The old day legend of Vietnam tells a sea dragon, Lac Long Quan, who fell in love with mountain fairy Au Co. Their happy marriage resulted in the birth of a hundred children while half of whom followed their father to the coast and the other half joined their mother in to the highland, magically, these children are interpreted as the forefathers of the Vietnamese people today. This legend intrigued a clue to Vietnam’s stunning landscape and its cultural identity. A long, skinny country stretches along South China Sea, boasting a number of 2.100 miles long of coastline and a central spine of rugged mountains. A thousand years of history with Chinese influence plus a hundred years experienced colonial French and the surviving Vietnam War, the country has enriched its collection of any single adaptive cultures and cuisines as it owns today. Visitors are also astonished by the Vietnam’s geographic and traditional customs’ diversity. You’ll find remote mountain markets frequented by ethnic minority peoples, vibrant cafés and art galleries in the cities, serene views of green paddy fields in the lowlands, rich collection of flora and fauna species in numerous national Parks and endless stretches of unspoilt beaches.
Packing for a trip to Vietnam can be a bit hard, as the climate varies so much depending on when and where you go. When the weather is not ideal in one area, it must be great in another. While Hanoi is cold enough to bring a coat from December to February, this is an excellent time to visit HoiAn, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.
From April to October, most of the country is affected by south-western monsoons. The rains, which tend to be concentrated in the late afternoon, provide comfort relief to the heat. Travel to very remote areas may be affected by the rains, but overall they should not interfere with your trip. The summer months and up to November are the perfect time to visit Ha Long Bay, as for the blue sky and the water is warm enough for swimming.
In terms of weather, northern Vietnam is at its loveliest from September to December, when there’s a good chance of clear skies and low humidity. The hottest months in Ho Chi Mink City are April and May, although there is generally a decent breeze. The central highland town of Dalat is moderate all year round, earning it the reputation “City of Eternal Spring”.
PEOPLE & ETHNIC DIVERSITY
Vietnam’s cultural makeup is as diverse as its topography. The population of approx 85 million is divided into 54 ethnic groups, most of them concentrated in the Central and Northern highlands. The “Kinh” ethnic majority, who comprises 87 percent of the population, is largely found in the lowlands that stretching north to south.
Kinh or Viet culture arose in Vietnam’s northern Red river delta, where people’s way of life revolved around the cultivation of wet rice. Visitors to this area will find gated, farming villages where people still celebrate their local pagoda festivals and pay tributes to their village founders’ and tutelary gods.
Other major ethnic groups include the H’mong, Dao, Thai and Champa. Descended from the people who founded the Indianized Kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam, the Champa have retained their own religion, customs and handicrafts, including the weaving of colourful brocade cloth. Today, Champa communities are scattered throughout central Vietnam and the Mekong Delta.
The best place to appreciate Vietnam’s stunning cultural diversity is in its mountainous northeast and northwest. Highland markets draw people from dozens of ethnic groups, who continue to produce and wear traditional clothing decorated with embroidery, batik-prints, and beads. Having had minimal contact with the outside world, these people speak their own languages, observe their own religious festivals, and live much possible basic as they have for generations.
Most Vietnamese people observe a form of mixture Buddhist philosophy that incorporates Confucianism, Taoism and Ancestral worship, of which last but most important. About eight percent of the population is Catholic due to a time under French colonials and the European missionary penetration dated back the 17th.
In 938 A.D. the Vietnamese put an end to China’s occupation of the Red river Delta, bringing to an end a ruling time that had started in the first century B.C. which the Vietnamese managed to cling to their cultural identity during a thousand years of occupation that says much about their tenacity, a lesson that has been re-taught in more recent times.
From their cradle in the northern Red river delta the Viet moved south, absorbing the Kingdom of Champa in what is now central Vietnam in the 14th century. The official founding of Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City) took place only some three centuries ago.
