Vietnam Adventure Travel Guide 2014 - Advice and Ideas
PureTravel Says: “Vietnam has an overwhelming beauty and is rich in natural sceneries and beauties such as deltas like the Red River Delta and Mekong Delta, as well as other beauties including green rice-paddy fields, divine beaches, soaring mountains, dense and misty forests and many more. Vietnam is in the south east of the Indochina Peninsula. The border countries are China on the north, Laos on the northwest, and Cambodia on the southwest. Located to the east is the South China Sea.”
Vietnam has a rich cultural heritage shaped by both the Chinese and French over the year, incredible historical building and monuments, breathtaking natural scenery and landscapes including serene beaches, lush mountains, sweeping rivers and deep forests making Vietnam an ideal destination for an eco-trip to really get back to nature.
Hanoi is the capital city and the second largest city in Vietnam with a population of some 6.4 million people. Hanoi mixes East and West culture and is suffused with a rich history and culture thanks to centuries of rule by the Chinese. The city is definitely the cultural centre of the country and oozes historic charm. There are more than 600 pagodas and temples in the city as well as French colonial buildings and Vietnam tours should include:
French Colonial Architecture - Hanoi has many beautiful French colonial buildings constructed by early French settlers. Many remain untouched by the modernisation which swept the city in the 1970s and 1980s. These buildings include the Grand Opera House, Presidential Palace (built between 1901 and 1906), State Bank of Viet nam, historic hotel the Sofitel Metropole and the magnificent Cathédrale St-Joseph.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is housed in a magnificent structure in the center of the city and on display within the mausoleum itself is the preserved body of Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh himself, who looks very peaceful. After a thorough security check, visitors shuffle through the mausoleum in a line, but remember; no talking, no photos and no shorts! The mausoleum is only open for a few hours each day and is closed two days a week and for two months a year, so check before visiting.
Ho Chi Minh's Vestige - Step out of the mausoleum into Uncle Ho's fascinating vestige where he both worked and lived from 1954 until his death on 2 September 1969. Visitors can see his two houses, immaculately preserved as well as his cars and pond complete with carp.
Fine Arts Museum - Visit the fine arts museum to see silk paintings, Buddhist art and pieces covering 20th century wars. There is no English information though and only a little in Vietnamese.
One-Pillar Pagoda - Constructed in 1049, the One-Pillar Pagoda is highly respected among Buddhists who make the journey to Vietnam. The pagoda is hidden between the mausoleum and museum and can be busy with tourist groups at peak periods.
National Museum of Vietnamese History - This museum offers excellent collections of Vietnamese antiques, ceramics, southern ethnic groups, and rare ancient artifacts and some of the descriptions are available in English. The comprehensive displays date from 1,000 years ago and up to 1945.
Ho Chi Minh Museum - The museum is situated in a French colonial building on the banks of the Saigon River. Only finished in 1990, the stark white building is said to resemble a white lotus. Sail on the Saigon River and re-live the experiences when young Ho Chi Minh set sail for the first time to Europe in the beginning of 20th century, with his photos and letters on display.
Museum of Ethnology - For an intriguing look into the cultures and rituals of the ethnic groups of Vietnam, head to the Museum of Ethnology. There is an open air museum with characters in local attire and plenty of information to better understand the local culture.
Dong Xuan Market - There are some forty or more stalls trading at the indoor Dong Xuan Market which caters mostly to travellers. There are plenty of locally produced handicrafts such as brightly-woven textiles, lacquered art and painted ceramics. There is also a good array of local food on offer with such dishes as fried frog and raw duck blood juice.
Army Museum - Set amongst four buildings on Dien Bien Phu Street, the Army Museum is an interesting glimpse into two millennia of Vietnam's military history. There are some good exhibits and information is also in English and French. Outside a Mig-21 jet fighter, T54 tank and various assorted bombs are also on display.
Vietnamese Women's Museum - Set in the district of Hoan Kiem about one km south of the lake, this museum is quite unique in that in focusses entirely on the female roles within Vietnamese culture with details on women’s role in history and traditions. This museum recently completed a large update and modernisation programme to its array of exhibits. The Women’s Museum is well laid out and geared up for tourists with plenty of details on the strong Vietnamese female influences from history, with details in both French and English. Make sure you visit the display of female outfits and explore the contemporary displays for a glimpse into the modern day lives of Vietnamese women.
