Vietnam at a glance
BEST TIME TO VISIT
March and April, September to November.
TOP THINGS TO SEE
• Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, particularly when lined with morning exercisers at 5am
• Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the capital, Hanoi
• Dragon-shaped mountains and blue-green water of Halong Bay
• The citadel and royal tombs along the Perfume River in Hue
• Terraced rice fields, mountains and traditional homes in Sapa.
TOP THINGS TO DO
• Eat pho (rice noodle soup) from a tiny plastic stool at a sidewalk eatery
• Pick one of the many Hoi An tailors to make a shirt, suit or dress
• Boat through the Mekong Delta
• Escape tourist quarters, where it’s easier to mix with friendly locals.
GETTING UNDER THE SKIN
Read Dumb Luck by Vu Trong Phung, a fun 1936 tale of Red-Haired Xuan, a Charlie Chaplin–type character.
Listen to the motorbike engines, beeps and street vendor calls from a street cafe in Ho Chi Minh City.
Watch a film having little to do with war, Tran Anh Hung’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun, showing life in modern Hanoi.
Eat as much local food as you can; the pho (rice noodle soup), banh cuon (steamed rice rolls with minced pork) and goi cuon (summer spring rolls) are fresher, better and cheaper than the ones served at Vietnamese restaurants abroad.
Drink bia hoi (draught beer), particularly at Hanoi’s famous ‘bia hoi’ corner in the Old Quarter: a hundred stools, 101 drinkers and cheap beer.
Conical hats; cyclos; ao dai (traditional dresses).