One of the most beautiful and environmentally diverse countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam shares its ancient culture, tumultuous history and inspiring optimism with each visitor. Beyond the war memorials and museums await culinary adventures, dramatic landscapes and a people truly warm in spirit. The floating markets on the Mekong River Delta, ornate pagodas of Hue and the towering limestone monoliths of the Ha Long Bay are each just small components of what makes Vietnam travel a unique and memorable experience.
With 61 provinces in Vietnam, the country is divided into four main regions. The Northern region is home to the capital city of Hanoi. A city full of museums and parks, nightclubs and commerce, Hanoi is where old-world and modern Asia converge. Also in the north are the mountain resort town of Sapa and the World Heritage site, Ha Long Bay. The Central Coast is the obvious choice for travelers in search of a beach holiday. The majority of this region is peppered with deserted sandy beaches, as well as the popular tourist destinations of Hue and Hoi An.
The Central Highlands are a hilly region covered in verdant forests and home to several indigenous tribes of Vietnam. The area extends from Cat Tien National Park in the south all the way up to Quang Nam in the north. Da Lat is the most accessible city in the Central Highlands and is a former French colonial outpost that today is home to several Vietnamese artists as well as a host of natural waterfalls and scenic mountain views. The Southern region is the economic hub of Vietnam, and centered around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the Mekong River Delta. As the largest city in the country, Ho Chi Minh City has a palpable energy with its streets coursing with motorbikes and modern-minded locals. Tourists here will keep busy in this sky-scraping metropolis that teems with day and night markets, acupuncture clinics, sidewalk cafes and ancient pagodas.
Vietnamese cuisine largely reflects the Chinese and French cultures, making it one of the most decadent, yet healthiest cuisines in the world. Centered around rice, the cuisine of Vietnam uses many fresh herbs and greens, such as lemongrass, chili peppers, garlic, onion and coconut milk. In the southern regions of the country, fresh fish and seafood are abundant, while beef and pork can be found in the heartier dishes of the north. Banh mi doner kebab (pork, chili sauce and pickled veggies) stalls pop up all over Hanoi, and some of the best Vietnamese staples like pho (rice noodle soup with beef or chicken) and mi xao (crispy noodles with seafood) can be found on the famous food street of Tong Duy Tan. In nice weather, visit the Barbecue Garden in Ho Chi Minh City for an outdoor meal of Vietnamese barbecue made right at your table.
Vietnam has three major international airports: Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi, which serves the capital and much of the northern part of the country; Tan Son Nhat International (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City; and Da Nang International Airport (DAD) in the central region. Short and long-distance travel within the country can be done by bus or train. The Reunification Express, also known as the Vietnam North-South Railway, runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (1,079 miles) and makes stops in several provinces along the way. Though not the most convenient way to travel, it is the most scenic, and one of the best ways to take in the beautiful countryside. Navigating around cities can be done on foot, by taxi or cyclos (three-wheeled pedicabs).
Vietnam can have three distinct climate zones depending on the region. From November to April, the North remains cool and dry, while the hot, rainy season can last from May to October. The South has a tropical climate, with hot and humid weather year round, with February to May being the hottest. The Central Highlands enjoy a cooler climate, and can even reach freezing in the winter months. The peak travel season for Vietnam is November to January and April to June, when tourists are out in full force and the weather tends to be calmer.
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