Situated in the Easternmost part of Indochina peninsula, Vietnam is a country that evokes highly visual memories: rows of street vendors wearing conical hats (nón lá), water buffalos plodding across rice fields and colourful floating markets on the Mekong river.
While the two main cities of Vietnam — Hanoi in the North and Ho Chi Minh City in the South — often steal the limelight, they each have their own unique cultural aspects, including variations of the fantastic Vietnamese cuisine. This variety is the reason why many travellers plan their journey from one end of this long country to the other, often visiting cities like Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An on the way to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong river.
Although Vietnam’s modern economy revolves around the cities, the country’s lifeblood continues to belong to its fertile countrysides. Although the Mekong river and basin covers just 12% of Vietnam’s surface area, this region provides most of the country’s fish and fruit, as well as half its rice. Such is the generosity of the mighty Mekong, that rice farmers in the river basin can reap seven crops in two years compared to two to four harvests elsewhere.
And Vietnam’s cities modernize rapidly, it’s on the Mekong that travelers can find authentic Vietnamese ways of life everywhere. From floating markets to hilltop monasteries, cruising the Mekong river gives a fascinating contrast to frenetic urban life and is an ideal way to round-off a trip to Vietnam. Perhaps more important to travelers is that the Mekong is also a gateway that provides the easiest and most convenient access to neighbouring Cambodia.
Also popularly known as Saigon and “The Pearl of the Far East”, Ho Chi Minh City contains a splendid array of monuments and landmarks from the French colonial era.
A graceful and atmospheric capital city, Hanoi steadfastly holds onto many precious elements of its colonial past even as it awakens to modernity.
Comprising of several cities, the central region of Vietnam is well-worth a visit before or after a Mekong river cruise.