Explore Vietnam's timeless charm

From the misty mountains of the north to the lush rice fields of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam is a beguiling destination which rarely fails to charm.

Timeless images of Indochina abound – conical-hatted farmers toil in bright green rice fields; junks drift through the mist on Halong Bay; cyclo drivers ride through the narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. But there is a new Vietnam emerging, in the upscale hotels, shopping arcades and fine dining restaurants of vibrant Ho Chi Minh City, and in the luxury designer beach resorts of Hue, Hoi An, Danang and Mui Ne.

Our Vietnam is an exploration of the country’s arts, its culture and its communities. We share tea and conversation with experts in the gastronomic and visual arts, hop on a bicycle and explore ancient villages or share our good fortune by donating a simple rowing boat to assist a local family to get ahead. We immerse our guests in the experiences of this dynamic and fascinating destination.

A country of contrasts where pleasant surprises await at almost every turn. But in Vietnam, one thing remains constant – the warmth, inquisitiveness and positivity of its people, which remain the abiding memory of those who spend time in this alluring country.

Vietnam’s cultural makeup is as diverse as its topography

The population of some 92 million is made up of 54 ethnic groups, most of them concentrated in the central and northern highlands. The Kinh ethnic majority, who comprise 86 percent of the population, is largely found in the lowlands. Kinh or Viet culture arose in Vietnam’s northern Red River delta, where people’s way of life revolved around the cultivation of wet rice.

Other major ethnic groups include the Cham, founders of the Indianized Kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam. The Cham people have retained their own religion, customs and handicrafts, including the weaving of colorful brocade cloth.

People

The best place to appreciate Vietnam’s stunning cultural diversity is in its mountainous northeast. Highland markets draw people from dozens of ethnic groups including the H’mong, Dao and Thai, who continue to produce and wear traditional clothing decorated with embroidery, batik-prints, and beads. Having had minimal contact with the outside world, these people speak their own languages, observe their own religious festivals, and live much as they have done for generations.

Religion

Most Vietnamese people observe a form of Buddhism that incorporates Confucianism and Taoism. About eight percent of the population is Catholic.

Landscape

 

Vietnam’s shape is often compared to two rice baskets on a shoulder pole. The narrow band of lowland deserts and steep mountains in the center give way to broad expanses of river deltas in the north and south. Having begun its journey in Tibet, the Mekong River divides into nine tributaries and feeds the agricultural region of the Mekong Delta. Meanwhile, the Red River Delta is the economic center of the northern region notably known for farming and villages specializing in producing handicrafts.

Vietnam boasts amazingly varied landscapes; from precipitous mountains to uncharted forests, from emerald terraced rice fields to deserted pristine beaches. While large resort developments are heavily concentrated along the stretch of East Sea in Danang, there are still many parts of the country that remain untouched like the castaway islands of the Con Dao archipelago, an ideal getaway for those seeking an off the beaten path experience.

Climate

In general, Vietnam has a tropical climate with average annual temperatures ranging from 22˚C (72˚F) to 30˚C (86˚F). There are two distinct seasons: wet and dry. From April to October, most of the country is affected by south-western monsoons. The rains, which tend to be concentrated in the late afternoons, provide welcome relief to the heat. Travel to very remote areas may be affected by the rains, but overall they should not interfere with your trip. 

Packing for a trip to Vietnam can be challenging, as the climate can vary depending on when and where you go. When the weather isn’t ideal in one area, it’s great in another. While Hanoi is cold enough to warrant a coat from December to February, this is an excellent time to visit Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. Although the temperatures are consistent year round, various parts of the country, at certain times of the year, can be affected by unpredictable storms which may cause flooding.

Northern Region

The north is defined by four seasons with a cold winter and hot summer. The temperature can range from 5˚C (41˚F) in winter up to 35˚C (95˚F) in the summer. From April to October, it is generally warm and humid with average temperature around 31˚C (90 ˚F) and heaviest rainfall between July and August. The average temperature during the cold season (December to February) is 20˚C (68˚F). However, in the mountainous regions in the far north such as Sapa, the temperature can at times drop below zero (32˚F). The loveliest time of the year to visit is from September to December when there’s a good chance of clear skies and low humidity.

The average annual temperature in the provincial city of Ha Giang & Cao Bang is 22 °C (73 °F); the monthly averages range from a low of 15 °C (59 °F) in January to a high of 27 °C (82 °F)C in July. The rain season is from June to August. The best time of the year to visit these areas is from September to November.