Temple of Literature - A must-see on many itineraries is this impressive temple which dates back to 1070. On display are pieces from the university which was established on the site in 1076 including the names of graduates of old, inscribed onto ancient stone tablets within the courtyard.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is also known as Saigon to the locals and it's the largest city in Vietnam, with nearly 7.2 million inhabitants. It's also the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam and is a vibrant commercial hub. The city offers a complete glimpse of this fascinating country and your sightseeing schedule should include:
Reunification Palace - This is the former home of the president of South Vietnam and most standard Saigon tours will include a visit here. The Reunification Palace is one of the most interesting sites because of its role in the Vietnam War as well as the unique architecture. While visiting, don’t forget to see the amazing collection of vintage phones and radios.
War Remnants Museum - The War Remnants Museum is formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. Aside from glimpses into atrocities suffered during wartime, the museum has many ancient helicopters, tanks, jets, and other armaments to observe, a sobering moment on a Saigon holiday.
Notre Dame Cathedral - This French creation is the reminder of the French legacy. The 18th century bricks and stained glass structure is the beautiful example of Ho Chi Minh City’s architectural heritage.
Giac Lam Temple - The 1744 structure, the Giac Lam temple is probably the oldest Chinese temple to see in HCMC and is highly regarded locally.
Vung Tau - Vung Tau offers fresh and clean beaches and is a popular destination for those looking for exotic powder-white beaches, and is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of a Ho Chi Minh holiday.
Mekong Delta - The Mekong region is situated to the east of HCMC and is also known as the Nine Dragon River Delta and is the wonderful waterway to southern Vietnam travel. For the lovers of water sports, the Mekong Delta is one of the best places visit. Several water sports and boat tours are available to tourists. There are infinite selections of itineraries such as afternoon cruises, night trips and 2-3 day tours available. You can also sail to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Jade Emperor Temple - The Jade Emperor Temple is one of the most popular Chinese temples in Vietnam. The 1909 structured temple was built in honour of Emperor of Jade.
Ben Thanh Market - Possibly the oldest and probably the busiest market in the country, the Ben Thanh Market is bustling with over 3,000 stalls in one open-air square. Situated in District 1 between the streets of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao and Le Lai, the market sells coffee, food, clothes, trinkets, Chinese medicine - in fact everything you might need (and plenty of things that you'd never need) can be found here! So be prepared to jostle with the locals and practice your bartering skills!
Water Puppets - HCMC also features its own weekly traditional water puppet show at the local Ngon Restaurant every Saturday evening. Book a seat in advance so you don’t miss out.
Central Mosque - There are a total of twelve mosques within Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Mosque has built and served local worshippers in the city since 1935. Visitors come from afar, Indonesia, Pakistan and India, and all visitors are reminded to dress appropriately.
Hue is full of culture and is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a unique charm. Hue is 400km south of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City tours are about 550km away. The famous Perfume River is also located in the city as well as:
Imperial City - The Imperial City is one of the largest attractions of Hue with several sprawling complexes, temples, walls, museums, and galleries that feature various eras of Vietnamese history.
Cua Ngo Mon - Also known as The Noon Gate, this is the main entrance to the city from the south. The Noon Gate was built in 1823 by Gia Long and presents a wonderful example of ancient architecture.
Thai Hoa Palace - Thai Hoa palace is another site worth exploring. Also known as the Palace of Supreme Harmony, the 1833 structure is the living example of architectural expertise. Visit the Palace to receive glimpse of exquisite artistry through wall paintings, the emperor's coronation hall, and his original throne.
Forbidden Purple City - Set with the Imperial Citadel complex, the Forbidden Purple City is situated behind the Thai Hoa Palace. There are some remaining historical monuments, such as the Mandarin Palaces, but the site was largely lost as part of the Tet Offensive in 1968.
