Vietnam, a former colony of French Indochina, is a country well known for the intense war that tore it apart in the late 1960s and 70s, when the communist government of North Vietnam was attacked by the Americans who were supporting the non-Communist South, but it reopened its doors to tourism in 1989 and now around 100,000 British tourists visit Vietnam every year to experience a country that holds a wealth of culture that goes back centuries and not just to this more recent war. In Southeast Asia and bordering Laos, Cambodia and China, Vietnam is a long, thin country that could be said, if Italy is the boot of Europe, to be the shrimp of Asia. Vietnam is a country built up by a rich history, what with Vietnamese scraps with the Khmers, the Chinese and the Mongols centuries ago. It also holds many characteristics of Chinese civilisation, having been under Chinese occupation for about a thousand years. The cities reflect this culture and history – step into Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to see an energetic city of commercial strength and living history. Cross the street, watch the people buzzing around in their own lives around you or go pop into the Reunification Palace, a relic from the events of the 60s and 70s, with startlingly modern architecture and an intricate basement, with a maze of tunnels and rooms.
Not only does the history hold something to be experienced but the food is also to be noted – in fact, it could be the only reason for a visit to Vietnam. Take the soup ‘Bun Rieu Cua’: it is made up of modest components, but tickles the taste buds whilst doing so. Made from paddy crabs, the soup is built up with pieces of tomato, green onions and a kind of rice vermicelli called ‘bun’, topped off with some sautéed crab fat. Served with sliced banana tree stem and green leaves and herbs, it is a delicious meal that is not found just anywhere. Then there are the steamed rice cakes laced with a bit of fish sauce, also known as ‘banh’, which Vietnamese often drizzle with chilli sauce; there are thick chewy noodles yellow with turmeric, and petite sweet and savoury prawn pancakes cooked to have a crispy crust with a soft centre, created from coconut milk and ground rice batter – individual tastes are illustrated to the humble eater, and life seems more colourful with such a selection of mouth watering foods.
Aside from the food, Vietnam has a 3400km long sandy coastline, is rich in flora and fauna and has a lot of jungles and rainforest. This is mainly due to the tropical climate, because there is plentiful rainfall, with thunderstorms potentially occurring every day, but there is also a lot of sun, which means the greenery has a perfect growing environment. Vietnam is hot and humid but sometimes the weather is severe, for example, the typhoon Ketsana moved over central Vietnam in the last two days of September 2009, leading to rural casualties and disruption with the transport and energy services in places like Da Nang and Quang Ngai, and torrential rain has led to flooding in recent years.
Click here to find organisations active in Vietnam.
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