Vietnam’s border stretches all the way from China in the north, past Laos and Cambodia, to the dreamy Mekong River Delta in the south. Along the way, the scenery shifts from the otherworldly limestone islands of Halong Bay near the French-colonial capital, Hanoi, to the centrally located Hue, which was once the site of an ancient kingdom. Moving southward, one next encounters Hoi An, a romantic canal town that looks straight out of the 19th-century; then Nha Trang, with its endless, sandy beaches; Dalat, a realm of rolling hills and tea plantations; and finally the raw, overwhelming, and frenetic Saigon (Ho Chi Min City),the nation’s biggest city.

To travel in Vietnam is to experience a changing, kaleidoscope world of natural beauty and varied cultural influences (including Chinese, Funanese, Khymer and French) that’s set against a backdrop of past wars fought by foreign powers over control of the singular land. The most recent of these was the Vietnam War, and there a lot of exhibitions and important sites about it in Saigon.

Vietnam’s the kind of country that’s hard to sum up in simple words and categories. Like most places on Earth, it’s far better to see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

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