Visiting the Mekong Delta by bike  
If you'd like to get close to Vietnam's landscapes while visiting this incredibly diverse nation, then travelling by bicycle is to be recommended. In a country where travelling by bicycle is universally accepted, you will find ample support if you wish to use this as your preferred method of sightseeing. In fact, as well as simply travelling through the tourist sites, there are also opportunities for you to raise money as you do so.
One such fundraising exercise is known as the ‘challenge of the nine dragons'. Originally arranged as a charity event to raise money for underprivileged children, this takes full advantage of the tracks and trails running through the verdant Mekong Delta. The name ‘nine dragons', or Cuu Long in local parlance, is a reference to the nine main tributaries of the Mekong River as it flows into its verdant delta in southern Vietnam and neighbouring Cambodia.
The first of these dragon's tails breaks away from the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penj, when the Mekong is actually known as the Bassac. As the nine dragons unfold, you will find yourself on a fantastic cycle track that criss-crosses the landscape across minor roads and trails, bypassing the beautiful waterways of the Mekong Delta.
For the most part, due to the relatively flat terrain, the cycle race is reasonably straight. However, in parts the tracks do become somewhat overgrown, or involve traversing rickety bridges that do provide something of a challenge. But it only seems fair that any activity aimed at raising funds for underprivileged children should at least involve a modicum of effort on the fundraisers part!
The nine dragons cycle ride is the first of its kind that takes full advantage of a recently-opened border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia. This narrow point occurs at a position on the Gulf of Thailand coast known as Ha Tien. Cycling here will take you into Kep, once known as Cambodia's Riviera. The next point in the trail is the former French colonial town of Kampot. As you gaze over the mish-mash of colonial architecture and modern buildings, you might find it hard to picture this sleepy backwater as it was during its heyday – Kampot was actually Cambodia's main seaport.
Following on from this pleasant jaunt into Cambodia's past, the cycle track begins to demand something more of an effort from its charges. Bokor Mountain looms before you, presenting a challenging climb up above the encroaching treeline. Once you climb up towards the summit you'll be rewarded with views of the long-abandoned casino that broods over a dramatic escarpment. As you rest before your next leg of the nine dragons, you'll be rewarded with fabulous panoramic views across Cambodia's rural landscape.
The good news about this cycle tour of Vietnam and Cambodia is the fact the holiday can be tailor-made according to your wishes. The actual dates and preferences can be individually tailored to meet your own needs. This flexibility can prove to be particularly useful if you wish to balance your cycle tour of the Mekong Delta with other activities during your visit to Vietnam.
Welcome to Hanoi  
Hanoi offers visitors a diverse range of attractions. Depending on whether your interests are cultural and historic, or are satisfied by restaurants and shopping malls, there is guaranteed to be something to suit every taste.
Temple of Literature
Vietnam is a country that is steeped in religious heritage. Over the centuries it has been settled by a variety of different civilizations, from indigenous peoples, to colonial Europeans (the French), each of whom have left their mark on the landscape in terms of traditions and well-preserved architecture. If you travel about two kilometres west of Hoan Kiem Lake, you'll come across the Temple of Literature. This building is not just well-preserved, it is an rare example of traditional Vietnamese architecture that has stood the test of time. Dating back to 1070 when it was founded by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, it is dedicated to Confucius, honouring Vietnam's finest scholars and literary heavyweights.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Falling on in the traditions of those great communist leaders who died before him - Lenin and Stalin - and then Mao afterwards, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is a vast marble edifice that forms a suitable memorial to someone who had such a big impact on Vietnam's historical development. Although the leader himself expressed the desire for a simple cremation, his death has been marked by this magnificent marble structure. It was constructed from materials that were gathered from all over his native land between 1973 and 1975.
West Lake
Westlake, or Tay Ho, is the largest lake in Hanoi. Measuring almost 13 km in circumference, it is ringed by fairly upmarket suburbs, providing a pleasant backdrop to residential areas. The other shore of the lake, Thuy Khue, borders a line of popular seafood restaurants. Its eastern perimeter is marked by the Xuan Dieu strip, with numerous restaurants, boutiques, cafes and luxury hotels. There are also two temples overlooking its tranquil waters – the Tay Ho and Tran Quoc pagodas.
