Welcome to another world, a world where the colours are more vivid, the culture is richer, and the history more compelling. This is the world of Vietnam, the latest Asian dragon to awake from its slumber. Nature has blessed Vietnam with a bountiful harvest. With soaring peaks like Hoang Lien mountains and a killer coastline, with beaches like Quy Nhon and Nha Trang, Vietnam is simply stunning. Blanketed from head to toe with a patchwork of emerald-green rice paddies, timelessly tended by peasant women in conical hats, this time the brochures don't lie.
Area: 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles).
Population: 84 million
Population Density: 253,9 per sq km
Language: Vietnamese is the official language. English, French, Chinese and occasionally Russian and German are spoken.
Religion: Buddhist majority. There are also Taoist, Hoa Hao, Caodaist, and Christian (predominantly roman catholic) minorities.
Telephone: Country code: 84
GDP: US$53,1 billion
Infant mortality: 30 per 1000 brith
Electricity: 220/110 volts AC, 50Hz; two-pin flat plugs are in use.
When to go
When it comes to weather, it’s a tough call, as Vietnam’s climate is so diverse. Think frosts and occasional snow in the mountains of the north, and temperatures soaring to 40°C in the south during the dry season.
Vietnam’s weather is dictated by two monsoons. The winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March, bringing damp and chilly winters to all areas north of Nha Trang, and dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the summer monsoon brings hot, humid weather to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains. For the best balance, try the months of April, May or October. For those sticking to the south, November to February is dry and a touch cooler. From July to November, violent and unpredictable typhoons hit central and northern Vietnam, which can dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic traveller.
It gets pretty crowded from November to March and in July and August. Prices tend to peak over the Christmas and New Year period, and if you don’t fancy sharing the sites with the masses, try to avoid these busy times.
Some travellers like to time a visit with Tet (Vietnamese New Year), which is the biggest festival in the calendar in late January or early February; a nice idea, but not ideal, as the whole country is on the move.
High season in Vietnam runs from November to March, with a summer surge in July and August, particularly for domestic
Vietnam is ideal for long-distance cycling as much of the country is flat and the shortage of vehicles makes for light traffic. Caution is needed, however, especially on busier roads as traffic can be very undisciplined. Bicycle hire is widely available.
In total, Vietnam has 3260km (2021 miles) of coastline. The most popular beaches are Vung Tau, just north of the Mekong Delta; and Nha Trang, near Da Lat, where the clear, turquoise waters offer good snorkeling and scuba diving.
There is good hiking and horses riding in the beautiful countryside around Da Lat. Guides are recommended and can be hired locally. Generally, the northwest is the best region for hiking.
Attractions - Hanoi
The ancient meandering streets of the Old Quarter are each named after the crafts and specialty trades traditionally practiced by the original artisan's guilds in the 13th century.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
Ba Dinh Square was where, in 1945, Ho Chi Minh read out the Declaration of Independence and where independence is celebrated each year. Dominating the west side is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the embalmed body of the 'father of the modern state', 'liberator of the Vietnamese people' and beloved public figure is displayed.