There are no good or bad seasons to visit Vietnam. When
one region is wet, cold, or steamy hot, there is always somewhere
else that is sunny and pleasant. North Vietnam has two seasons:
cool, damp winters (November to April) and hot summers (May
to October). The south is usually dry from December to April,
and cooler and damper from May to November.
Vietnam offers the traveler many interesting and delightful
sights. One of these is Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon,
the old capital of South Vietnam. The streets in the city
center, where much of the city’s life takes place,
are filled with numerous market stalls, shops, pavement cafes,
and push-cart vendors. Sights include the Giac Lam Pagoda
two miles from Cholon. Giac Lam Pagoda is believed to be
the oldest pagoda in the city and is a calm place to visit.
Families of the old and sick regularly go to the pagoda to
pin their wishes to a large bronze bell, in the belief that
when it is rung the messages will be sent to the heavens
above. Notre Dame Cathedral, situated in Paris Square, was
built by a French priest who set the first brick for construction
in October, 1877 and the last one in April, 1880. The cathedral
was built with specific designs and drawings. Arrangements
made with France required that the construction work be managed
by a French engineer named Baurad. The total cost of the
construction was 2.5 million francs. The War Remnants Museum,
established in September 1975 in Ho Chi Minh City, contains
countless artifacts, photographs, and pictures documenting
American war crimes, including the killing of civilians,
spreading of chemicals, and the torturing of prisoners. Over
the last 20 years, more than 6 million visitors visited the
museum. Among this number, nearly 1 million were foreign
visitors, including American tourists.
About 25 miles north is the city of Dalat. Its lovely park-like
environment is cool and breezy making it one of the most
delightful cities in Vietnam. One of the major attractions
here is the Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, which
is filled with stuffed tigers, Chinese antiques, and interesting
European Renaissance and classical Asian art. It is also
interesting to stroll around the old French Quarter, which
has changed very little since the French departed.
The Valley of Love, north of the city center, is a kind of
Vietnam-style Disney World. It is a fun place with a carnival
atmosphere where you can hire a paddleboat for a ride on
the lake or a horse from one of the Vietnamese cowboys. About
eight miles out of the city are local villages of some of
the hill tribes, including Chicken Village with a huge statue
of a chicken.
Dalat is famous for its cafes, fresh vegetables, and strawberries.
It is and extremely popular place for the tourist and honeymooners,
and has a wide range of accommodation options.
If you are in the mood for beach and partying, Nha Trang
is the place to go. The water here is very clear, making
it an ideal place to snorkel, dive, and fish. When you’ve
had enough of the sun, and beach activities, there are some
interesting attractions nearby, such as the Long Son pagoda
built recently to honor the monks who sacrifice their lives
under the oppressive Diem regime, and the Cham Towers built
by the ancient Cham people over 500 years, from the 12th
through the 17th century. The north tower is 23 feet high
and is dedicated to Po Nagar, a mythical goddess. Parts of
the towers have undergone renovations in an effort to preserve
them for future generations and tourist dollars.
Further north about 70 miles is the city of Hue, Vietnam’s
main cultural and education center. Its famous sites includes
the Imperial City, constructed in 1805 under the reign of
Gia Long King and completed in 1832 under the reign of Minh
Mang King. The city was built on the northern bank of the
Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as Linh Mu Pagoda, built in the
14th century is connected to a legend of a fairy lady and
was therefore named Thien Mu (fairy lady from
Palace of Supreme Harmony holds the thrones of 13 emperors
of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1792 A.D.- 1883 A. D. The palace
and San Dai Trieu (Esplanade of Great Salutation)
were the sites for all major festivities, the Coronation Ceremony, the Emperor’s
birthday, and the king’s court, held from the first to the 15th of the
Half a mile away is Thai Hoa Palace an important building
of the capital where organized ceremonies of the court
were held. It’s Nine Dynastic Urns hold
the ashes of the Nguyen kings and represent the power and stability of the dynasty.