A visit to UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay is highly recommended, especially as the region has just been announced as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. Halong Bay is in the north of Vietnam and is to the east of Hanoi by 170km in the Quáng Ninh province. Many visitors are drawn to Halong for a glimpse of the everyday life played out on the floating houses and villages, where entire families live. Visitors can also discover the ancient rock formations and the various activities and adventures that can be enjoyed both on water and within the many caves.
The name Halong Bay actually translates as the “bay of the descending Dragon” and legend has it that a dragon was sent to protect the Vietnamese from invaders, which breathed jewels of fire into the bay, creating the many islands. Many locals, especially the older generation believe the dragon still resides in the waters.
The bay is situated on the Gulf of Tonkin and has some 1,969 islands formed from limestone scattered across 1,553 square kilometres. The coastline itself is some 120km long and is a popular place to swim and fish, as there are around 200 different species of fish and a huge variety of molluscs. The crystal clear lakes within the islands make an ideal spot for kayaking, snorkelling and swimming and inside the caves and grottoes explorers can try rock climbing and rappelling.
By far the most popular activity on Halong Bay itself has to be a cruise and there are options to suit all travellers and all budgets. Choose from luxurious cruisers with well-appointed cabins and exceptional Vietnamese cuisine, to traditional fully-restored sailing junks and French colonial steamer type cruise boats. All operate trips ranging from a few hours to a few weeks; the choice is yours.
Rent A Junk - Stay overnight or a least a few hours aboard a traditional junk on Halong Bay. Gawp at some of the 1,969 limestone islands which rise up from the waters. Routes are monitored and visitors will need to buy a ticket and choose a route around the bay. Route one is Thien Cung Grotto and Dau Go Cave. Route two will visit Sung Sot Cave and route three will explore Su Tu Bien Islet. The choice is yours!
Luon Grotto – This is just one of the many grottoes to explore, with a 1km wide lake enclosed by mountains. Monkeys dart around the steep cliffs of Luon whilst fig trees and wild orchids sway gently overhead. Try a refreshing dip in the turquoise lake or try your hand at fishing for cuttlefish and crab.
Cong Do Island – If you want to pack in some watersports and all-terrain adventures, then head to Cong Do Island, whose mountainous peaks rise to 172m, perfect for climbing and hiking. You can also snorkel and scuba here along the pristine coral reef which is more than 700m long. You can also try fishing in one of the many lagoons for crab, squid and shrimp.
Cat Ba Island - Combine your trip to Ha Long Bay with the rich diversity of Cat Ba Island, which counts the local langur (Old World monkey) as a local resident. There is also a designated National Park complex which visitors can spend the day walking and trekking through. There are plenty of scenic stops along the way with opportunities to cool off in the surrounding waters.
Tuan Chau Island – The Halong Bay area boasts its own resort complex in true Vegas-style. If you want to sample the party atmosphere head to Tuan Chau Island, 8km outside of Halong City, for luxury hotels, casinos, a theme park and non-stop entertainment, all set on the beach.
When To Go
Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate with monsoon season running from May to September in the south and October to April in the north.
In southern Vietnam, the dry season is from December to May and rains from May through to November, although these can be light showers. Day temperatures can be as high as 40C from March-May and rarely fall below 20C.
In the northern region it is cold from late December to early March and the weather is pleasant from March onwards with day temperatures reaching an average 30C.
The Tet Festival (New Year) is held during January to early February (depending on the lunar calendar) and this period will be busy locally. Full details on the local festivals, events and holidays are listed below.
Social Etiquette - Etiquette such as handshaking and greeting are normal. Your clothing should be simple and informal. In Vietnam only children wear shorts so, if possible, try to avoid them. You have to remove any footwear when entering temples and Buddhist pagodas. Do not touch Vietnamese people on the head.
Photography - Taking photographs is normal and allowed, though except restrictions at some places such as ports and airports. If you wish to take photos, it’s better to ask permission first.
Travel – The main airports for a Vietnam trip are Noi Bai International Airport, 35km north of Hanoi and Tan Son Nhat International Airport, 7km from your Ho Chi Minh City vacation.
There are regular rail, bus and taxi services available, although the local listings are in Vietnamese.
