Vietnam Travel Guide
Vietnam borders with China in the north, Laos and Cambodia in the West, and the Pacific Ocean in the east. Its lies in the centre of South-East Asia. Vietnam’s territory stretches from Lung Cu village (Ha Tuyen province) in the north to Rach Tau hamlet (Minh Hai province) in the south. It is a S-shaped pennisula, with thousands of off-shore islands and archipelagoes; the biggest of which are the Hoang SA (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelagoes. Vietnam’s mainland covers 331,689 square kilometres .
According to archaeological discoveries made at Do Mountain, it is believed that life in Vietnam began as far back as 300,000 years ago. Officially, the history of Vietnam stretches back 4,000 years when it was founded by the Hung Kings. It was then named Van Lang.
When speaking upon the history of Vietnam, it is important to note the large role played by the French in Vietnam. It began in 1858, when the French took over Danang in southern Vietnam. Over time, more and more territory was won over by the French. It wasn’t until 1954, when the French surrendered to to the Viet Minh, ending the French Indochina War, that the French colonial control in Vietnam ended.
North-west Vietnam offers travelers some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. The mountainous areas are home to many distinct hill tribes, some still living as they have for generations, despite ever-increasing Vietnamese and Western influences.
Hwy 6 is mostly bitumen surface from Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu – but the road is a thrill! Even more exciting is Hwy 32 between Dien Bien Phu and Lai Chau a dangerous cliffhanger frequently wiped out by landslides. This road is so rough it can jar the fillings out of your teeth. The ensuing stretch from Lai Chau into Sapa is bumpy in places, but offers some of the best mountain vistas in South-East Asia.
The north-west roads are improving bit by bit. However, if you suffer from vertigo, backache or (God forbid) haemorrhoids, you might want to stick to shorter trip. Many travel only as far as Mai Chau or Son La, or Sapa in the other direction, before turning back. Given the state of the roads, this is nut surprising.
The most interesting (and hair-raising) journey of all is the ‘north-west loop’. Head for Mai Chau, followed by Son La and Dien Bien Phu, then north to Lai Chau, Sapa, Lao Cai and back to Hanoi. The loop route requires a 4WD or motorbike, and you should allow at least a week for this trip.
The north-central region is one of the poorest areas of Vietnam, and perhaps the least visited by foreign tourists. Most travellers make a beeline between Hue and Hanoi by bus, train or air, choosing to spend more time in places Hoi An, Hue and points in the far south or north.
Moreover, as several important sites including Tam Coc, Hoa Lu, Phat Diem and Cuc Phuong National Park are within just a couple of hours from Hanoi, travellers have the option of visiting on day excursion from the capital. The beaches of north-central Vietnam, though popular with domestic tourists, pale in comparison to those in the centre and along the south-central coast.
Dominated by the Red River basin and the sea, the fertile north-east is the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. Much or Vietnamese history, not all of it happy, was made here. In particular, Vietnam had less than cordial relations with the Chinese, who invaded in tile 2nd century BC and stayed for about 1000 years. Indeed, the last invasion took place as recently as 1979 (see Mong Cai later in this chapter).
On a more positive note, this part of Vietnam is showing some real economic potential. Much investor interest centres on Haiphong, Vietnam’s largest seaport. However, it’s the scenery – not history, politics and economics that is the major tourist draw card here, In particular, the spectacular coastline of Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay and Cat Ba Island offer some of nature’s most bizarre geologic displays. Add to that such interesting side attractions as Ba Be Lakes, the mountains around Cao Bang Province plus the region’s accessibility to China, and it’s not hard to see why Vietnam’s north-east is a major magnet for visitors.
From 1954 to 1975, the Ben Hai River served as the demarcation line between the Republic of Vietnam (RVN; South Vietnam) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV; North Vietnam). On either side of the river was an area 5km wide known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Hue, the most historically interesting city in Vietnam, served as Vietnam’s political capital from 1802 to 1945 under the 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty. The province of Quang Nam, bordering the municipality of Danang, contains Vietnam’s most important Cham sites – including My Son Site and Tra Kieu (Simhapura) which have become popular stomping grounds for tourists. Side trips to places like the Marble Mountains and China Beach also continue to draw a steady trickle of travellers. While the once bustling city of Danang is rather quiet these days, the Chain Museum there is topnotch.
The old port of Hoi An (Faifo) has a great deal of rustic charm and is an ideal spot in Vietnam to relax and appreciate what life must have been like in centuries gone by.
Tay Nguyen, translated as Western Highlands and sometimes also called Central Highlands, is one of the regions of Vietnam. It contains the provinces of Dak Lak Province, Dak Nong Province, Gia Lai Province, Lam Dong Province, Kon Tum Province, Dong Nai province, Binh Duong province…
It has a large population of ethnic minorities such as the people of Malayo-Polynesian languages (Jarai and Ede) and the people of Mon-Khmer languages (Bahnar and K’hor). Therefore, the Degar organized the FULRO (1964–1992) and the Montagnard Foundation (1990–), and are continuing the Montagnard Independence Movement from Vietnam. Tay nguyen is the home to most prominent and also most endangered species of Vietnam and Southeast Asia: the Indochinese tiger, the huge gaur, the Wild Asian Water Buffalo, the banteng, and the Asian elephant.
This region is sometimes referred to as Cao Nguyen Trung Bo (literally “Midland Highlands”), and was referred to during the Republic of Vietnam as Cao Nguyen Trung Phan (literally “Central Highlands”).
This section covers the littoral provinces of Binh Thuan Province, Ninh Thuan Province, Khanh Hoa Province, Phu Yen Province, Binh Dinh Province… The cities, towns, beaches and historical sites in this region, most of which are along National Highway I, referred to by many foreign tourists as the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ (the real one is actually farther inland), are listed from north to south.
The southernmost province, Binh Thuan Province, is one of the most arid regions of Vietnam (particularly north of Phan Thiet). The nearby plains, dominated by rocky, roundish mountains, support some marginal irrigated rice agriculture. Some of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches arc scattered out along the coast, and there are many ruins of Cham culture.
Mekong River Delta
The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: Dong bang song Cuu Long “Nine Dragon river delta”) is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong Delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi). The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.