American author Graham Greene hit the nail on the head when writing about Vietnam. Laden with a rich, complicated history, it’s a fascinating country that remains a mystery as travel there only picked up pace in the last decade or so. Prior to Vietnam’s independence 40 years ago, the nation endured war, American and Japanese occupations, as well as long French and Chinese colonial rule, all of which helped shape the culture that remains today. What remains to be discovered is Vietnam’s artistic side, manifested in its food-obsessed way of life, its classic Chinese and French colonial architecture, a burgeoning art scene that’s taking Asia by storm, and its incredible natural beauty.
REASON 2- YOU WILL HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF IF YOU ARE IN FRANCE
Walking around Hanoi’s colorful French Quarter, you’d be hard pressed to tell whether you are in Paris or Southeast Asia with all of the tree-lined wide boulevards and sidewalk cafes near The Sofitel Hotel Metropole, our home for our stay in Hanoi. The Metropole was, aside from being the hub of French society in Colonial Indochina, the unofficial headquarters for press during the Vietnam War. It continues to host dignitaries and politicians from around the world as it remains one of the globe’s most luxurious hotels.
REASON 3- YOU WILL EAT MORE THAN JUST RICE
A love of food is something Vietnamese people take very seriously, and you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to try the country’s famed cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is hard to categorize, but best summed up as distinctly Southeast Asian with Chinese and French flair. Because of this, don’t be surprised if you fall in love with Vietnam through your stomach, which is only fitting as much of Vietnamese socializing and family life centers around eating. On tour, we walk through Hanoi’s Old Quarter where you’ll be enveloped in the smell of cilantro – and chilies, lemongrass and citrus – wafting through the air.
REASON 4- IT’S NOT ALL BUSY CITIES AND BUSTLING MARKETS
Everything you do in Vietnam – whether eating, strolling or taking in the sights – will be done in the backdrop of some truly cinematic locations. Hoi An’s colonial port is dotted with rainbow-colored paper lamps and is picture perfect – fitting as it appeared in the movie adaptation of Greene’s famous book, The Quiet American. HaLong Bay is legendarily scenic, an emerald-hued bay dotted with Chinese junk boats and dramatic limestone islands covered with lush vegetation. Vietnam’s countryside is connected by dirt roads, bamboo forests, rice paddies and picturesque villages that weave in and out of the country’s many rivers, and not the other way around. Ornate, ancient pagodas and temples are found throughout the country, allowing visitors to get in touch with their more serene side.
REASON 5- IT BOASTS A CREDIBLE ART SCENE
While in Hanoi, stop in the nearby Art Vietnam gallery, which has been lauded by the New York Times as the spot to check out the best of what Vietnam’s artists have to offer. The coastal town of Hoi An boasts a vibrant gallery district, located in the picturesque colonial port. You can also visit the town’s plethora of craft artisans, whose workshops dot Hoi An’s port and surrounding countryside.
Clearly, there is a lot to experience in this storied country, with its intoxicating sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Classic Journeys’ guides will take you from Vietnam’s colonial history, through the war and up to present day, where you can experience its organic culture, stunning natural landscapes, varied urban and rural lifestyles, and incredible food.
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