Fine Arts Museum
This institute is a particular jewel in the cultural crown of Hanoi. The Fine Arts Museum is housed in two buildings that were formerly the headquarters of the French Ministry of Information back in the colonial period. The museum is renowned for its art collections, which include superb examples of furniture, ceramics and textiles. There are also temporary exhibitions that showcase a range of artistic talent.
Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House
Located immediately behind his mausoleum is Ho Chi Minh's stilt house. This is the humble dwelling where he lived, on and off, between 1958 and 1969. This abode is based on a traditional rural dwelling, and it has been preserved just as the great Vietnamese leader left it in 1969. The house is set amongst carefully a cultivated garden and also includes a pond that is abundant with chubby carp.
Hoa Lo Prison
Vietnam is a prosperous and vibrant country that is doing its very best to shake off an often unsavoury history. This building is a classic example of something that can be looked upon within the context of the triumph of the country's present-day prosperity. The site of a former prison, it was ironically known as the ‘Hanoi Hilton' by the American POWs were stationed there during last century's American War. Although it was originally intended to house around 450 inmates when it was first built by the French in the 19th century, records indicate the truer figure was almost double that!
Unspoiled Vietnam - exploring the central Highland  
Vietnam is one of the world's fastest up and coming tourist resorts. The upside of this is that many of its resorts are now fully geared towards making every visitors' experience as comfortable as possible. The one downside, however, is that a lot of people will have thought of paying a visit to the same resorts that you have. The good news is that if you would really like to get away from it all, there are still many parts of the country that are relatively unspoiled.
The bulk of visitors to this beautiful Far Eastern country tend to head along to the eastern coast, drawn to the beautiful beaches and the limestone islands of the likes of Ha Long Bay. Those who are drawn to mountains usually head northwards to the more spectacular ranges. While the mountain ranges in the centre of Vietnam can't match their northern counterparts in terms of sheer beauty, there is still an immense amount of landscape here waiting for the more intrepid explorer.
The mountains here are shrouded in mist and harbour countless thundering waterfalls. There are a immense longhouses, which are hardly struggling to cope with the demand of tourists clamouring for accommodation! Vietnam's central highlands share their western border with Cambodia, and spread to the high peaks and wide plateaus of the Truong Son Mountains. This region is renowned for its fertile red soils that yield a lot of natural resources. Chief amongst these are tea, coffee, silk, hardwood, and rubber. Although plantations obviously take up a lot of this land, there are still pockets of Forrest dating back to primeval times. Amongst these secretive trees there are elephants gibbons and bears that have managed to survive the advances of civilization surrounding them.
For visitors coming to the central highlands, the first target of choice is often Da Lat. Christened by the former French colonists of this country, this mountain retreat looms above pine-crested hilltops. It does have to be said that it can be somewhat disappointing to arrive here because the architecture is fairly dreamy and it has succumbed to some of the excesses of being a tourist trap. On the other hand, it does contain some charming colonial buildings and if you enjoy bike rides, some extremely picturesque trails. Its market is also overflowing with local delicacies to whet your appetite prior to exploring further in the hills.
North of Da Lat you'll come across Lak Lake. This picturesque body of water is surrounded by tiny villages, whose inhabitants always welcome visitors. Be prepared to be offered all manner of hand-crafted trinkets to be taken away to remind you of your time spent in the central Highlands.
Indeed, one of the keenest memories of this area you are likely to leave with is a snapshot of a varied indigenous mix. Amongst the people living in this hilly terrain are tribes like Jarai and Bahnar. Despite the way that Vietnam has evolved into a contemporary country at the forefront of the new Asian economies, these proud peoples remain relatively cocooned from the worst consumer excesses of the outside world. A glimpse into their charming lifestyles is bound to be heartwarming for any visitor.
Traveling to Vietnam – your top 5 do's and d...  
