Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic
of Vietnam, is located on the east of the Indochinese peninsular and has an
area of around 330,000 sq km (128,000 sq miles) and a population of about 87
million. Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the
west, the South China Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the
south-east. The capital city is Hanoi with a population of over 3 million.
The country’s largest city, with over 4 million inhabitants, is Ho Chi Minh
City, known as Saigon up to April 1975 when the bloody Vietnam War finally
ended. The war is now firmly in the past and tourism has become increasingly
important to the country’s economy, now contributing about 5% to the gross
domestic product. Vietnam has firmly established itself as a popular
South-East Asian destination and foreign visitors have been able to travel
freely throughout the country since 1997. Tour operators are now also
offering a combination of trips combining Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and
Thailand – a fascinating experience.
Things to see in Hanoi: The Old Quarter – traditional houses and shopfronts,
including Ma May, a restored 19th century house you can go inside. Ho Chi
Minh’s Mausoleum - a marble monument to the leader, built from materials
from all over Vietnam, and displaying his embalmed corpse. The Museum of
Vietnamese Women - celebrates the culture and strength of the women who
survived or took part in the war. Photographs and objects, especially ethnic
textiles and clothing. Ngoc Son Temple is the most visited temple in Hanoi,
being built on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the shore by a
classical Vietnamese bridge. On a hill in the Cai River area of the city is
the Long Son Pagoda and behind it, visible from all over the city, is a 14
metre high statue of Buddha seated on a lotus blossom. There are great views
from the platform around the statue.
Ho Chi Minh City sights: the largest city in Vietnam and once the French
colonial capital, the city still has wide boulevards and elegant buildings.
Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace are two buildings in the
centre not to miss, but visitors interested in the legacy of the Vietnam War
should head for the Cu Chi tunnels to the northwest of the city. This
network of tunnels was the Viet Cong’s base for the Tet Offensive of 1968
and played a vital role in the North Vietnamese victory over American
forces. The tunnels have been preserved as a war memorial and tourists are
admitted to some of the safer ones. If you are too young to remember the
Vietnam War, the War Remnants Museum in District 3 displays the full horror
of the use of chemical warfare and massacres by US forces.
Vietnam has some glorious beaches, and the city of Nha Trang is famous for
its 7 km of white sand and its blue sea. From there you can take a cruise to
Mun Island where you can snorkel in the clear waters. For something
completely different, the city of Dalat at an altitude of 1500 metres offers
lakes and waterfalls among pine forests. This “city of thousands of
flowers”, seven hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City, has an ideal climate.