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Vietnam: Timeless Charm

Jonathan van Bilsen



July 4, 2023

Vietnam: Timeless Charm

Having travelled to eight different countries in southeast Asia, over the past 30 years, has given me an appreciation for the different cultures within this large landmass, which takes up 3% of the planet. The uniqueness and diversity of the landscapes and people, is readily visible, and a trip to Vietnam has certainly been a highlight of my travels.

Vietnam, known for its rich culture, delicious cuisine, and stunning scenery, has emerged as a thriving economy and an attractive travel destination. It has made incredible strides in the areas of education, healthcare, and economic development. The government's investment in infrastructure and learning has resulted in significant progress, and Vietnam's economy has seen impressive growth in recent years.

I flew EVA airlines, with an enjoyable layover in Taiwan and landed in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. It is a vibrant metropolis and the country's largest city. It serves as a hub for commerce, culture, and tourism. The city is known for its stunning French colonial architecture, bustling street markets, and diverse mix of Vietnamese and international cuisine.

Ho Chi Minh is home to the 11th largest building in the world, known simply as Landmark 81. Completed in 2018, the 81-story tower boasts a breathtaking view of the city, as well as retail spaces, residential units, offices, and a hotel.

The city is notorious for its traffic congestion. With a population of over 9 million people, the streets are often overcrowded with motorbikes, cars, and buses. Rush hour traffic can cause significant delays, and there is a general lack of adherence to traffic laws.

The government of Vietnam is a socialist one-party state, led by the Communist Party. The President is the head of state and the Prime Minister leads the government.

A trip to Ho Chi Minh City would not be complete without a visit to the Ben Thanh Market. I was amazed by the wide variety of local specialties, including street food, handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs. The market is a cultural and historical landmark, and has been a significant trading hub for over 100 years.

Memories of the Vietnam War, known locally as the American War, are still in the minds of the people. The twenty year war was fought between the communists in the North and the US supported south. The war resulted in the loss of over 58,000 American lives, and over 3 million Vietnamese lives and ended when communist forces took control of the country in 1975.

I had an opportunity to visit the extensive Cu Chi Tunnels, used by the Viet Cong during the war, as hiding spots, supply routes, and living quarters. The tunnels were a vital strategic asset, allowing the Viet Cong to mount surprise attacks and evade enemy detection.

The tunnels were built by hand, with the excavation work carried out using simple tools and manual labour. They were dug to a depth of around 3-4 metres often barely wide enough for a person to crawl through. I must admit, creeping through these dark tunnels was eerie and scary.

Touring the Mekong Delta was an eye-opening opportunity to view the life of people living on the river. This region, located in Southwestern Vietnam, where the mighty Mekong river meets the sea, is known for its dense river network, tropical forests, and sprawling rice paddies.

I spent a few days in Da Nang and visited China Beach, a stunning 33 kilometre stretch of coastline. It was a popular spot for US soldiers during the Vietnam War, and today attracts tourists from all over the world.

My next stop was the charming, ancient town of  Hoi An, located in central Vietnam. Its popularity comes from its well-preserved buildings, colourful lanterns, and great culinary scene. With a rich cultural and historical heritage, Hoi An is renowned for its tailors, who can make custom-made clothes in just a few hours, and traditional crafts including ceramics and silk-making. Its picturesque streets, temples, and beautiful beaches, make this a great a destination when visiting Vietnam.

My next stop was the city of Hue, known for its rich history and imperial past. It was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 until 1945.

Today, tourists flock here to explore its ancient temples, royal tombs, and Citadel. The city is also famous for its cuisine, with dishes like Bun Bo Hue, which is a spicy beef noodle soup, as well as Banh Khoai, which are fried rice pancakes.

One of the reasons I wanted to explore Vietnam, was Ha Long Bay. This stunning natural wonder, located in the Gulf of Tonkin, in the northeast region of Vietnam, is comprised of thousands of limestone islands, topped with dense vegetation, rising dramatically from the turquoise waters below. The scenery here is truly breath-taking, and a sight to behold.

My last stop in Vietnam was Hanoi, the capital and a city of contrasts, offering a blend of old, traditional culture and modern advancements. It's known for its vibrant street life, buzzing markets, beautiful temples, and delicious street food.

I visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese revolutionary, politician, and statesman, who served as the first president of North Vietnam, from 1954 until his death in 1969. His remains are on display, but were out for repair, when I was there.

It is next to impossible to cover a country as spectacular as Vietnam in 1,000 words, so you will just have to book a trip, and go and see it for yourself.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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