THERE IS MORE TO THE FERTILE LANDS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA THAN WHAT THE REST OF THE WORLD SEES IN NEWS FOOTAGE AND FEATURE FILMS. VIETNAM, IN PARTICULAR, IS A BREATHTAKING COUNTRY THAT’S BOTH VIVIDLY LUSH AND ENTIRELY PEACEFUL.
When I was a child all I knew about Vietnam limited to TV news. In 2009 I paid my first visit to Vietnam --a very short trip to Hanoi. I found the city exciting, stimulating and quite unlike anything I had seen before. As I left the country, I made myself a promise to return to Vietnam as soon as I could.
Four years later I did just that, this time to Ho Chi Minh City. I had signed a two month writing contact and thought I could write there. I arrived, settled down with pen and paper—and never left. I adore Vietnam: its people, its cities and its glorious countryside. Much is made of the beaches that run the length of the country, and with good reason. However, here, I’d like to get away from the golden and blue and take a look at the green.
Vietnam is one of the lushest, verdant countries I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. My first real taste of the scenic beauty here was the Mekong Delta in the south. The Mekong River; the very name conjures up visions of Kipling, Mandalay and those flying fishes. I have since returned many times and it fascinates me. Slipping through the brown waters of the Mekong, the greenery of the rice fields prior to harvest provide a wonderful backdrop. Houses pop up from nowhere, farmers toil at the back-breaking work of tending their precious crops as children run along the banks waving and chattering excitedly.
Floating markets, like Cai Rang, provide a noisy and colourful interlude in the early morning light. These river-based centres of commerce play out scenes to which the Mekong Delta has borne witness for generations. Hundreds of brightly painted boats arrive, proudly displaying their merchandise atop long bamboo poles hoisted aloft from the prow. It’s a cacophonous riot of humanity to which, at first glance, there appears no pattern.
In the South Central Highlands you will find the pretty city and former playground of the French colonists, Dalat. The pine tree rich vistas surrounding this highland town provide some of the best mountain biking, walking and canyoning opportunities in the country. The hills are also home to many coffee and tea plantations; they evoke images of colonial northern India. The high altitude and fertile landscape make this one of Vietnamʼs premier agricultural areas. It is here that many cool climate crops such as cauliflower and cabbage are grown. A large flower growing industry has also developed specializing in orchids and hydrangeas, among others.
In the north, Sa Pa presents some of the most interesting scenery in the country. Home to nine of the fascinating ethnic minority tribes that live in Vietnam, Sa Pa sits above all else. Mount Fansipan here is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, and the start of what becomes the Himalayas. Rice terraces are cut into the hills and create the most beautiful mosaics imaginable. These terraces change color: from brown in the fallow seasons; through shimmering silver as they are flooded in preparation of planting and finally to the most brilliant greens and yellows as the rice reaches maturity. It is rare that human intervention on nature improves the aesthetic -in Sa Pa, it does.
Travel 500 km southeast from Sa Pa and your journey takes you to Halong Bay. An astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Site perfected by nature over 500 million years, this corner of the Gulf of Tonkin is truly remarkable. 1,960 limestone karst islands jut imperiously out of the blue waters of the bay. Halong Bay is unique, most of the islands are covered in lush undergrowth and are uninhabited. The largest, however, has a population of 13,000. This gorgeous green island, Cat Ba, is also home to the Cat Ba Langur, one of the most endangered primates on Earth.
South west of Halong Bay is the delightful region of Ninh Binh. It is here that you will find one of the most spectacular sights in the whole of Vietnam. Tam Coc is known as Halong Bay on Land. The Ngo Dong River naturally traverses the area whilst carrying passengers through its system of caves. The Bich Dong Pagoda, high on a hill, provides stunning sightseeing opportunities right across the valleys. Also in the area the Trang An Grottoes present a glorious landscape of limestone karst peaks permeated with dry and semi submerged valleys. Surrounded by steep, almost vertical cliffs this is yet another Vietnamese UNESCO site. Here you can visit the largest Buddhist temple in Vietnam, the Bai Dinh Pagoda.
Wherever you turn in Vietnam you are regaled by magnificent scenery. It is one of the most picturesque countries on earth. The monsoon rains ensure that it remains green and lush all year round. Verdant Vietnam - come and see for yourself.