Just like visiting any country, Vietnam has its own unique list of things you should do, and things you shouldn't. The first thing to note is that this vibrant and beautiful country has longstanding cultural traditions. But with a modicum of pre-planning you can ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
So here are your top five do's.
  • When it comes to greeting, there is nothing different to what any westerner is used to. Friendly smiles and warm handshakes are appreciated.
  • Always keep hydrated. Especially if you are doing a lot of walking around, soaking the sites, ensure you have a steady supply of bottled water at hand. There are street vendors on every other corner – quite often they'll find you first!
  • Pagodas are to be particularly respected. When you step inside any of these traditional buildings, it is best to avoid scruffy shoes or tatty t-shirts. You will rarely be expected to take you shoes off, but if you are in any doubt about the protocol, a good tip is to observe what the locals are doing.
  • Keep your valuable safe. If you should lose cash, credit cards or airline tickets then you'll be remembering your visit to Vietnam for all the wrong reasons.
  • Book your travel with reputable official travel agencies. For journeys within Vietnam, you should do a bit of research before setting out to purchase tickets.
So here are your top five dont's.
  • While violent crime is extremely unusual, as in any populated area there will always be petty thieves. So don't wear a lot of jewelery, and keep a sensible hold of cameras or phones.
  • Women should be aware that the Vietnamese are likely to be more conservative than Brits or Americans, so displaying too much flesh might attract a lot of stares.
  • Public displays of affection are also frowned upon. It is perfectly acceptable to clasp hands while strolling through the street markets, but try not to hug or kiss too much.
  • Always keep calm and display politeness in all your social interactions. In Vietnam, losing your temper is equated with a loss of face.
  • Lastly, be aware that Vietnam is still a developing country, that has suffered more than its fare share of strife and hardship in its relatively recent history. So don't take everything for granted - be aware of your surroundings and act sensibly.

Vietnam vacations – Mekong Delta Cruises  
One of the most popular excursions in Vietnam is to embark on a cruise along the Mekong River delta. Forget any preconceptions you might have of huddling together in a rickety old boat – although some visitors may well wish to experience river trips as they've been traditionally undertaken for centuries! Today's Vietnam travel experience offers nothing but luxury as you go on your Mekong River odyssey.
The cruise ships currently plying their trade along this stretch of Vietnam's beautiful countryside are more like floating hotels. A typical example of this would be the riverboat La Marguerite. As well as offering a superb vantage point for the journey, its facilities include a panoramic lounge, a library, a restaurant specializing in local and European delicacies, and the fully appointed Saigon Lounge.
The Mekong Restaurant gives tourists the perfect taste of Vietnamese luxury. The tables are well laid-out, giving visitors the option of dining within the privacy of their own company, or enjoying communal conversations. The team of professional chefs will provide a range of sumptuous dishes from France, Cambodia or, of course, Vietnam. As well as offering a mouthwatering menu of international fare, these chefs also like to specialize in traditional food from the delta itself. This allows tourists to get to taste of the landscape in which they are immersed. While much of the fresh food ending up in Vietnamese kitchens will already be familiar to travellers, some of the local Mekong delicacies will be far less so. Lavish buffets are available on request that can be served withn the restaurant itself; or for more occasions, brought to private tables.
The boat's upper deck posts the ‘Saigon and Panoramic Lounge'. This is where tourists can enjoy the ambience and find a comfortable position to relax on board the vessel. It's a backdrop of soothing music, you can choose from the extensive wine list. The panoramic views of the Mekong River are unparalleled. There is simply no feeling in the world like sipping from you drink while enjoying the fantastic background setting of the sun dappling on the delta waters.
This cruise offers many other facilities. You might be surprised to discover that on board this river-going boat there is a fully-equipped spa treatment centre. This is the perfect venue for relaxing for some serious pampering. And few spa clinics offer the additional luxury of the bed gently rocking to and fro with river currents. Within the room's genteel atmosphere you'll find a range of treatments available, which will help soothe your body, banishing stress.
