could strike when you least expect it. Refrain from using your mobile phone in crowded areas and keep your belongings looped or strapped around your arm or leg.

Crossing the road in Vietnam can be tricky and dangerous at times. Pedestrian lane crossing doesn’t get the respect it does in Australia – you will see two-wheel riders aplenty in Vietnam paying little or no attention to pedestrians. Even walking on the pavement can be risky at times. The constant honking, especially in the major cities, can make your head spin. When catching a taxi, look for well-known operators like Mai Linh and Vinasun.

The best currency in Vietnam is cash but if you have to use one of the local ATMs, make sure you understand the fees and conditions. You can exchange money at banks, hotels, and money exchangers. Do not take torn or soiled notes as they usually won’t be accepted in a transaction. If you carry cards with you, then have a credit card and a debit card in case one doesn’t get accepted. As an extra precaution, have travellers’ check with you.
 

The benefits of travelling to Vietnam

Vietnam is still an under-advertised tour destination with beautiful scenery, historic sites and relics, exotic cuisine, and colourful culture. If you’re trying to choose between Vietnam, Cambodia or Myanmar, then don’t think twice – visit Vietnam for an unforgettable journey. Vietnam has a much lower backpacker proportion to any other country in the region. It has six sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List and a diverse and enlightening history. Perhaps it’s the only place to get an authentic conical hat and more! If you would like to escape western civilisation and immerse yourself in a new exciting culture, Vietnam will delight and surprise you and leave you with unforgettable memories. Start planning your journey!

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