Central Region

The average high temperature in the central region is 30˚C (86˚F). Heavy storms and highest amount of rainfall occurs from October to November and is prone to flooding. The best time to enjoy the beach weather and cultural sightseeing is between February to August.

Southern Region

The south has a dry and rainy season. The highest amount of rainfall is from June to October with 80% average humidity. The average high temperature year round is 32˚C (90˚F). The central highland town of Dalat has a year-round temperate of 18˚C to 21˚C (64˚F to 70˚F) earning it the epithet “City of Eternal Spring”. The rainy season of Buon Ma Thuot lasts mostly from May to October of a year. Buon Ma Thuot is warmer and more humid because of its lower elevation.

Beach destinations such as Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, and Phu Quoc Island are warm and sunny most of the year. However, the rainy season varies for each destination: Nha Trang (October to December); Phan Thiet (July to November); and Phu Quoc (May to October).

History

In 938 A.D. the Vietnamese put an end to China’s occupation of the Red River Delta, bringing to end a rule that had started in the first century B.C. That the Vietnamese managed to cling to their cultural identity during a thousand years of occupation says much about their tenacity—a lesson that has been re-taught in more recent times.

From their cradle in the northern Red River Delta the Viet moved south, absorbing the Kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam in the 15th century. The official founding of Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City) took place only some three centuries ago.

French forces imposed colonial rule on Vietnam in 1883, starting an era of anti-colonial resistance that would span the next eight decades. Having fought the Japanese occupation of Vietnam during WWII, the Viet Minh, led by President Ho Chi Minh, declared the nation independent when the War ended. The French rejected Vietnam’s independence and tried to regain control, leading to open warfare that ended with the Viet Minh’s astonishing victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.

The Geneva Accords of mid-1954 temporarily divided the country. When the southern regime refused to hold elections in 1956, Vietnam fell into a civil war. The United States, which supported the southern regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, sent its first combat troops to Vietnam in 1965. In 1973 the Americans withdrew; their former allies were forced to surrender on April 30th, 1975, at which time the nation was reunified under Communist rule.

A period of economic and political isolation from much of the capitalist world followed. In the late 1980s the Vietnamese Government eased restrictions on foreigners wishing to travel and invest in Vietnam. Diplomatic relations with the United States were resumed in 1995. Vietnam was granted membership to the World Trade Organization in 2007 and has opened up trade to a large number of countries since then. Hanoi celebrated its 1000 year anniversary in 2010, a major milestone for the city and a proud moment for the Vietnamese to celebrate.

Lifestyle

Eating

Talking about Vietnamese cuisine, many people immediately think about Pho, rice noodle soup, and Cha Gio, deep-fried spring rolls, which have become famous throughout the world. Vietnam provides the curious palate with a cornucopia of tastes in three regional traditions: savory in the north, spicy in the central region and sweet in the south. Food is usually served with the ubiquitous fish sauce.

Drinking tap water is not advisable. Bottled drinking water is widely available for a reasonable price. The majority of hotels and restaurants will use hygienic ice, however, if eating at a market or on the street it may be best to avoid ice.

Shopping

Vietnam is still developing, and so local sellers can sometimes be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they perceive as very wealthy. Vendors will probably overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game and bargain with a smile! It is also recommended to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal, especially for more expensive items.

If you are being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is to say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further.

If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Shopping

Vietnam is still developing, and so local sellers can sometimes be very persistent when trying to make money, especially around tourists whom they perceive as very wealthy. Vendors will probably overcharge you, but rather than becoming irritated, join the game and bargain with a smile! It is also recommended to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal, especially for more expensive items.

If you being followed by street vendors and do not wish to make a purchase, often the best course of action is to say “no” firmly and politely, and continue on your way. Do not hesitate or linger, as this will encourage the seller to try and engage you further.

If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Etiquette

In Vietnam, revealing clothing is unacceptable off the beach. Shorts are generally fine – as long as they aren’t too short.

When visiting pagodas, temples or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi, shorts and tank-tops are unacceptable (no cameras allowed inside HCM Mausoleum). Your knees and shoulders must be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in pagodas. Shoes are usually removed upon entering private homes too.

Upon meeting someone new, people may simply nod to each other or may shake hands. Using both hands to shake someone’s hand is a warm gesture of respect.

Beckoning someone by crooking your finger is considered rude. The correct way to call someone over is to extend your hand with the palm down and flap your fingers towards your wrist. To ask for the bill in a restaurant or shop, extend one hand in front of you with the palm raised and pretend to write on your palm with the other hand.