Another thing the Mekong Delta is renowned for are the floating markets. This is where the locals pile their little crafts with all manner of interesting crafts, as well as exotic fruits and vegetables. After your relatively sedate river extremes, it makes a fantastic contrast to experience these bustling markets, chatting with these river merchants - and having a lot of fun haggling with them over items. You are sure to pick up a variety of exciting gifts and souvenirs that are unique to this part of Vietnam. These trinkets would make for a pefect memento of your holiday, as well as offering a pleasant reminder of your river cruise.
Sightseeing along the Mekong River  
The mighty Mekong, flowing for over 4,000 kilometres through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is the world's twelfth longest river. This river has witnessed thousands of years of history unfolding on its banks, as well as boasting an incredibly diverse natural history. For visitors, a trip along the Mekong River, the lifeblood of Vietnam, will leave a lasting impression.
In common with other expanding Asian nations, Vietnam is undergoing considerable economic development. However, Vietnam remains proud of its unique cultural heritage and environment, and large tracts of the Mekong remain well-preserved. This means the Mekong provides the perfect backdrop for anyone wishing to experience natural beauty. Along the way you can view charming ancient citadels, explore romantic highland villages, or savour the unforgettable hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.
Luxury cruises
How you choose to travel along Vietnam's celebrated river is down to personal choice. One popular method is to book a voyage on The Jahan, a stylishly appointed cruiser. Commencing at Saigon, in the south of the country, you'll quickly leave behind the bustling streets to enter the lush green surrounds. Sailing on into the Mekong delta you'll experience verdant valleys, rich with the cries of exotic birdlife, before coming across magnificent riverside temples.
This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to get a true taste of Vietnam – its scents, its cultural secrets, its unique sights and sounds. The vessel itself is from a new breed of cruiser, one that offers luxury and faultless service, with modern facilities that will enhance the cruising experience. You can watch the Mekong banks unfolding before you from your own personal balcony, refreshments to hand.
Travelling on to Hanoi, Vietnam's ancient capital city, will offer glimpses of its rich architectural past, together with a hint of what makes it such an exciting and cosmopolitan modern city. And no river trip would be complete without an excursion to Halong Bay to the north-east of the country, the location of some of the most renowned natural landscapes anywhere in the world.
Junk trips
Another way to enjoy Vietnam's unparalleled scenery is by traditional junk boat. Voyages through the UNESCO World heritage-listed Halong Bay offers a range of opportunities. Taking a two-day cruise will give you the chance to experience the area's renowned limestone Cave of Surprises, as well as some leisure time when you can take the chance to sunbathe or swim in the jade-green waters, or explore the many lagoons by kayak.
Accomodation is superb, in fully air-conditioned cabins, with transport to and from your hotel factored into the deal.
Vietnam Museums  

Vietnam has an incredibly rich history, stretching back thousands of years (evidence of human habitation have been found in caves in the north of the country dating to around 500,000 BC). The nation's unfolding story has seen frequent struggles against oppressors (Chinese, French), as well as the Vietnam War, which saw the unification of North and South Vietnam in 1975. Naturally, such a vivid historical backdrop means that Vietnam has countless cultural and artistic treasures for visitors to experience, with artefacts collected in various museums and galleries.
War Remnants Museum
While Vietnam has enjoyed peace and prosperity for a long time, over the years it has suffered from its fair share of strife. This museum, situated in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City, depicts the North Vietnamese side of the Vietnam War (the lengthy conflict which most westerners have only ever seen through the eyes of American filmmakers). On a cautionary note, as well as US military equipment and cages used to house political prisoners, there are graphic photographic montages showing the effects of chemical warfare. Included is notable work by the Vietnamese war photographer Bunyo Ishikawa. However, the museum is incredibly popular, attracting some half a million visitors through its doors per annum (of whom about two-thirds are foreign).
Can Tho Museum
Located in Can Tho on the Mekong Delta (Vietnam's fourth-largest city), this museum holds over 5,000 historical artefacts. Amongst its exhibits are a traditional teahouse, as well as a lifelike tableau of the work of a herbalist. Anyone visiting this venue will get a glimpse into Vietnam's distant past, with exhibitions relating to ancient Khymer settlement, as well as the contributions made by Ming refugees from China. A lifesize pagoda is amongst other memorable exhibits.
Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts
Regarded as Vietnam's principle arts museum, fine arts are displayed representing every historical period during Vietnam's evolution. It is located in Hanoi, in a former Catholic girl's boarding house (built in the 1930s for the daughters of high-ranking officers), next door to an artists' colony. Amongst the museum's diverse exhibits are paintings, lacquers and ceramic art, dating from both the post-war period and back to feudal times. The fact that a lot of stock was damaged during the Vietnam War means some displays are merely faithful reproductions of the originals. Tours though the museum are available in both English and French.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Hanoi also houses this museum, dedicated to the life of the revolutionary Vietnamse leader Ho Chi Minh. Built in the 1990s, it is an impressive contemporary structure, complete with 'Uncle Ho's' mausoleum. The exhibits trace an overview of the man's leadership and his part in Vietnam's struggles for independence since the 1940s. The extensive grounds are perfect for enjoying tranquil walks.

Hoi An: unforgettable glimpse into Vietnam's...  
Hoi An is a remarkably well preserved historic location on Vietnam's South China Sea coast. Home to around 120,000 inhabitants, Hoi An was once a bustling trading port, its maritime traffic plying trade routes across Asia from the 15th to 19th centuries. It is well worth a visit because it's diverse architectural reflects all the influences, local and foreign, that have left their mark over the centuries.
Hoi An's old town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, and the veritable army of taxi drivers, hotel bus drivers, receptionists and shop assistants alike are keen to continue promoting their home city to its many visitors.
If you feel like a break from browsing through the city's charming street markets, there are four museums highlighting the port's colourful heritage. The Hoi An Folklore Museum, opened in 2005, is the old town's largest two-storey wooden building. It answers almost 500 artefacts, split into folk arts, traditional occupations and contemporary memorabilia. The Museum of Trade Ceramics was originally built in the mid-19th century, and contains items from across Asia, including Iran, India, China and Thailand. The origins of each piece speak volumes about the importance of the city as a major trading hub for south east Asia. The Museum of History and Culture was once a pagoda built in the 17th century, adjacent to a temple. It contains a diverse collection of relics that trace the history of the region from its earliest inhabitants, through to the French colonial era and beyond.
The Museum of Sa Huynh Culture was established in 1994 and contains around 200 exhibits representing the Sa Huyhn culture. These are the people considered to be the region's earliest settlers, dating back two millenia; indeed, the collection of these artefacts is regarded as Vietnam's finest example of the Sa Huynh era.
Cultural aspects
Over the centuries Hoi An has been a melting pot for different civilizations. There is evidence of this wherever you look in the city. The old quarter is bustling with quaint colonial style buildings, their highly decorative balconies and arches making them look as if they have been transported from Europe brick-by-brick. There are numerous examples of fabulous pagodas, complete with carved dragons standing guard outside. A notable example of mythological art is the dragon fountain to be found at the back of the Cantonese Assembly Hall, Quang Trieu.
Elsewhere it is possible to soak up the atmosphere of this once thriving port, either by browsing through the bustling streets, or taking a stroll down to the seafront.
Places you must visit in Vietnam: Halong Bay  
Vietnam is positively overflowing with visitor attractions, appealing to families, couples and travellers. Many people are drawn here because, as the world's 13th most populous nation, Vietnam is vibrant and exciting, its cities bustling with activities and tourist hotspots. Others prefer the idea of escaping the colourful urban centres to immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the Vietnamese countryside.
For those falling into the latter category, a trip to Halong Bay should definitely be top of the agenda. Located on the top eastern coast of Vietnam, this area boasts one of the world's most captivating natural landscapes.
Broadly translating from the Vietnamese 'the dragon descends to the sea', Halong Bay spreads over 1,500 square kilometres, with a 120 kilometres coastline. It consists of some 1,969 beautiful islands of varying sizes, of which 989 have been named. On the landward side, almost 2,000 inlets have been carved into towering limestone cliffs.
