A World of Wonders in Vietnam
by David Elliott
Most people who visit Vietnam for the first time are frankly stunned by what they find there, and wonder why they’d never considered coming before. Vietnam has an incredibly rich and ancient culture, as well as some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. From sandy beaches, great mountain ranges and dense tropical forests to a desert that resembles the Sahara, Vietnam is a country of rich contrasts and delightful surprises that will make you fall in love with it on sight and keep you coming back for more of the same. It’s cheap, too – the biggest cost will be getting there.
If you’re into history and ancient cultures, you’ll find that Vietnam is on a par with Turkey and Greece in its diversity of romantic ruins and hidden gems that scatter the countryside – relics of great empires and civilisations. In Hanoi, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was the country’s administrative centre for over a thousand years. Now, visitors can see the grand remains of its ancient palaces and roads, and visit the replica of the citadel in its former glory in the adjoining museum.
In central Hanoi, visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the remains of ‘Uncle Ho’ reside in eternal and well-earned peace after his titanic exertions on behalf of the people. He’s actually on display there in a glass case, like a medieval relic in a vast, concrete reliquary, pilgrim destination for the faithful and reminder of the country’s turbulent recent past.
The Hue monuments in the central part of Vietnam constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in the early 19th century and featuring the magnificent Forbidden Purple City of the old royal family as well as numerous tombs, temples and pagodas, and the complex also has several fascinating museums to look around.
For a charming and traditional little seaside town in Vietnam you can’t do better than Hoi An, once one of the world’s most important trading ports that connected Europe with Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries and now a delightful, peaceful backwater popular with backpackers looking for a suitable spot to chill out.
To see Vietnam in all its natural contrasting landscapes head for Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, another UNESCO site in Vietnam’s north-central district. It has the oldest karst rock formations in the whole of Asia and is especially famous for its incredible limestone caves with their bizarre and colourfully twisted stalagmites and stalactites. It’s an area of dense tropical rainforest, which is popular with backpackers and hikers.
Also in northern Vietnam you’ll find Ha Long Bay close to the border with China. It’s a natural wonder of the world with over 1600 separate islands and islets of fragmented limestone which spread out over 1500 sq kilometres, creating a fascinating and bizarre panorama reminiscent of the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in Turkey.
Take a trip to Vietnam this year and open a window on the stunning landscapes of SE Asia.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.