Vietnam, officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, had suffered a lot 40 years ago due to the infamous Vietnam War between the North and the South. But if you see now, this country has changed so much over such a short period of time. I visited the country in July-August, 2016. Its eminent pagodas, full-bore cities, well-preserved ruins, mysterious caves, relaxing paddy fields, spectacular scatter of limestone islands over emerald waters, etc. show that Vietnam has risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the recent years.
Vietnam is a long, narrow country bordered by China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, South China Sea to the east, and Gulf of Thailand to the deep south. The country is clearly divided into north, south, and central coast and highlands.
North Vietnam is my favorite region in Vietnam. It has most of the magnificent places of the country, including the capital city – Hanoi.
- The colonial architecture of Hanoi is a treat to the eyes, especially the area surrounding the Hoan Kiem Lake called the Old Quarter. It boasts great cafes, restaurants, glitzy malls, wine warehouses, and what not. The fusion of modern life with a degree of traditional grace is witnessed beautifully in Hanoi. It also provides a great base for excursions to Halong Bay and Sapa.
- Halong Bay offers mystical scenery where thousands of irregular limestone islands have popped out of the emerald waters. Cruising here overnight by a traditional junk or a modern cruise is a wonderful experience.
- Sapa is a beautiful hill station, popular for its breathtaking views of paddy fields from the guesthouses on the hillsides, and trekking to Fan Si Pan, the highest mountain range and tallest peak of Vietnam. Interacting with the minority people and trekking out to isolated village settlements is also exciting.
Central Coast and Highlands of Vietnam is huge, though poorer than the north and south of Vietnam, yet offers spectacular places to visit.
- It boasts the most beautiful, magnificent, scenic, and magic caves of South East Asia – Phong Nha caves. This was considered to be the largest cave until lately, Son Doong Cave was discovered as the largest cave of the world, with its own biodiversity. Dong Hoi is a small city that acts as a base to visit the caves, though Son Doong is accessible by tourists only under a certain tour group.
- You will come across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) – the area that divides the north and south of the country – in central Vietnam. It runs along the Ben Hai river, and you will see a great difference in weather, language, local character, and also cuisine to the north and south of the river.
- Hue is an old Imperial City, the former home of Vietnam’s emperors, and was the capital during the Nguyen dynasty. Its magnificent palace buildings fringed by beautiful gardens, grand tombs and temples will take you to the past. It is also a good base to do a day trip to the 15th century-old Champa dynasty ruins at My Son.
- Toward south, crossing the Hai Van Pass – a beautiful mountainous stretch of road connecting the north and south of the country, you will find Da Nang, the most important city of the central coast. It offers a not-so-beautiful yet relaxing beach views.
- Hoi An, the well-preserved, pleasant, and ancient riverside town, is easily accessible from Da Nang. Its ancient city is an UNESCO World Heritage Center, famous for its traditionally built wooden old houses, museums, Chinese assembly halls, and old bridges. Its wonderful architecture and laidback air makes it a captivating place.
- Further south, there is a beautiful beach retreat – Nha Trang, more popular for its mud-spas and less touristy beautiful beaches. Toward the highland, there is a French romantic hill station called Da Lat, popular for its cool climate, colonial buildings, market full of winter crops, and picturesque scenery.
South Vietnam is hugely popular for Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city and the main economic center of the country, and Mekong delta.
- Ho Chi Minh City, still known as Saigon (its former name), was a war-torn city after losing at the Vietnam War but now is a thriving metropolis city. The remarkable features of the city are Soviet-style housing blocks, eminent temples, war museums, historical hotspots, streets flooded with bikes and other vehicles.
- It acts as a base for day trip to Cu Chi Tunnels, where villagers used to remain to save themselves from the war chaos. It also acts as the base for day trips to Mekong Delta – maze of channels of Mekong river meeting the Gulf of Thailand. Boat trip to Mekong Delta is highly recommended.
- There is also a beautiful bay called Mui Ne in the southern region with white sand dunes as the remarkable feature of the small village, around 5 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Vietnam?
The weather of Vietnam is different in north and south.
- The best time to visit Northern Vietnam is November-April, when it is dry and cooler, though further north, it gets very cold during December-January. May-October is very hot and humid with high rainfall though I visited during this time, luckily my travel was not interrupted by bad weather, but cannot guarantee for others, as Halong Bay cruises may get cancelled due to bad weather during July-August sometimes.
- Central Vietnam experiences heavy rainfall during the months of September-November, so you cannot explore the caves if you come during those months, better to visit anytime between January and August, when it is dry there.
- Southern Vietnam experiences warm and wet weather during May-October. It is better to be avoided during June-August as it experiences rainfall then. The best time is November-April when it is dry.
Overall, if you want to enjoy the best time in the whole of Vietnam, February-March seems to the best for all the regions.
How to Plan Your Vietnam Vacation?
Visit my blog posts on Vietnam. They will surely help you plan your vacation.
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