There are many ports such as Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, Da, Qui Nhon, Haiphong, Da Nang, and Vung Tau. International cruise services are available from these ports.
You can also go cycling Vietnam as an option to really explore the country.
There are several road routes to China through Mong Cai, Lang Son, and Lao Cai available. Similarly, you can also cross Vietnam from Cambodia through Moc Bai. Road service to Laos is also available from Lao Bao and Cau Trieu.
Language - When in Vietnam, it’s a good idea to utilise an English version guide.
Holidays in Focus
Adventure and Activities
There are a wealth of opportunities to include various adventure activities on your travel itinerary. You can play golf, go motor biking, rock climbing, river rafting, sea kayaking, sea sailing, mountain biking and experience the thrill of exploring rugged terrains on numerous walking, hiking and climbing trails.
Hiking - If you really want to get to know this fascinating country more intimately, then consider explore the scenic mountains up north. Get drunk with the mesmerizing setting of nature in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The grassy tracks of Mekong Delta are another destination for memorable hiking expeditions.
Jungle Trekking - Vietnam is the country of deep forests. Explore the virgin interiors of the forests and observe the abundance of local flora and fauna in the jungles. The jungle trekking is one of the best adventure activities you can do in the country.
Water Sports - Vietnam has several many enticing rivers, lakes and seafront beaches that allow travellers to surf, kayak, swim, canoe, raft, scuba dive, kitesurf, surf, sail and indulge in many other water-based sports and activities. And of course the prime spot for sailing, canoeing and kayaking is undoubtedly Ha Long Bay, where you can appreciate the spectacular scenery at a leisurely pace.
Scuba Diving at Vung Tau and Nha Trang Beaches - Visit these pristine beaches to discover a superb array of water sports offered from the local operators along the sands. In particular, Nha Trang is an excellent place to either learn to scuba dive or to take your advanced PADI certificate.
Rafting in the Pong Nha River – Experience the thrill of river rafting in the river Pong Nha. You can go windsurfing in the numerous beaches as well.
Kayaking in the Ha Long Bay - Vietnam is one of the most favoured places for paddling activities. While in the country don’t forget to kayaking in the Ha Long Bay. The dramatic setting at the Ha Long bay that includes charming isles, wonderful beaches, quaint bays, beautiful coastal areas, and dark caves makes it the perfect place for water adventures.
Nature and Wildlife
Lakes - Hanoi is rich in natural beauty as well. The city is called City of Lakes due to its many scenic lakes. The most famous lakes that every traveller should visit are Hoan Kiem Lake, Halais Lake, West Lake, and Bay Mau Lake.
Head to the central Hoan Kiem Lake where you can participate in martial arts sessions and witness amazing tai chi stunts. You can also visit the West Lake, the city’s biggest lake. It’s located on the foot of the Beverly Hills. There are also several trendy restaurants & clubs available in this lake area. The 6th century Tran Quoc, Vietnam's oldest pagoda, is also a site situated in the middle of the lake.
For cultural and spiritual travellers, there is the Bodhi tree. The tree is grown from the seeds of the tree under which Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment.
Vietnam offers a wide range of thrilling and original experiences to international travellers. There are several tranquil beaches such as Mui Ne Beach, mountains and popular party places such as Nha Trang and many more. You will find wonderful rock formations and grottoes of Halong Bay to explore as well. Alternatively for adventure lovers, Halong Bay also offers several trekking places in the northern mountains. Sapa further north is also recommended for hiking and trekking opportunities.
Vinh Moc Tunnels - The Vinh Moc tunnels are the examples of true patience and dedication. Built between 1965 and 1966, the tunnels are over 70 feet deep, and spread over 64,000 square feet of area. With underground homes, a small cinema hall, and a hospital, these tunnels speak the story of that time and how a whole community used to live in these tunnels.
Dalat - Dalat has wonderful and challenging mountains in Asia. With perfect climate the place offers excellent mountain biking opportunity for adventure lovers.
Pinhatt Mountain - Wear your adventure gear and bike the trails of Tuyen Lam Lake to the top of Pinhatt Mountain. Experience the true fun of mountain biking when enjoying the scenic view of the hills.
