Vietnamese Food & Culinary
With three distinct regions and influenced by the Chinese, French and Khmer, Vietnamese cuisine is some of the world’s most diverse and delicious. From the national dish of “pho” noodle soup which originated in the North, to the more heavily spiced dishes in the central region, and down to the sweeter, hotter specialties in the South loaded with fresh herbs, you could literally try a different dish every day of the year and not repeat any. Whether it’s a street side baguette with a cup of drip coffee and condensed milk or a French-inspired meal in an old colonial villa, Vietnam’s varied culinary scene is certainly one of the country’s top highlights.
History & Culture
With history stretching back to the Bronze Age, Vietnamese culture is one of Southeast Asia’s oldest. A thousand years of Chinese rule explains some similarities between the cultures of the two nations, as does French colonization which introduced Vietnam to Western culture, along with a Latin-based alphabet and Western religions. Buddhism, ancestor worship along with Catholicism and Protestantism are harmoniously practiced in Vietnam. The country’s art scene also has a rich history dating back thousands of years, with water puppetry originating in the Red River Delta and the labor-intensive yet beautiful lacquer art which often incorporates inlays of mother of pearl or egg shells.
More popular with expats and visitors than with locals so far, golf in Vietnam has really come into its own in the last decade or so, taking advantage of the country’s varied topography and tropical climate. Almost 20 world-class golf courses designed by the likes of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie operating around the country, and 30 or more in various phases of construction, explains why Vietnam was named Golf Destination of the Year for Asia & Australasia by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators in 2012 and 2014. At the end of 2015, the new Greg Norman-designed Bluffs Ho Tram Strip golf course, two hours south of Saigon, hosted the US$1.5 million Asian Tour tournament, Vietnam’s largest ever to date. With courses in Hanoi, Danang, Hoi An, Dalat, Phan Thiet, Saigon and Vung Tau, golfers are spoiled for choice when it comes to scenic courses offering value for money.
Cruise & Beach
With 3,444km (2,140mi) of coastline, Vietnam is truly a mecca for beach lovers. For those who want a bit of convenience with their daily dose of sea and sand, head to the city beaches of Nha Trang or Danang where chic restaurants and exciting nightlife abound. Laid back beach destinations include Phan Thiet and Mui Ne along Vietnam’s southern-central coast where you can get away from it all on long palm-fringed beaches. Island lovers can cruise to Halong Bay in the North, the tiny protected islands off Nha Trang or the paradise islands of Phu Quoc or even less developed Con Dao off Vietnam’s southern coast.
Vietnam’s diverse terrain lends itself to some excellent outdoor / adventure activities. The rugged mountains in the north, dominated by Mount Fansipan, are especially good for trekking with the added bonus of interacting with hill tribe minorities. If kayaking is your sport, head over to Halong Bay, where certain island caves are only accessible via kayak or small boat. Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, has gained international attention for its extremely challenging yet supremely rewarding cave adventures. In the Central Highlands, Dalat’s beautiful mountain location offers Grade II-IV white water rafting, cannoning and cycling. While snorkeling and diving are available along Vietnam’s coast, adrenaline junkies know to head to windy Mui Ne, Vietnam’s kitesurfing capital. With a plethora of options, Vietnam is an adventure seeker’s paradise!
Festival & Events
There lies a wide range of colourful festivals with the aim of as simple as entertaining the community or as momentous as expressing respect to country's builders and heroes as well as commemorating remarkable events.
Vietnam Lunar New Year Festival
Vietnam has few holidays that are celebrated by the entire nation, but the Lunar New Year (called “Tet Nguyen Dan” in Vietnamese) is the big one – akin to New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one as the country basically shuts down for an entire week and cities clear out as workers return home to be with their families. In the lead up, though, streets are decked out in yellow and red, including lanterns, fresh flowers and trinkets, the colors of gold and prosperity. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are bought and families get together for huge meals featuring special Tet foods like the square “banh chung” or steamed rice cake with a bean and pork filling.
Adopted from the Chinese, Vietnam’s Mid-Autumn Festival (called “Tet Trung Thu” in Vietnamese) is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, a full moon night usually corresponding somewhere between early September to early October. Long an agricultural society, the Vietnamese originally used the occasion to worship the moon, however, since it came at the end of the harvest season, the holiday took on elements of thanksgiving and spending time with family, especially children. Nowadays, children can be seen making star-shaped lanterns out of bamboo and cellophane to celebrate the festival, especially in rural Vietnam, and moon cakes filled with lotus paste, dried fruit and a salted egg yolk (representing the moon) are exchanged among friends and family.