Vietnam is different from its neighbors, living in its own frenzied pace, which may tempt the traveler to rush ahead before the attractions were properly explored. Crossing a street in Saigon is an adventure in itself, and not necessarily a pleasant one; though it proved a proper preparation for wilder places like La Paz and El Alto in Bolivia.
Any country with such a complex history holds a promise of many cultural attractions. However, Vietnam adds to those a strikingly beautiful and lush nature which spans varied landscapes, from the fruits and rice basket of the Mekong Delta to the four season's solemnity of Hanoi. A long exploration seems compulsory under such conditions, but most visitors find the over-extra-hyper-assertive approach of the locals towards the tourists intimidating. Few visitors feel comfortable after a month; by then, the first impressions begin to fade out and the violent reality becomes evident.
Very narrow and with a length of over 2200km, Vietnam is an easy country to tour; the main decision for such a trip is if to begin from the north or from the south. Budget travelers will find only two feasible ways to tour the country: by tourists' buses and by train. The local buses are not recommended since they are very congested and somewhat dangerous. The trains are the safest way to move around, but getting tickets on short notice is difficult and they travel slowly. The compromise is to use the tourists' buses, but not without a word of warning. There are several operators offering the same package - a ticket connecting Saigon with Hanoi through given stops with a flexible schedule - at prices that seem similar when translated to dollars; nonetheless, the differences in Vietnamese Dong are significant and the cheaper companies make harmful shortcuts - for example not stopping by the attractions along the way.
If arriving from Cambodia, then this area is the first to be seen;
many traditional industries that have disappeared elsewhere, are still alive here. From liquor bottles with scorpions and snakes swimming in them to coconut candies, everything here reflects the flavors of the Vietnamese culture.
Ho Chi Minh City
Nowhere in Vietnam are the scars of the war so evident and alive like in Saigon, known nowadays as Ho Chi Minh City. The War Remnants Museum, the Government Palace and the Cu Chi Caves turn recent history alive, while the Cathedral and the GPO belong to a romantic version of the 19th century.
Hoi An provides a look into the far past, with an unspoiled center, Chinese Guild Houses and a four-hundreds years old Japanese Bridge.
Nha Trang is the main beach of the country with clear turquoise waters and small islets hidden in eternal mist. Nearby, Dalat is a mountainous resort nearby where many newly wed choose to spend their honey moon far from the coastal heat and humidity.
On the intersection of Highways 9 and 20 and in Nha Trang it is possible to appreciate Cham Towers. The Cham culture was related to the Khmer one in Angkor. Such a visit is an essential complement for a visit at Angkor; appreciating the similarities and differences between them vastly enriches the visits experience.
On the DMZ, the geographical transition between the south and the north provides amazing views; the horrors of the American-Vietnamese War are here evident from the caves on the shore - where whole Vietnamese communities lived - to the Rockpile and Khe Sanh American bases. North of it is Hue, the old capital. It still hosts the Imperial City, also known as Purple Forbidden City; the old kings' majestic tombs are an unforgettable sight.
Hanoi is the capital city and it feels as one; not only because of its monuments but also for the obvious care to the details: romantic lakes, old temples and wide, shaded streets. The 36 Streets Market provides a fascinating look into medieval times. Nearby, Halong Bay with its thousands of islets endows with a glimpse onto the birth of the Vietnamese culture.
Fansipan Mountain is the highest mountain in the country and provides some solitude after the suffocating crowds in the plains. The nearby town of Sapa is a local center for Hill Tribes, mainly of Hmong people.
If making a land trip, then it is possible to leave Vietnam northwards into China, or if making as long trip around Southeast Asia, to Laos via one of the open passes over the Annamite Mountains, through Lao Bao - leading to Savannakhet, or Cau Treo – leading to Vientiane.