Welcome to another world...
Verdant patchworks of rice paddies, pointed lampshade-style hats, a country scorched by war, and economic repression - these are the international images of Vietnam, seen on worldwide television and read about in the newspapers. But there are other scenes to be found, ones of natural beauty, ethnic culture, and imperial history, of timeless traditional villages, idyllic sea resorts and dynamic cities. Shaped like an elongated 'S', Vietnam stretches along the east coast of the Indochinese Peninsula and is likened by its people to a long bamboo pole hung with two baskets of rice, represented by the two fertile regions at either end of the country. Between the lush Red River Delta and the highlands in the north, known for their magnificent scenery and colourful hill tribes, and the agricultural plains and floating markets of the Mekong Delta in the south, lie miles of white sandy beaches, towering mountains, rivers and dense forests, and the thousands of bizarre rock and cave formations on the islands of Halong Bay.
The lasting effects of Chinese and Japanese trade routes, French occupation and America’s later interventionism have left their mark upon Vietnam, carved into the country over a period of around two thousand years of the nation’s recent history. However, Vietnam has also inherited a vivid legacy from these collage of cultures, evident in the personality of its towns and hinterland villages, as well as in the architecture and food. The compact and picturesque town of Hoi An, at one time a relatively major trading port, is scattered with scores of perfectly preserved architectural tropes from the Asian merchants who travelled in from the north, while the broad and leafy boulevards of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City carry an almost French élan. Hué is the old imperial capital of Vietnam with its royal palaces and palatial mausoleums bearing testament to the nation’s proud heritage, while nearby the battle sites of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) are reminders of the brutality of war and the repeated upheavals of recent decades. Culture is everywhere in Vietnam: Ancient temples and colourful pagodas are dotted throughout most the urban centres, while standing among them are hotels replete with contemporary luxuries - a sign of a how the nation has progressed and the modern development of tourism infrastructure is a booming business. Vietnam is a perfect balance between then and now; a country that has preserved its culture while collectively moving on from the ravages of conflict, and emerging as a people who greet visitors to their country with open arms and ready smiles.