Steeped in a history of powerful dynasties, diverse religious traditions, and political transformations, Vietnam is changing by leaps and bounds. A hopeful current is buzzing throughout much of the country, and it's a thrill to watch the chaos and order play out their yin and yang amidst honking horns, noodle stands, tranquil rice fields, French-colonial remnants and glass high-rises. The country is racing into modernity, with the revered "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh's influence being challenged by the likes of Colonel Sanders. Yet ancient traditions endure, the arts are once again flourishing, and the cuisine is so good it's worth a trip just to try the banh khoai.
Vietnam is a land of incredible beauty, rich customs and warm, welcoming people. Whether you are looking for an active, fast-paced excursion or a leisurely, reflective escape, Vietnam provides ample opportunity for both. From visiting mountain-top villages to overnighting on a Chinese sampan to cruising the scenic Mekong Delta, the things to do in Vietnam are unique, varied and plentiful.
One of the most popular activities in Vietnam, the Mekong Delta cruise is a classic. See the Mekong River section in "The South" portion of this planner.
Nowhere else in Southeast Asia can you find ethnic minority hill tribes as colorful as in the northwest highlands of Vietnam. A trek looping through Sapa can only be accomplished with a 4WD vehicle or by foot since the terrain is so rugged. The welcome one receives from the peoples of this region makes the journey well worthwhile.
Spend a delightful day sea kayaking in Halong Bay amidst limestone karst formations. Spend the night on a restored sampan (Chinese junk).
HOA BINH & MAI CHAU TREKKING
West of Hanoi and deep in Vietnam's interior we have developed a more intimate way to see the countryside. Here you may walk between villages and enjoy the varied scenery and the richness of the local cultures. Overnight stays will be in spacious local village homes. Our interpreter/guides are highly skilled, and throughout the trip you can have translated conversations with the people you meet.
Further west are the enchanting hills of Mai Chau. This rural region is home to many ethnic hill tribes and offers a trekking adventure with entrancing views of jagged limestone peaks and deep valleys teeming with lush green rice. Here, you can stay with an ethnic Thai hill tribe and do various day hikes around the valley to other villages. Although the accommodation may be basic, you will be rewarded with amazing photographs and memories.
Tet is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration that takes place in January or February. One of the most important events in Vietnam, the Tet festival holds much greater significance than does our New Year's celebrations in the West. Tet lasts for three days but is generally feted for a week, and is a time for reuniting with ancestral spirits that bestow good fortune on the coming year. A time of renewal, everyone in Vietnam also turns a year older at Tet. Kumquat trees are decorated, lucky money is given to children and tables groan under the weight of elaborately prepared feasts.
Is Tet a good time visit Vietnam? It depends on what you are looking for. Generally speaking it is not crowded, but may be too quiet for some. Many businesses, shops, museums and other government-sponsored sites are closed for two weeks. But temples are decorated with bright orange kumquat trees, there is incense in the air, offerings are made, food exchanged, and a relaxed yet festive mood infuses each day. From a cultural perspective, it is an interesting time to be an observer in Vietnam.