For most of us, deciding where to go on holiday is as important as when we go. Vacation time is precious and, once used, you can never get it back. Deciding where to spend your hard-earned holiday means making hard choices between places that, in a perfect world, would be open and available to everyone.
Among Southeast Asian tourist destinations, there are many reasons to choose Vietnam over Thailand, Cambodia or Malaysia but it all comes down to what each country has to offer. All of these countries have a rich heritage and wonderful tourist destinations, but what sets Vietnam apart from its neighbors?
Overwhelming natural beauty
Not to overuse a cliché, but Vietnam has yet to be spoiled by unrelenting hordes of Western tourists looking for a carbon copy of their country but filled with people who talk strange. It’s sad, but true, that once a destination is discovered, developers will fill it with comfortable and familiar sights to make tourists feel more secure and comfortable. Unfortunately, for most tourist destinations, that detracts from the natural surroundings and makes the location less likely to be visited.
Vietnam, without a history of tourism, is still a “diamond in the rough” and, for the time being at least, still shows it’s untrampled and pristine natural beauty to visitors. From the Mekong Delta in the south to the mountains in the north, many of the most beautiful places to see in Vietnam don’t have a McDonalds or Kmart nearby.
Because of that, of course, getting to some of the best spots for sightseeing can be an adventure in itself. Guided tours are becoming more popular, but renting a car or motorcycle for personalized touring is easy and convenient. There are a number of extensive cave and cavern systems in Vietnam that are only now being discovered and explored.
Son Doong Caverns is the largest cave in the world but was only discovered in 2009. It wasn’t opened to tourists until 2012 and tours are still tightly controlled. It is just one of many cave systems in the country. To put it simply, although Vietnam is not known for majestic waterfalls or towering mountains, it has plenty of natural wonders to enjoy.
Incredible food and drinks
Vietnamese cuisine is becoming more popular all over the world and with good reason. With a lush growing season, unusual fruits and vegetables and abundant fishing areas Vietnamese cuisine has a rich history and native cooks show a deft willingness to try things that are unusual, to say the least. Street food and cafes are popular with both natives and tourists to Vietnam and some of the best food in the country can be had from these humble establishments.
No discussion about Vietnamese cuisine can be complete without talking a bit about coffee. Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world and it has become a staple in native Vietnamese lives. Vietnamese coffee is usually served with condensed milk; whether you drink it hot or cold, “cafe sua da” is a delicious beverage anytime during the day.
Vietnam has also become one of the top wine producing countries in the world. French influence created the new wine industry in the 1950s but it languished until the 1990s when outside expertise was brought in. With changes in both the type of grapes produced and in the nurturing process, the dormant wine industry exploded. Vietnam is now well-known globally for the quality and distinctiveness of its wine types and tastes.
In touch with history
During the last century, Vietnam was controlled by outside powers, split up between rival factions and has been fought over too many times. This tumult has given the Vietnamese people a distinct character and appreciation for their history that quickly becomes apparent for visitors. Colonial and Communist influences are scattered throughout the country, but the character of the Vietnamese people is not just about who controlled them but how they were able to overcome these influences and create their own culture.
Prior to the colonial era, Vietnam already had a rich cultural history but much of that was overshadowed by its more accessible neighboring countries. Temple complexes such as Mẏ So’n are reminiscent of the huge complex at Angkor Wat in neighboring Cambodia and has been designated a world heritage site. Additional archeological dig sites dot the country, including a large one in Ho Chi Minh City, and graphically show the history of Vietnam for visitors.
No matter your reason for vacation, Vietnam has something for nearly everyone to see, do and taste. Whether you are exploring the beaches and coastline on your own in a rented jeep, joining wine tours into the central highlands to get a glimpse of the burgeoning wine industry or just feasting your way through the small shops and markets of Ho Chi Minh City tourists can always find solace for a gypsy soul.
So have we convinced you to consider Vietnam as your next destination yet? If so, beware that you might never want to leave.
Travel on, my friends!
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