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Write: Melih Uslu Photos: Ehrin Macksey
Vietnam The Far East’s New Favorite
Vietnam The Far East’s New Favorite
If You’ve Dreamed Of Traveling To The Far East And Have Not Considered Vietnam, Be Sure That You Are Missing A Lot. For Many Amazing Things Await You In The Land Of Roaring Dragons.
Opening its beauty up to the world again after keeping silent for many years, Vietnam is experiencing the hottest days of its tourist season. From the Mekong Delta in the south to the Red River in the north, an eager generation is on the job. More than half the country’s 100 million population is under the age of 30, and these young people itching to get involved in life. Vietnam has been enjoying a tremendous tourist boom for the last 10 years. The world’s most prestigious travel magazines describe Vietnam, as a haven for tourists. Don’t be surprised if it soon becomes Asia’s safest destination almost 40 years after the war. Crime levels are low in this country that has preserved its political stability for a long time. Security is one of the issues taken most seriously. The luxury hotels are operating at full capacity. So why is Vietnam the object of so much interest? There are numerous reasons for this, but travelers who go there are most impressed by the intense energy arising from the country’s contrasts. For Vietnam is both as lively as the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and as tranquil as a Zen garden. Both traditional and modern. Both far and near. Add to these contrasts one of the world’s finest cuisines, and to that its stylish boutiques, its oasis-of-calm spa hotels, its magnificent natural beauty and unique culture, and there you have the answer to the Vietnam question. Indeed Vietnam is set in one of the world’s most beautiful regions with the contours of the Truong Son Mountains that divide the country from top to bottom, and the spellbinding colors of the rice paddies. The gate of entry to this country whose S shape on the shore of the China Sea is reminiscent of a mythic dragon is Ho Chi Minh City. A place ever young, fast and hot in every sense. With its well-maintained avenues, colonial buildings, mystical temples, and mist-shrouded countryside, the city has erased all the bad traces of its past. But if you have come here, you must be prepared for heavy traffic, especially on the main thoroughfares. Do not be daunted, for this chaotic road situation has its own unique appeal. What’s more, the three-wheel bicycle taxis that turn up all over the place will come in very handy. Because they move slowly, these traditional vehicles are also ideal for savoring the city landscape. The Dong Khoi district of this city that more than deserves its epithet, pearl of the orient, is the center for fashionable shops and restaurants. A city of 10 million, it is Vietnam’s commercial driver. One-third of the national economy is produced here. Lam Son Square is the heart of the city, and its other must-see sights can be reached easily from Le Loi Boulevard opposite the Municipal Theater. When you reach Dong Khoi walking due east, you will meet a touristic quay, dazzling with the lights gleaming from the restaurants on the shore. When you go west from Lam Son, you will see the famous Palace of Reunification with its red bricks. Directly north of it stands the War Crimes Museum. Capital of Vietnam until 1976, Ho Chi Minh City is chock full of old buildings, museums and art galleries. One of the characteristic structures that draws attention among the city’s high-rise buildings is the Phung Son Tu Pagoda. And one of the most significant slices of life of this city reminiscent of a gallery of colors and faces is on display at Ben Thanh Market. You can find literally everything here from street food and tropical fruit to eye-catching fabrics and local costumes. The local attire called ao dai worn by Vietnamese women combines comfort and chic. Consisting of a knee-length tunic and pants, this traditional costume also makes a nice present. Another place in which visitors to Ho Chi Minh City take an interest are the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels where Vietnamese fighters, aka Viet Cong, secreted themselves during the war are only an a hour and a half from the city. Comparable to a spider web, the 240 kilometers of tunnels have been transformed into an underground museum today. In the tunnels, which were a bastion of resistance since the 1940’s, are kitchens and hospitals as well as weapons workshops and depots. Every inch of Vietnam is fraught with reminders of the past. But nothing suffices to conceal its entrancing beauty.
The city of Hué, administrative capital of the Nguyen dynasty, is a treasure trove for tourists. The monumental tomb of the Emperor Khai Dinh in the city draws attention for its extraordinary architecture.
The hotels with swimming pools at Da Nang on the shore of the South China Sea promise guests a Far East dream. The intervening centuries have changed neither the landscape nor local life in the rice paddies of rural Vietnam.
Only 35 kilometers from the shores of Da Nang and its famed beaches, Hoi An is a typical Vietnamese settlement. Famous for its floating markets, this area is also rich in seafood. Sailboats gliding across Halong Bay, Vietnam’s oasis of calm, call to mind a pastoral scene.
In Hanoi the city’s commercial, educational and sports district at My Dinh on the banks of Lake Thu Le offers irresistible views at sunset.
There has been a serious development in accommodation alternatives in Vietnam of late. The country’s tourism showcase, Ho Chi Minh City, and capital Hanoi are full of famous hotel chains. But the new trend is to stay in century-old colonial buildings that have been converted into boutique hotels.
Experimenting with fusion in recent years, Vietnamese cuisine attracts tourists by the hundreds of thousands. Here are a few of the local dishes: strawberry-shaped Vietnamese dumplings, duck egg stew, lemon chicken, noodle soup with basil, papaya salad with shrimp, and beef with cinnamon and anise sauce.
The ideal time for a trip to Vietnam is November to April. South Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh City is located has a warm, humid climate year round. The north is somewhat cooler.
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Ho Chi Minh City-Istanbul flights daily. Departure times are 00:40 a.m. from Istanbul and 8:25 p.m. from Ho Chi Minh City. www.turkishairlines.com
Water puppet theater is a form of theater unique to Vietnam that originated hundreds of years ago in the rice paddies. Operated underwater by rods and spools, the puppets become vibrant entertainment in the skilled hands of the masters.
If you have plenty of time for your Vietnam trip, you must see Dalat, a mountain village surrounded by lakes and rice paddies. And those who head to Halong Bay can tour this fairytale island in tiny sailboats.
You can buy handmade bags, silk textiles, linen dresses, beaded sandals, straw hats, jewelry boxes and lotus-shaped paper lanterns in Vietnam.
SUNSET ON HALONG
A night cruise on Halong Bay, one of the wonders of Vietnam, offers alluring landscapes incomparable with any other place. Shrouded in mist, hundreds of fantastic islands dot the bay, which extends toward China. Sailboats are popular particularly at sunset in this nature park whose shores are shaded by giant palm trees. And the unique sounds you will hear during the cruise are a symphony of birdsong and the rippling of the water as the boats move forward.
More than fifty ethnic groups, distinguishable by their colorful costumes, live in the north of the country. The Vietnamese language consists of the six different tones in the north and five used in the south.
Vietnam is a center of attraction for its magnificent beaches as well. And the coast near Da Nang offers a selection of luxury hotels.
The old imperial capital of Hué lies in the heart of Central Vietnam. A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, the city is worth seeing for its cultural riches.
Following the bends in the river at the Mekong Delta, which you can visit on day tours from Ho Chi Minh City, you can make your way through a splendid jungle.
TASTE OF VIETNAM: CHA CA
A rare example of Vietnamese cuisine, which offers a perfect blend of seafood, vegetables and spices, is Cha Ca. This special dish is prepared in the following way: slices of trout seasoned with turmeric are fried in palm oil and then served with fresh dill, leeks, basil, peanuts, red pepper and angel hair pasta. Wild herbs in rice paper wrappers are the best companion of this dish.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that the capital Hanoi was a thousand years old in the summer of 2010? Cooler than the country’s touristic cities, Hanoi is also famous, as much for its historic buildings as for its misty lakes.