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Vietnam For Beginners | What to Expect and What Not to Miss

Anita McLachlan - 21st November 2014

When Travelfish.org speak, we listen. We think there is no greater authority on SE Asia than these guys. Passionate, information rich and refreshingly honest. And they're happy to share their wisdom. Here is a wonderful article about Vietnam they've put together that is perfect for first time visitors and for those who are going back for more. Thanks team Travelfish.org!

"From the vertiginous rice valleys of Sapa in Vietnam's north stretching to the fascinating bustle of the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam is home to a wealth of attractions that will seduce both budget and top-range travellers.

Vietnam's war-torn history -- both the French and Americans have left their own unique and not often positive stamps on the nation -- as well as its stunning and varied geography, delicious cuisine, hedonistic beaches and amazing shopping are all reasons to travel to the fast-paced Communist nation.

Welcoming foreign tourists and their dollars for well over a decade, enterprising Vietnam has rapidly developed a well-trodden trail of tourist attractions. Many travellers kick off their vacation in the former capital of Hanoi in the north, where smokey French-style cafes rub shoulders with traditional stores hawking most anything and internet cafes frequented by well-groomed teenagers who otherwise hang out on the streets on their sharply polished motorbikes.

From here, popular side trips for travellers include Ha Long Bay, where soaring limestone karsts boggle the mind, and the former French hill station of Sapa, where hilltribes in colourful dress who work the terraced rice paddies -- and now the masses of tourists -- combine with cool weather to make a must-see destination.

Travel by train, or bus, to take in the remainder of Vietnam. Remnants of the American War in Vietnam provide sobering viewing around the central region's demilitarised zone (DMZ), an essential stop for the many war veterans returning to this now-vibrant nation.

The nearby imperial capital of Hue offers a glimpse into yesteryear, while incredibly popular Hoi An offers an opportunity to get an entire new wardrobe -- shoes included -- stitched up for a song, as well as some great cafes and cuisine to while away a few days enjoying.

Adventurous travellers will want to head further south again and inland to the little-touristed Central Highlands region, where ethnic minorities scratch out livings for themselves -- not always in harmony with the central government.

A trip to Vietnam would not be complete without a stop at one of the beach strips for some surf, sun and sand, and perhaps a sipped cocktail or two. Nha Trang and Mui Ne are popular vacation spots, offering backpacker accommodation as well as some remarkable luxury resorts these days.

The country's southern capital of Ho Chi Minh city, or Saigon, is a throbbing metropolis where some might be as enthralled with the mesmerising traffic as they are with the sights.

Below Saigon the Mekong Delta offers particular delights to the independent and intrepid traveller -- think freshly caught crispy fish, eaten while sitting on a barge cruising the waterways. Be sure to palm off the organised tours and do this part of the country on your own.

Sublime Phu Quoc Island is another excellent retreat, lapped by turquoise waters and a wealth of sea life.

Backpackers could easily spend a few months taking in Vietnam at a leisurely pace, though Vietnam Airlines and burgeoning regional budget airlines with their cheap flights now make spending say a long weekend in Hanoi or a quick break in Nha Trang a viable prospect for short-term, luxury tourists -- or those who just want a taste of a fast-developing country that was off limits for so long."

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Samantha Brown and Stuart McDonald came up with Travelfish.org as they sunned themselves on an eastern Thai beach in 2004. They wanted to use the internet to better provide travel intelligence to independent travellers, to help them find more interesting destinations, to get off the beaten track and to find little-known places to stay. They also wanted to help little-known places to stay find people to host.

What began as a collection of their favourite spots in Thailand has developed over the years into one of the largest independent travel guides dedicated solely to Southeast Asia. Researched and written by a team of writers who live in the region, Travelfish.org today contains independently researched and written coverage to Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It includes anonymously written reviews by our researchers on over 4,500 places to stay and over 500 destinations in the region.

If we've written about a place on Travelfish.org, we've been there in person. There are no exceptions to this. Not one.

So that's it in a nutshell. Whether you're travelling on a tight budget, or you want to splurge on a fabulous beach holiday, if you're doing it on your own steam, Travelfish.org is there to help you have the best time possible.

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