Thuan An Beach - For those who want an escape from the hustle and bustle of cities, Thuan An beach is the perfect place. Located just 8 miles to the north, the beach is one of the most popular places among overseas travelers.
Cu Chi Tunnels - The Cu Chi Tunnels are one of the surprises that every visitor should include in their program. These tunnels are located 40 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The 200 mile long tunnels with multiple chambers are built under the city.
The most important aspect about these tunnels is that these tunnels were dug with bare hands and ordinary tools. The 1940 structures were first made during the French regimen and expanded later during the 1960 Vietnam War. These are the tunnels that saved Cu Chi people, where they slept, ate, healed their wounds, planned attacks, and taught their young. Visit to admire the engineering marvels, which you can crawl through to experience the old Cu Chi days of the Vietnam War.
The town of Nha Trang is probably best known as Vietnam’s premier seaside resort and is pretty lively (certainly more so than Mui Ne and Phu Quoc beach towns). Nha Trang is the scuba diving capital of the country and boasts many watersports opportunities. It is also each to reach as it's on the main Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City rail line and is served by its own local airport.
Po Nagar Cham Towers - In Nha Trang you can pay a visit to the Po Nagar Cham Towers and temple complex which is an important site for Buddhists. The four brick towers date back to the 7th century and were built for the ‘Mother of the Kingdom’ by the Cham people.
The fifth largest city in Vietnam, Danang is on the eastern coast by the South China Sea. And as it is halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Danang proves to be a popular stopover spot for tourists.
Marble Mountains - Skip the beaches and shops of Danang for a morning and explore the caves and grottoes of the Marble Mountains. Make sure you pack your walking shoes to scoot between the uneven rock caves and explore the Buddhist temples that have been built into the rock faces. Many visitors opt to climb through the Am Phu cave which rewards those that have made the steep climb with awesome mountain views complete with a bird’s eye view of the sacred images carved into the rock.
Hoi An was an important international port during the 16th and 17th centuries and today retains a sense of style and beauty with quaint vehicle-free lanes, ancient shop houses and plenty of intriguing historical sites. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An is on the east coast of Vietnam and just south of Danang.
-Sample the Vietnam music scene.
-Explore Nha Trang Vietnam.
-Explore Sapa Vietnam for amazing hiking opportunities
-See the water puppet show in Hanoi.
-See the Colonial architecture and French influence.
-Cruise Ha Long Bay on a boat trip, with an overnight stay if possible.
-Take a trip on The Reunification Express
-Visit Phan Thiet
-Explore the quaint streets of Hoi An
-Take a boat trip along the Mekong Delta
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam:
1. Hue Complex of Monuments
2. Halong Bay
3. Ancient Town of Hoi An
4. My Son Sanctuary
5. Ho Dynasty Citadel
6. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
7. Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi
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Vietnam Festivals, Events and Holidays in 2014
- Vietnamese New Year – 31 January 2014
- Lantern festival – 14 February 2014
- Chol Chnam Thmay Festival - 13 to 15 April 2014
- Hung King Festival – 19 April 2014
- Halong Tourism Week - 26 Apr 2014 - 04 May 2014)
- Reunification Day - 30 April 2014
- International Labour Day – 1 May 2014
- Buddha’s Birthday – 6 May 2014
- President Ho Chi Minh's Birthday – 19 May 2014
- Mid-year Festival – 2 June 2014
- Vietnamese Family Day – 28 June 2014
- Remembrance Day – 27 July 2014
- Ghost Festival - 10 August 2014
- Independence Day - 2 September 2014
- Mid-Autumn Festival – 8 September 2014
- Confucius' Birthday – 20 September 2014
- Vietnamese Women's Day – 20 October 2014
Vietnam Travel Resources
Vietnam on Wikipedia
PureTravel on YouTube
An overnight cruise on the Junk Violet on Halong Bay in Vietnam. The HD video shows the beautiful landscapes, floating villages and junks from this breath-taking bay.
Cruise Down The Mekong Tien River In Vietnam
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By Julie Bowman