Vietnam is relatively new to the UK and Europe as a tourist destination but growing rapidly in popularity – often as a new destination for those who have already experienced Thailand. It’s two principal cities – the capital, Hanoi, in the north and second city Ho Chi Minh City (aka. Saigon and, often, HCMC to its friends) in the South are the main hubs for flights coming in from Europe and elsewhere.
This long, narrow country set on the South China Sea has a lot of stunning scenery and miles and miles of some of the best beaches in SE Asia, many of them as yet discovered only by the Vietnamese. Increasingly, high quality resorts and hotels are being developed, many with a firm view to sustainable tourism.
Also rich in history and with a character less affected by modern western influences than many SE Asia countries but much affected by Chinese, Khmer and colonial French influences, Vietnam is very welcoming, very hospitable and quite different to more established destinations in SE Asia.
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Ho Chi Minh City:
Ho Chi Minh City, previously Saigon and popularly known by its abbreviation HCMC, is Vietnam’s largest city and is situated in the broader south of the country. It was the capital of French Indochina and of the independent republic of South Vietnam prior to the reunification of the country in 1975. The low lying city on the Saigon River is a major port and the the economic centre of Vietnam and home in Vietnam to many U.S. and European companies. Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport is the largest in Vietnam. Despite the modern development, Ho Chi Minh City retains many wide boulevards and buildings from its French colonial heritage.
Prior to the French takeover of the country in the mid nineteenth century, Hoi An was the major port of Vietnam and dates from the 1st century, when it was the largest port in SE Asia. Between the 7th and 10th centuries it was the centre of the lucrative spice trade and was a source of tremendous wealth for the Cham people. From the 16th century, Hoi An became a trading centre with the western world and its ancient city – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an exceptionally well preserved SE Asia trading port – contains what were the houses of many Dutch, French, Japanese and Indian merchants. This was an early centre of the spice and fine silk trade.