This is a guest post by Michael Shaw.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned backpacker surviving months on two pairs of underpants and a toothbrush, or a wealthy flashpacker wielding an iPad full of guidebooks and travel apps. Vietnam’s huge array of beautiful sights attracts travellers of all kinds, especially as the country surges resolutely into the 21st century.
Even backpacking newbies find Vietnam welcoming and easy to navigate. People come here with their children and have no problem getting around. The Vietnam Railway runs along the country’s entire coast, north to south. Although sometimes slow, it’s a wonderful way to view the landscape and meet regular Vietnamese people.
Backpacking is especially good if you’re on a budget, and is an excellent way to experience Vietnam even if you’re not. It allows so much flexibility, with the freedom to change plans if something catches your eye once you’re out there.
That said, it’s usually best to sketch out a general itinerary before you go. The structure will give your journey momentum, and help you manage your cash. For maximum savings, cheap flights should be booked online before you travel. Try these flight-hunting tips to help you find a good deal.
As you plan you itinerary, it’s useful to research classic Vietnam tours for inspiration. Guide books are good but also try to find a blogger who travels frequently in Vietnam. Travel to Asia can be daunting, so it’s always great to read realistic insight from someone who’s trodden the path before you.
Bustling it might be, but Hanoi, Vietnam’s modern capital, need not be avoided. A mausoleum containing the embalmed body of “Uncle Ho”, the country’s adored ex-leader, can be found in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. You’ll have to queue to see it, but this surreal display offers great insight into Vietnam’s resolute and vivid personality. Nearby, around lovely Hoan Kiem Lake at 5 o’clock in the morning, Hanoi’s living residents gather to exercise – another example of the country’s determination.
In contrast to communist Hanoi, the city of Hue, 500 miles to the south, was Vietnam’s capital when the country was ruled by emperors. Their 19th century tombs and palaces lie scattered across the city, which is situated around the wide, majestic “Perfume River” as it winds into the South China Sea.
Vietnam is proudly and rapidly entering the 21st century, but Hue, protected by a UNESCO world heritage decree, offers glimpses into a past largely obscured by the country’s modern history. Hue’s fortified citadel is grimly splendid, and prevents the modernization of nearly four square miles.
It’s easy to lose faith in our world of marketing myths, but out in Vietnam’s countryside, rice paddies are still worked by regular Vietnamese people. They wear the emblematic pointed straw hats that you’ll recognise from films, and traditional dress. Minority cultures still thrive in the remoter areas. Sapa Valley is home to several hill tribes, who come down into the villages to trade. You may be thrown by their mastery of English, and persistent souvenir-selling, but remember how remarkable it is for such a minority to have survived at all, given Vietnam’s history of foreign occupation.
About the author:
Michael Shaw has written numerous travel-related articles for a wide variety of online publications. He currently works with various online travel agencies.