Vietnam is a booming center of global commerce, with a highly skilled workforce and strongly growing economy presenting great opportunities. However, if you visit this intriguing country on business but return home without spending a little time as a tourist then you’ll be missing out. Vietnam has a huge amount to offer, from stunning scenery to great food, and, of course, a strong sense of recent history.
Travel around Vietnam is somewhat complicated because of its geography. The two main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are at virtually opposite ends of this long, thin country which measures around 1000 miles from north to south, while being at times no more than 32 miles east to west. The distance between the cities is best traveled by plane, taking a little over two hours. Although a flight will mean missing out on experiencing the densely forested highlands of the country’s interior, Vietnamese trains are generally overcrowded, slow, and unreliable, and the journey will take up to a day and a half.
Vietnam’s capital Hanoi is situated in the north of the country, nestled in a bend of the Red River Delta. As befitting a city with a history spanning more than a thousand years, there is plenty to see and do. The Old Quarter offers all the noise, bustle and atmosphere you’d expect from this most South East Asian of cities, where adventurous eaters can enjoy some of the best street food in the world. The proud heritage of the city is expressed in countless ornate temples and ancient monuments, set alongside romantic 19th century architecture and ultra-modern commercial buildings.
A little further afield, Ha Long Bay, just over 100 miles from Hanoi, is a destination well worth a visit if you can find the time. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, this coastal idyll features dramatic limestone pillars and islets rising from emerald seas, and is a haven of peace and tranquility despite being the number one Vietnamese tourist attraction.
Hanoi offers a wealth of accommodation options, from 5 star hotels such as the Hilton Hanoi Opera to the venerable Sofitel Metropole which can claim Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, and many more as celebrated guests.
Ho Chi Minh City, far in the south of the country on the Mekong Delta, is perhaps more famously known as Saigon even to its more than eight million inhabitants. Visitors can enjoy the French colonial atmosphere of the older parts of town, as well as the more modern districts of a city that in recent years has grown to rival near neighbors such as Singapore and Bangkok as a powerhouse of South East Asia.
As well as being the economic and commercial center of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City also has a rich and troubled history which the visitor is never far removed from. From the claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels to the War Remnants Museum, the city and surrounding areas are full of strong reminders of the trauma of the country’s recent past, but also of the remarkable transformation in fortunes since then.
As Vietnam’s largest city, Saigon is blessed with a wide choice of places to stay. Ma Maison is a little way out of the city center but makes up for that with its romantic, otherworldly French atmosphere, while the Cinnamon Hotel in District One offers modern comforts in the heart of the town.
Vietnam is a country rich in attractions for the visitor, so no matter how tight your schedule, exploring what the country has to offer beyond business possibilities is an opportunity not to be missed.