One thinks of Vietnam and one imagines battlefields or minefields entrenched in war. But the iconic communist South Asian country is a labyrinth of diverse cultures from Chinese to French with subtle influences of Hinduism and Buddhism rooted in its contemporary lifestyle. We bring to you a first-timers' guide to Vietnam: How and why you should travel to the former French colony.
15 days visa-free travel, currency, and documentation
You are not required to apply for a tourist visa if you are planning to travel to Vietnam for a maximum of 15 days for business or tourism purposes before 30th June 2021 and if you hold a ‘British Citizen’ passport. However, all other categories of passport holders will be required to apply for a valid visa. You should check with your travel agents or the Vietnam Embassy in London for all kinds of health certificates, if any, required for entry purposes. You can obtain further information on TravelHealthPro.
Flying to any major city in Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, Da Nang, et al – is always an expensive affair with round trips starting about £400. Although, sitting on the Indochinese Peninsula, allows for a subliminal monsoon climate to prevail across the country, it can get chillier during December. Therefore, March and April are considered to be the ideal months for enjoying a unique tropical spring. Whilst the flight tickets may be expensive, travelling can be relatively affordable. Factor in the currency exchange rates (1GBP = 30,160 Vietnamese Dongs) and good deals and you might be able to indulge in a luxurious staycation. Also, be careful of carrying cash with yourself as plastic currency remains foreign at flea markets and street stalls.
Vietnam boasts of a 3000 km coastline, dense tropical forests, hilltops, and cities wafting with Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, decorated in the armours of French architecture, traditional ornate pagodas and city skyscrapers.
Ho Ho Ho...lets hop to Ho Chi Minh City!
The best way to glean information about the war-torn country is perhaps, by visiting Ho Chi Minh City Museum, an archive housed in the Gia Long Palace. From bomb remnants, first-person accounts of war veterans to a bloodied guillotine and photographs of horrific napalm burns the corridors revisit a ghostly Vietnam.
Another insight into the former French colony can be received from visiting the Reunification Palace. Following the departure of the French colonials left in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem, the then ruler constructed the 'Independence Palace' to demonstrate his country's strength, but it was pulled down after an attempt to assassinate him. Renamed as the Reunification Palace, it houses the tank that crashed through the palace gates in 1975, signalling the fall of the Saigon regime.
But, the country's torturous history is perhaps, best illustrated in its nightlife and cuisine culture. Dong Khoi exudes character in the pubs, street shops and walk-in diners that span from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Saigon River. From the go-go bars that catered for young American GIs back in the 1950s to the balmy hole-in-the-walls now serving local bia hoi (beer). Beware of the pickpocketers though. Ben Thanh, Bin Tay Markets and Lam Son Square are some of the shopping centers to make a quick stop at.
Golden Gate Bridge of the East: Da Nang
The beach stretch of Da Nang is nestled between Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, almost diving the country in half. Marrying the urban lifestyle with the country's historical past, the area is fairly under-developed and is home to some of the prettiest beaches such as Khe Beach, Lang Co Beach, and Non-Nuoc. If UNESCO-listed destinations interest you, then you can plan day trips to Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary. However, visiting the 490 ft Golden Bridge in the Bà Nà Hills, which connects the cable car station with the gardens is a panoramic visit that you must treat yourself to!
Other relatively unexplored and off-beat places that you can visit include Hoi An, Ha Long Bay, Da Lat, Phu Quoc Island and Hon Tre Island for motor-biking, surfing and other outdoor adventures.