Vietnam – long and thin – hugs the coast of the South China Sea, a 1600km sweep from the Mekong Delta in the south to the Chinese border in the north. This is a fascinating country with a big history. A thousand years of Chinese rule was followed by 900 years of independence. Then came French colonialism, followed swiftly by American interventionism. In the 1940s Ho Chi Minh inspired a nation to seek its own path; the seismic shift that followed has now settled and these days Vietnam stands proudly at the vanguard of the Indochinese renaissance.
It is hugely rewarding country to visit for the inquisitive tourist. City, beach, mountain, sea, river, temple and countryside all wait to be explored, and as word spreads a growing number of tourists are flocking in to see for themselves. Several UNESCO World Heritage sites take the breath – don’t miss Huế, Hoi An or the sanctuary at My Son – and you now find hotels to rival those in Europe and the US.
Best of all though, you'll experience a wonderfully exotic way of life. The delicious food, striking smells and bright colours will assault your senses, especially in the middle of a European winter. You'll see entire families balanced precariously on a motorbike, paddy fields filled with workers wearing conical hats, beautifully dressed women cycling gracefully around, street tailors who will whip you up a bespoke suit for next to nothing, and hordes of smiling children who all want to hold your hand.