From Ha Noi to Ho Chi Minh. The entire length of the country in fourteen days, featuring several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Several arrangements specially made to avoid the crowds, and more time spent in each city than most mainstream tours. Talks with local experts are a feature. Covers diverse aspects of Vietnamese culture and history.
A thousand years enslaved by China/A hundred years trampled by France/Twenty years of civil war day by day’. The words of the revered 20th-century poet and songwriter Trịnh Công Sơn encapsulate the tribulations of the Vietnamese nation; it is impossible to understand Vietnam without first reflecting on its turbulent past. The country’s strategic location has made it vulnerable to millennia of invasions. In 111 bc, Vietnam fell to the Han dynasty and became a colonial vassal of China until 938; it was colonised by the French in the mid-1800s. Following the declaration of independence in 1945, the Vietnamese fought the First Indochina War until 1954, eventually defeating the French in the battle of Điện Biên Phủ. Divided in 1954 into a communist state in the North and the Republic of South Vietnam, it fell victim to the polarized ideological struggle of the Cold War and was not reunified until 1975, after another protracted war – referred to in the West as the Vietnam War. Yet today’s visitors find a dynamic country, respectful of its traditions but eager to move forward. Its economic growth rate is currently among the highest in the world, while its society remains firmly anchored by its customs and beliefs. Vietnamese culture is further enriched by the indigenous traditions of the fifty-three ethnic minorities that share the territory with the main Việt (Kinh) people. The intertwining of various creeds – Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism – has resulted in Tam giáo đồng nguyễn (The Three Teachings from one source), a doctrine of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The tour starts in North Vietnam, the cradle of Vietnamese civilisation with its fertile Red River delta. The capital, Ha Noi, was established in 1010 and has remained a political and administrative centre ever since. The aesthetic charm of the city derives from its blend of ancient monuments, pagodas and temples, alongside the 19th-century colonial buildings. The city of Hue, in central Vietnam, is often regarded as the intellectual and spiritual centre of Buddhism. The Nguyễn lords, the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam, made Hue their capital in 1802, leaving a complex of impressive monuments. To the south, along the majestic Hải Vân pass, lies the ancient port of Hoi An, one of the most delightful and vibrant towns in southeast Asia. Once an important trading post, it reflects a blend of indigenous and foreign cultural influences, with its well preserved communal houses, ancient wells and a unique Japanese roof-covered bridge. In South Vietnam lies the country’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City. Under its old name, Sai Gon, it was the capital of the French Cochinchina and later of the Republic of South Vietnam. As the country’s main commercial hub, it is dizzying and captivating – but it is also the gateway to the lush, tranquil, coconut-clad Mekong Delta. North of Ho Chi Minh City, to the casual eye, the landscape barely seems scarred by the Resistance War against the USA that shattered the region over half a century ago, but beneath this serene landscape the immense network of tunnels dug by the Việt Cộng at Cu Chi remains astonishingly intact.