Incredible Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. (photo via SimonDannhauer / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

One of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful and diverse countries, Vietnam shares its ancient culture, tumultuous history, and inspiring optimism with every visitor. Beyond war memorials and museums await culinary adventures, spectacular scenery and truly warm people. The floating markets of the Mekong Delta, the ornate pagodas of Hue, and the towering limestone monoliths of Ha Long Bay are just small parts of what makes Vietnam a unique and memorable experience.

With 61 provinces in Vietnam, the country is divided into four main regions. The northern region is home to the capital Hanoi. A city full of museums and parks, nightclubs and shops, Hanoi is the focal point of old world Asia and modern Asia. To the north is also the resort town of Sapa and the world heritage site, Ha Long Bay. The Central Coast is the obvious choice for travelers looking for a beach vacation. The majority of this region is dotted with deserted sandy beaches, as well as the popular tourist destinations of Hue and Hoi An.

This image is taken around 5:30 p.m. in the summer in Ho Chi Minh City.  (photo via TonyNg / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
PHOTO: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (photo via TonyNg / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The central highlands are a hilly region covered in lush green forests and home to several indigenous tribes of Vietnam. The area stretches from Cat Tien National Park in the south to Quang Nam in the north. Da Lat is the most accessible city in the central highlands and is a former French colonial outpost that is now home to several Vietnamese artists as well as a multitude of natural waterfalls and panoramic mountain views. The Southern region is the economic hub of Vietnam and is centered around Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the Mekong Delta. As the largest city in the country, Ho Chi Minh City has a palpable energy with its streets full of motorcycles and modern locals. Tourists here will be busy in this skyscraper metropolis filled with day and night markets, acupuncture clinics, sidewalk cafes, and ancient pagodas.

Vietnamese cuisine largely reflects Chinese and French cultures, making it one of the most decadent and healthy cuisines in the world. Centered around rice, Vietnamese cuisine uses many fresh herbs and vegetables, such as lemongrass, peppers, garlic, onion, and coconut milk. In the southern parts of the country, fresh fish and seafood are plentiful, while beef and pork are found in the more filling dishes of the north. Banh mi doner kebab (pork, chili sauce, and pickled vegetables) stands are popping up all over Hanoi, and some of the best Vietnamese dishes like pho (beef or chicken rice noodle soup) and mi xao (crispy fruit noodles) de mer) can be found on the famous food street of Tong Duy Tan. When the weather is nice, visit the Barbecue Garden in Ho Chi Minh City for an outdoor Vietnamese barbecue meal prepared right at your table.

Vietnam has three major international airports: Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi, which serves the capital and much of the north of the country; Tan Son Nhat International (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City; and Da Nang International Airport (DAD) in the central region. Short and long distance trips within the country can be done by bus or train. The Reunification Express, also known as the Vietnam North-South Railway, connects Hanoi with Ho Chi Minh City (1,079 miles) and makes stops in several provinces along the way. While not the most convenient way to travel, it is the most scenic and one of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Navigating the cities can be done on foot, by taxi or by cyclo (three-wheeled bicycle).

Vietnam can have three distinct climatic zones depending on the region. From November to April, the north remains cool and dry, while the hot and rainy season can last from May to October. The South has a tropical climate, with hot and humid weather all year round, with February through May being the hottest. The central highlands enjoy a cooler climate and can even reach freezing point during the winter months. The peak travel season in Vietnam is from November to January and April to June, when tourists are plentiful and the weather tends to be quieter.


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