Population: 83.6 million (UN, 2005)
Area: 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)
Major language: Vietnamese
Major religion: Buddhism
Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 dong = 100 xu
Socialist Republic of Vietnam – a country stricken by the horrors of war, but the country history does not only pre-date to the Vietnam War. We're dealing with a civilization that goes as far back as 3,000 BC This is a place where the people are gentler than its past, slowly being explored by visitors, with the Vietnamese as warm and welcoming like no other. The moment you step here, there the war is without a trace. The moment you step here, you're life, as you know it, had changed. To fall in love with this country is by no means a feat with the smell of Vietnamese coffee sufficient to keep you entangled and entranced. Vietnam is a place of beauty, serenity, tradition and utterly amazing gastronome, a place where all senses are engaged with the vividness of colors, the drone of motorbikes, the smell of charcoal smoke roasting goodness, and the cool of evaporation on the skin.
Vietnam is in no rush to catch up with the rest of the world but it is flourishing to become one of the greatest tourist getaways. Adventure begins right here in the streets, the sea of bikes, around 4 million plaguing the traffic and giving the junkie some adrenaline high. This creates an imagery of a surreal dream that is a nightmare to cross. For travellers who come back a second, a third, a fourth time around, Vietnam is lazily changing in a pace of ebb and flow, but as the locals would say, "same same, but different".
Vietnam (16 10 N, 107 50 E) is besotted for its heavily forested landscape of almost half the total area. With a total area of 331,688 km2, Vietnam runs along 3 other countries in the Indochina peninsula and is almost the size of Germany. Aside from forested land, hills and mountains also cover the terrain up north at 40% of the total area, with southern of Vietnam flat lands taking up less than 20%. The highest mountain (and point) in Vietnam is the Phan Xi Pang, 3,143 meters above sea level, the South China Sea (0 meters).
The weather in Vietnam is diverse regionally with an area large enough to cover 2 climate zones: tropical and temperate. In North Vietnam, four seasons embrace the temperate zone- winter, spring, summer, and autumn. The Central Highlands suffer extremes of hot summers and cold winters, while the South Vietnam climate is fundamentally tropical. The perfect time to be in Vietnam, upon critical suggestion would be from January to March, as months before or after are characterized by either very cold with flooding in some parts, or the high roasting sun.
In this relatively big country thrives a population of 88,576,758 Vietnamese, most of which are Kinh or Viets comprise almost 90% of the population and, as such, practice political and economic control, while a great many minority ethnic groups that are in existence are, by size, Tay, Muong, Khome, Hoa, Nun, and about 47 others. Most Vietnamese are Buddhists but a sizeable 80% are not devout of any religion. Just 9.3% strongly identified with Buddhism, 7.2% are Christians. A teeny minority adhere to ethnic religions like Hoa Hoa (1.5%) and Caodaism (1.1%).
VIETNAMESE is the socialist republic's official language, while ENGLISH is the favored second official language over the colonial language FRENCH. The language paradigm in Vietnam also consists of some CHINESE and KHMER with some ethnic groups with their languages or dialects. One thing they all got in common- a love for football.
Besides football, there is so much more ways to have a grand time in Vietnam. While the temples and historical monuments are becoming quite too solemn and serious for the liking, paying a short visit to the one and only Uncle Mao is quintessentially essential. After an educational tour of the country, be it in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, a bona fide nature experience is a must in these parts be it at the Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, Ha Long Bay or the Ban Gioc waterfalls. Hoi An is perhaps one of the places with the strongest resistance to change, thus its appeal to travellers with the taste for the old and authentic.
Vietnamese cuisine is a fair-weathered friend to the world with Viet restaurants flourishing and familiarizing the whole world starting with the ever famous pho. Pho is a true and loyal breakfast buddy, effervescent as it is universal alluring and allowing everyone, locals and tourists alike, a taste of Vietnam-in-a-bowl. No, that is a garnish tray not a fresh salad. You add in the sprouts, a squeeze of lemon upon liking, then the chili and fish sauce, and finally, the coriander leaves. Now dissecting the banh mi, there you will find on that crunchy and so good baguette a bed of succulent grilled pork, ham, vegetables, dressing, some shrimp paste and at times a fried runny egg surprise. This is the real deluxe sandwich. Another favorite is the goi coun or fresh rice spring roll which contains a healthy balance of pork, vegetable, and tofu. Banh xeo, also ubiquitous all over Vietnam is a light and hearty snack for no more than 20 cents which is essentially a bouquet of goodness on a crispy and crunchy rice and coco milk batter. This seems like the same batter as in Sri Lankan hoppers or the Indian dhosa-any possibility of influence? Again, Vietnamese flavor is all about a balance of tastes- of sweet, sour, salty, definitely spicy with a hint of tart element sans excessive oil.
Would like some coffee to swirl it all down? I don't know about most of you but the tinker of the slow drip of coffee on a bed of condensed creaminess will make the traveler want to wake up to this sound every morning. Similar to the baguette, Vietnamese cuisine played mother to French cuisine, rearing it as her own. As a result, freshly baked pastries and cakes the traveler can smell 5-7 houses down the road.
Life in Vietnam renders simplicity, but a good life is a dream to be for for the locals, and with an unimaginable demographic living near the poverty line, the cost of living here tends to be really affordable particularly to the independent budget traveler. Delight in the meagre offerings of traditional Vietnam while it is still possible, for whatever the weather, modernization will gradually come regardless resistance. The only assurance the traveler will get is to hope and make the self believe that as things change, Vietnam will remain "same same."
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by Josh Boorman