The bay is split into two zones, south-west (Halong Bay) and south-east (Bai Tu Long Bay). The islands within these zones are formed from either limestone or schist, and these are famous the world over for their countless caves and grottoes. It is no wonder that Halong Bay has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Artefacts have been found amongst the labyrinth cave systems dating back tens of thousands of years. If you are keen to find out more about ancient Vietnamese history and archaeology, then it would be well worth visiting sites such as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu, and Thoi Gieng. Another important site is Van Don, once an ancient commercial port. Bach Dang River is deceptively peaceful now, but this location is where fierce naval battles were fought against invaders. Poem Mountain has many engravings of poems celebrating long-forgotten emperors.
By far the best way to experience the Halong Bay vistas is to book a 45-minute helicopter tour. Tourists are collected from their hotels, then transported to Gia Lam airbase, not far from Hanoi centre. From here a boat transfer takes you for a four-hour cruise around the stunning islands, while enjoying a sumptuous local seafood lunch. Afterwards, you climb aboard the air taxi for a breathtaking flight over the Bay.
For those wishing a more hands-on experience, there are ample opportunities for swimming or scuba-diving in the jade-green seas, or kayaking. Whichever way you choose to explore Halong Bay, the memories will linger.
Vietnam experiences – the Mekong Delta  
Mekong, to the south of Vietnam, is a lush coastal area known for its large rice fields, and, of course, the diverse wildlife of its delta. It is an extremely fertile area, and as such of vital importance to the Vietnamese economy in that 50% of its overall agricultural output derives from here. In fact, the Mekong Delta produces more rice than Japan and Korea combined.
The Mekong River itself rises in Cambodia, where it splits into two rivers – the Bassac and the First River. By the time it arrives in Vietnam it has meandered into a far more complex system of rivers and tributaries, creating a veritable maze of small canals and rivulets, interspersed with small fishing villages, rice farming communities and floating markets. As much of the surrounding landscape is completely waterlogged, the villages in the Mekong Delta are very often far more readily accessible by river.
For visitors, the best time of year to be visiting the Mekong Delta is during the lunar New Year (known locally as Tet), or during the mid-Autumn festival. During this time, Vietnamese children will release a galaxy of floating candles into the river, on tiny skiffs.
Particularly unusual location in this part of the world is Phu Quoc Island, lying 15 kilometres off the Cambodian coast, in the Gulf of Thailand. This is becoming increasingly popular with Vietnamese visitors, as well as tourists from various parts of the Far East, and beyond. The actual shape of the island is very unusual. It seems to rise from its slender southern tip, almost like a genie being released after countless centuries trapped inside a bottle. As recently as a decade ago Phu Quoc was virtually unknown to outsiders. However, even the best-kept secrets have a habit of becoming public knowledge. Know the island welcomes large numbers of visitors, drawn to its soft white sands, swaying palm trees and mild waters. In fact, Phu Quoc is rapidly becoming one of Vietnam's top beach destinations, rivaling Nha Trang.
It isn't a tiny tropical paradise either, running almost 46 kilometres from north to south. With a land mass of 593 square kilometres, it is Vietnam's largest island – although Cambodia also claims ownership, under the title Ko Tral.
Phu Quoc's natural landscape consists of topography and vegetation that are unique amongst the rest of the delta. The combination of verdant plant life and isolation meant that has been a hiding place for some of Vietnam's most famous historical fugitives. In the late 1700s Nguyen Anh took refuge here while on the run from the Tay Son brothers. In the 1860s Nguyen Trung Truc, the fisherman turned militia leader, holed up here during his guerilla campaign against the French colonists in the Mekong Delta.
For all its turbulent past, the island today is home to some 80,000 charming residents. There is also a sizeable population of indigenous canines – recognizable by the hair running along their spines rather than down! The island is now famous for its natural produce – principally fish sauce (nuoc mam, which is graded like olive oil) and black pepper.
1  2 
Page 1 of 2