For years, the name Vietnam for many conjured up images of the Vietnam War or the numerous films made about it rather than any specific impression of the country itself. Thankfully, this is at last beginning to change and an increasing number of people are recognising the vast wealth of attractions this beautiful country has to offer as a travel destination.

Still not as firmly on the tourist map as Thailand or some of its other neighbours, Vietnam offers a more authentic charm while being relatively easy to travel around. Tourism has developed quite considerably over the past few years, though, making the country an ideal destination for those wanting to venture a little off the beaten track without getting completely lost.

One of Vietnam’s principal draws is its outstanding natural scenery. The archetypal landscape of rice fields with conical-hatted workers toiling away in them is still very much a reality in many parts of the country, with agricultural work accounting for two thirds of the labour force. The best area to see such scenes is the Mekong Delta, replete with lush green rice paddies under bright blue skies. Even more stunning is the weird and wonderful scenery of Halong Bay, where thousands of rocky islands jut out of the water in haphazard fashion creating a surreal and intensely beautiful vista.

The towns and cities of Vietnam too have a great deal of appeal, combining old French colonial charm with traditional Vietnamese temples and typically Asian streetscapes. The capital, Hanoi, is the first stop on many people’s itineraries and has a wonderful air of Oriental mystery with lakes, parks and pagodas dotted around bustling shopping streets. Two of the most famous historical towns are Hue and Hoi An, both with their own unique charms. The port of Hoi An, in particular, is beautifully preserved with an incredible mix of architecture from a variety of cultural origins and periods.

Finally, with its long eastern coastline, opportunities to take a dip in the South China Sea are countless. One of the most popular beach resorts is that of Nha Trang, offering its white sandy beach, clear water and lively nightlife. And if that’s not enough, Vietnamese cuisine is some of the most enticing in the world, blending South East Asian spices with Chinese style stir-fries and French gastronomy.

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