Vietnam has been inhabited since the prehistoric era and the archaeology indicates people were living in a structured society from the 1st millennium BC. In those days society was very feudal and various dynasties ruled different parts of the country until the Chinese invasion of 111. This event saw China and Vietnam become intertwined, an arrangement that continued for hundreds of years and had an influence on the culture. There were a number of revolts against Chinese rule and by 938 Vietnam had gained independence.
Following the Sino-French War in 1884-5 Vietnam came under colonisation from French colonials. In 1887 French Indochina consisting of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam was formed. Even today there are reminders of the French colonial period throughout Vietnam. The French were successful in stopping a number of revolts against their rule but in 1954 Vietnamese troops overruled their colonial masters in the First Indochina War. This led to Vietnam being divided in two and the onset of war. The North was run by Ho Chi Minh and the South by Ngo Dinh Diem with support from the USA.
The Second Indochina War resulted in mass devastation and destruction for the people of Vietnam. It is commonly known as the Vietnam War and began in 1955, continuing until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Thousands of people were killed with many leaving their homeland as refugees. Matters became worse as the economy collapsed in 1980 forcing many more to emigrate. From 1986 Vietnam has benefitted from the free market economy and continued to grow. The main industries are agriculture, industrial manufacturing and tourism. Many people in Vietnam live below the poverty line but literacy has improved and the country is looking to the future in a positive way.
One of the highlights of a trip to Vietnam is the cuisine. Just take a walk through a colourful market to see the variety of food on display and smell the sizzling street food as it is being cooked. The basic ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine are rice and fish sauce. Tasting some of the classic dishes in Vietnam is all part of the experience and it is often possible to participate in a cookery class. Here are some of the Vietnamese culinary specialties to sample.
Banh Mi is the ultimate in fusion cuisine with a combination of a French crusty baguette and fragrant Vietnamese fillings. Choose from chilli spiked pickled carrots, fish patties, spicy pork and more. It is simply street food at its best.
Pho is one of the signature dishes of Vietnam. It is a blend of Vietnamese rice noodles and a meat broth with a French influence. Usually this is chicken or beef with fragrant herbs. The Vietnamese take broth making very seriously and it has to be just right.
One of the highlights of Vietnam are the markets with colourful fresh fruit. There are items not traditionally seen outside Asia including dragon fruit, mangosteen, persimmon, and durian. Fresh fruit is often served at the end of a meal instead of a pudding.
Bahn Xeo are crispy pancakes often sold with pork, lettuce, seafood and herbs. It is a popular street food item in many parts of Vietnam.
This delightful dish of grilled fatty pork with noodles originated in Hanoi. The pork is ground and formed into patties, which are then grilled and served on top of the white rice noodles. it is served with fresh herbs and a dipping sauce.
Another Hanoi favourite Cha Ca is turmeric flavoured fish flakes served with dill. It general comes on a sizzling plate. Usually served with noodles it is a very popular dish and not surprisingly. Olive oil, turmeric, shallots, galangal, garlic, salt and sugar are mixed with shallots in large bowl and the fish is briefly marinated before being quickly fried.
Vietnamese food is flavoured with many kinds of herbs and spices. Lemongrass, lime leaf and mint are commonly used and there are several different types of basil in Vietnam. Another key ingredient is Cilantro which is a garnish used in salads and soups.
Anyone visiting Vietnam will enjoy the flavours of the cuisine and sampling new foods.
Vietnam is paradise for the shopaholic with many exquisite items to buy. Browsing the markets, watching crafts being made, and getting bespoke tailoring are all part of the experience. Here are a few reasons to leave space in your suitcase for some gifts and mementoes.
Vietnam is one of the major coffee exporters in the world. With many cafes serving the finest brews, taking home a packet of coffee beans is a way to make the memories of the holiday linger just a little longer.
One of the best places in the world to get clothes made to fit is in Hoi An. Have fun choosing the fabrics, the designs, and see the work finished and ready to wear overnight. This is tailoring at its best and is a highlight of a Hoi An visit. Bags and shoes are popular buys here too.
Creating Vietnamese lacquer ware is an intense and detailed process but the end products are stunning. With exquisite designs the lacquer ware items are very decorative and make excellent gifts. There are jewellery boxes, bowls, trays and much more to choose from and the quality is generally very high.
Many of the woven bags and cloth from the hill tribe regions of Vietnam are unusual and highly decorative, making great gifts back home. Jewellery and clothing are also popular buys in this region.
Shopping in Vietnam is an amazing experience from watching stalls at a floating market glide by to haggling in the night markets. The craftsmanship here is very good and it is really interesting to see how some of the items are made. Whether it is browsing the shops or spotting bargains in the market, and encountering smiles from enterprising young sellers, shopping in Vietnam is an experience not to be missed.