Vietnam: culture, cuisine and beauty - Business Works

Vietnam: culture, cuisine and beauty

The adoption of the Doi Moi policies in 1986 not only had a major impact on Vietnam’s commercial sector, but also unleashed the country’s tourism potential. During much of the 1990s this largely took the form of “back-packers” exploring the country as part of their Asian experience. A range of high-quality 5* hotels were also opened during this period in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to serve both the business traveller and “well healed” tourists.

Nowadays, Vietnam is firmly established as a stable and safe tourist destination. The rapid growth of the sector stems from the wide range of sights and experiences the country has to offer. The golden beaches and stunning scenery are an obvious attraction for many, but of greater interest are the features which make the country unique – namely its peoples, food and cultural history.

For many, the first experience of Vietnam will be the hustle and bustle of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. The two cities suitably demonstrate the contrasts that are modern Vietnam. Hanoi, the Capital, situated on the Red River delta, is steeped in history and culture. Much of its layout is based on French designs with broad roads radiating from key landmarks while its architecture reflects its wide-ranging history. Among the “must see” sights are the Temple of Literature, the Opera House, the One Pillar Pagoda and the area around Hoan Kiem lake and the adjacent “Old Quarter” with its characteristic shophouses. The traditional Water Puppet performances are also well worth a visit and are based on shows given in the flooded rice fields. Hanoi is best visited in either the spring or autumn when the weather is at its best as the winters tend to be cool and overcast while the summers can be very hot and dry.

Golden beaches

Ho Chi Minh City, some two hours flying time to the South, is the commercial and industrial centre with a well developed service industry. The pace of life is truly hectic and it seems that the City never sleeps as one day merges with another. It too has its key attractions such as the imposing People’s Committee Hall, the redbrick Notre-Dame Cathedral, the nearby Central Post Office and the Opera House. Again history abounds, notably the Reunification Palace and the Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of tunnels some 250km long and up to 10m below ground, some 70km north of the city - a reminder of the American War. The weather in the South is more constant and the timing of visits less significant.

In addition to these cities, there is a wide and very varied range of attractions many of which demonstrate that Vietnam is largely rural. In the North are the rice terraces of Sa Pa, together with the 3143m Fansipan mountain. On the coast, and only 180 km North East of Hanoi, lies Ha Long Bay, where over 3000 limestone peaks rise above the water. Its beauty and splendour were recognised when it was designated a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in both 1994 and again in 2000. Sailing around the bay provides a truly restful contrast to Hanoi.

Da Nang is the key economic hub of Central Vietnam. Among the major attractions nearby is Hoi An in Quang Nam Province, some 30km away, which was one of the major trade ports in Southeast Asia between the 15th and 17th centuries and represents the fusion of cultures that passed through the area. The My Son Sanctuary, 50km away, features many Cham towers built by successive Champa Kings between the 7th and 13th century for worshipping gods.

The long and largely sandy coastline has numerous resorts, some truly luxurious and others best suited to the budget traveller. To the South is the dramatic Mekong Delta, a huge fertile region criss-crossed by a dense network of canals renowned for the cultivation of rice and fruit trees.

Ox racing festival
Vietnam also offers an ideal destination for a wide range of specialist travellers. For those seeking an “Eco Tourism” experience, forests and mountains await, while specialist “battlefield” tours are organised for those wanting to visit (or re-visit) sites from the French and American wars. The above, while interesting, could probably be said of many countries. What has not been described is the country’s greatest attraction and asset. Namely its people, their characteristics, rituals and festivals (some of which are fascinating, such as the ox racing festival) and their diet, or expressed another way, Vietnamese cuisine.

The Vietnamese are renowned for their militaristic capabilities, a facet which can best be attributed to an ability for their leaders to think both laterally and with huge determination and inner strength. These qualities are naturally still there, but nowadays the focus has moved from the militaristic to the progressive in assisting their country’s development. That said, the past has not been forgotten and those who perished during the wars are remembered with enormous reverence.

For those associated with the tourist sector, be it working in a hotel, in a restaurant or driving a taxi, that means doing all possible to ensure that visitors have a truly memorable and wonderful experience. It has already been recognised that, while a glossy brochure may entice a few to visit, there is nothing better than a tourist (or businessman) who, upon their return home, extols their “in country” experiences.

It’s hard to describe the characteristics of any nation, composed as it is of individuals. However the Vietnamese are best described as a charming, warm, caring race that retain very strong family ties. They are fun to be with and almost without exception are honest. Their winning ways and fascination appear able to win over all those who maintain an open mind. Service levels are high and an oft-used phase when complimented is “it is my duty”.

Tradition and culture play a large part within communities and a wide range of festivals and anniversaries are celebrated, many of which have their origins either in the seasons or in history. These are joyous occasions, usually with parades and crowds waving flags. Most also involve dancing and musical accompaniment invariably using traditional instruments the likes of which are unknown to most visitors. Vietnamese music played this way can be light and fun or rather heavy and sombre, but will inevitably leave a lasting impression on the audience. Some of the hotels and restaurants in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have groups of visiting musicians who play for short periods in the evening.


During the last decade, Vietnamese food has become increasingly well known either from the spread of Vietnamese restaurants or its inclusion in specialist TV programmes such as Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey or in serial programmes such as the Hairy Bikers or Top Gear. The mix of tastes and textures derived from subtle blends of herbs, spices and juices that accompany vegetables and either meat or fish dishes adds a whole new dimension to eating.

Meals generally become hotter towards the South, but even while the spice levels may rise, it is the flavours of the food which will provide the lasting memories. The top hotels naturally provide wonderful food, but there are numerous outlets serving great foods. There are very, very few “fast food” shops of the type which typify most parts of the world.

Naturally, rice forms part of most meals, either as grains or formed into noodles. One of the most popular dishes is Pho which is effectively a noodle soup served with either beef, chicken or prawns, but it is the flavour of the broth that is most memorable. There is a wide choice and abundance of sea foods, notably in the South. There is also a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which are only now becoming recognised on the inter national scene, such as dragon fruit – a red leafed fruit about the size of a large beetroot, but with soft white flesh and small black seeds.

Salt production

Many villages in Vietnam have retained a wide range of skills to enable then to produce a variety of traditional products, including silver engraving, wood carving, silk weaving, embroidery and bamboo and rattan weaving. These, together with factory produced crafts and curios, will ensure that any visitor to Vietnam will leave with a selection of mementoes that will rekindle memories of their visit.

Vietnam is not widely recognised as a conference venue, but many of the major hotels are more than capable of hosting such events. The idea of organising a conference in a place that is steeped in culture and history is hardly new. Vietnam offers the ideal venue for such an event, large or small, and offers delegates and organisers a rich and varied backdrop to their event.

At present there are no direct flights from the UK to Vietnam, but there are several from Europe. Alternatively, many travellers transit through either Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong. It should be noted that all European visitors require a visa to enter Vietnam.

In conclusion, when you are next visiting South East Asia, why don’t you add an extra couple of days to experience this truly amazing country, its people, food and culture?

For more information please contact:
Embassy of Vietnam in London

t: 020 7937 1912
f: 020 7565 3853

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