Tiger Fighting Arena is a former enclosure reserved for animal
fights between tigers and elephants to entertain kings
and high-ranking officials. The last
animal fight organized at the arena was in 1904 during the reign of Thanh Thai
King. Hué has many other places of religious and dynastic importance,
and some good museums.
Up the coast of Hue, about 70 miles, is Ha long Bay. The
emerald water surrounds more than 3,000 islands, making
this scenic attraction one of Vietnam’s
most popular destinations. There are numerous beaches and caves on the islands.
Ha Long literally means descending dragons, and according to local myth when
the village people were fighting foreign invaders from the north, the gods from
heaven sent a family of dragons to help defend their land. This family of dragons
descended upon what is now Ha Long Bay and began spitting out jewels and jade.
Upon hitting the sea, these jewels turned into the various islands and islets
dotting the seascape and formed a formidable fortress against the invaders. The
locals were able to keep their land safe and formed what is now the country of
Vietnam. The Dragon family fell so much in love with this area for its calm water
and for the reverence of the people of Vietnam, that they decided to remain on
earth. Mother dragon lies on what is now Ha Long, and where her children lie
is Bai Tu Long. The dragon tails formed the area of Bach Long Vi known for miles
of white sandy beaches that are the Tra Co peninsula. There’s even a modern
legend of a dragon–like creature called the Tarasque, said to haunt the
No trip to Vietnam is complete without a visit to the capital
of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Hanoi. It is slower
paced than the former southern capital,
and tranquil, with numerous landscaped lakes and public parks. The city has a
French quality, with magnificent colonial homes and cobblestone streets.
The wonderful thing about Hanoi is that more than any other
city in Vietnam it still retains its traditional culture.
There are ancient temples and monuments,
including the One Pillar Pagoda, that dates back to the founding of Vietnam,
which became independent from China in the 11th century. However, the present
pagoda is not the original building. The original pagoda was constructed in 1049
under Emperor Ly Thai Tong, after a goddess had appeared in his dreams and allegedly
handed a son to him. Repeatedly damaged in its almost 1,000 years of existence,
it has been renovated often. The last reconstruction took place in 1955, after
the French colonial forces had blown it up before their retreat in 1954.
A great place to visit is Vietnam’s first university, Van Mieu Quoc tu
Giam. This university, built in 1076, has 900 years of activity, and has graduated
thousands of Vietnamese scholars. On the university campus are the historical
remains of a 1,000-year-old civilization which include statues of Confucius and
his disciples (Yan Hui, Zengshen, Zisi, Mencius), and ancient constructions such
as the Khue Van Pavilion and the Hall of Worship.
Vietnamese culture is fascinating. Four great philosophies
and religions have shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese
people: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism,
and Christianity. Over the centuries, the first three have melded with popular
Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what is known as Tam Giao
or Triple Religion.
Vietnamese (kinh) is the official language of the country.
At the same time, dozens of different languages are spoken
by various ethnic minorities, and Khmer
and Loatian are spoken in some parts. The most widely spoken foreign languages
in Vietnam are Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), English, French ,and Russian.
Vietnamese cuisine is exotic and varied: there are said to
be nearly 500 different traditional dishes that include
exotic meats such as deer and cobra and fantastic
vegetarian creations. However, the staple of Vietnamese cuisine is plain white
rice dressed up with a wide variety of vegetables, fish, meat, spices, and sauces.
Spring rolls, noodles, and steamed rice dumplings are popular snacks. Fruit is
abundant; some of the more unusual ones include: rambutan, longan, lychee, and
durian. Vietnamese coffee (ca phe phin) is very good; it’s usually served
very strong and very sweet.
Vietnam is an exciting place to visit; the hotels are affordable,
the people are friendly, the history and culture is fascinating,
the mountains and natural
landscape breathtaking, and the food simply delicious. Vietnam offers excitement,
tranquility, and simplicity all in one delightful package. Why not see Vietnam
for yourself and explore what this country has to offer.