French forces imposed colonial rule on Vietnam in 1883, starting an era of anti-colonial resistance that would span the next eight decades. Having fought the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, when World War II ended, the Viet Minh, led by President Ho Chi Minh, declared the nation to be independent. The French rejected Vietnam’s independence and tried to regain their control, leading to open warfare that ended with the Viet Minh’s astonishing victory at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.
The Geneva Accords of mid-1954 temporarily divided the country. When the southern regime led by Ngo Dinh Diem refused to hold elections in 1957, Vietnam fell into a kind of civil war or the war of two different ideologies. The United States, which supported the southern regime of Diem, sent its first combat troops to Vietnam in 1965. In 1973 the Americans withdrew, their former allies were forced to surrender on April 30th, 1975 known as the Saigon fall, at which time the nation was reunified under communist administration.
A period of economic and political isolation from much of the capitalist world followed. By the late 1980s, in response to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the loss of its economic support, Vietnamese Government eased restrictions and began to liberalize its trade policies, allows private enterprise, encourages foreign trade, investment and travel (this turning point is called Doi moi). Diplomatic relations with the US were resumed in 1995 and Vietnam has been riding fast on its new flourishing track.
In Vietnam, revealing clothing is unacceptable off the beach. Shorts are generally fine, as long as they aren’t mini short. People tend to dress as well as they can afford to, local Vietnamese people and children are often astonished by the dirty and tattered clothing worn by some travelers.
When visiting pagodas, temples or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi, shorts and tank-tops are unacceptable as your knees and shoulders should be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in some pagodas. Shoes are usually removed upon entering private accommodation.
In terms of behaviour, public displays of affection between men and women are considered a bit shocking. On the other hand, it’s perfectly normal for a pair of men or a pair of women to link arms or hold hands, which does not imply any signal of lesbian or gay relations. Upon meeting someone new, people may simply nod to each other or may shake hands. Using both hands to shake someone’s hand while greeting “Xin chao” is a warm gesture of respect.
Beckoning someone by crooking your finger is very rude. The correct way to call someone over is to wave at them or call their name. Never mind if the locals sometime look at you and laugh or giggle, they simply curious about your ages and why you travel if you are a senior traveler. To ask for the bill in a restaurant or shop, pretend to write on your palm with the other hand. You ‘ve got it.
Taking picture for a close up one should be asked prior to your click, other than that, don’t aks if you like other photo opps. People are normally a bit shy when a foreigners turn to them and ask something with a camera in hand and they simply turn away. That is why the trick is not to ask if it is not a personal close up picture. Be aware… never shoot your camera at a funeral.
In general, Vietnam is very safe for travelers. Violent attacks are almost none, although theft is might sometime be a problem. When possible, secure your valuables in the hotel safe. Remember to record your traveler’s cheque numbers and credit card information, just in case.
Do not leave your wallet or cell phone in the back pocket of your pants or anywhere else that’s easily reached (like an outer zip-up part on a backpack). Be especially vigilant in markets and other crowded places like ports, ferries and train stations.
Pick-pocketing and purse-snatching are more of a problem in Ho Chi Minh City. Some thieves approach on motorcycles, grab your belongings and race off before you’ve realized what’s happened. If you ride in a cyclo (pedicab) do not hold your bag in your lap. Sit on it or put it around your neck! Same thing with your cam cord. Wearing valuable jewellery especially necklaces that can be easily grabbed is not advisable.
Use common sense and don’t walk alone after dark, both for visionary and safety problems. Except the treets in Saigon and Hanoi are well lit up in the evening and at night, some others cities might be dark to walk. You’re always better not to use cyclos or motorbike taxis at night; ask your hotel or restaurant to call a reputable taxi firm which is always metered taxi.
Traffic is chaotic, especially at prime times when traffics seem to come from all directions. If you choose to ride a motorcycle or bike, make sure you understand the driving culture quite a bit. When crossing the street on foot, move at a slow and steady pace with eyes contact. Never stop and step back suddenly since the motorist watching your pace from a far and measure their own speed. Just walk slowly and traffics will flow around you.