Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

The Cultural Side of Vietnam

Old Woman in Hoi An

In early 2011, I spent four full weeks traveling through Vietnam — and loved every minute of it.

Vietnam, in my opinion, is the single best destination in Southeast Asia for culture.  Perhaps it’s the French influence that lingers to this day — the traditional Asian architecture, art, fashion, and food with just a little bit of French influence.

Of all the places I visited in Vietnam, I found Hoi An to be the most interesting cultural destination.  It was a beautiful city, it was home to countless fashion designers and tailors, there was artwork on every corner, you could learn how to cook the dishes in several of the restaurants, and Hoi An cuisine is home to dishes you won’t find anywhere else in the country, like Cao Lau.

So when planning a trip to Southeast Asia, I suggest that you look at a culturally focused small group vacation in Vietnam.

Hoi An is the perfect base for a trip to central Vietnam.  It’s a small, walkable town, and easily accessible with flights to Da Nang.  It gives you easy access to Hué and its citadel, as well as the My Son ruins.  Between these three destinations, you’ve got a whopping three UNESCO world heritage sites!  Travel a little bit further and you could find yourself in the highlands near Da Lat.  Head further south on the way to Saigon and you’ll find beach resorts like Nha Trang and Mui Ne.

And if you’re craving beach time, just ride a bike to the ocean, feel the breeze in your hair, and sit back and marvel at just how wonderful a country Vietnam is.

And if you time it right, you might be there just in time for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.  I was amazed at just how good the fireworks was — it rivaled Boston on the Fourth of July, going on for 20 minutes!  Prices may have been high, and there may have been crowds in every direction, but we were greeted with such camaraderie.  The next day, a restaurant even opened up just for us, telling us that we brought them good luck for the new year!

It looks like I’ll be returning to Vietnam later in the year.  I can’t wait to sit on a tiny plastic stool while eating a steaming bowl of pho, and get a new dress custom made for me.  Vietnam is clearly the cultural destination of Southeast Asia, and I can’t wait to soak it up once again.