Vietnam War

The very mention of the name Vietnam in the 1960s and \'70s
came to signify either a brutal jungle war or a spectacular
failure of American power - or both. Thankfully, the
combined legacies of French occupation, the Vietnam War
and withdrawal of Soviet aid in 1990 have given way to the
Vietnamese citizens\' thriving entrepreneurial spirit, fueled by
overseas investment and a relaxing of government control.
And yet, the exotic chime of names and places still remains:
Hue, Dien Bien Phu, the Perfumed River, the Plain of Reeds.
The people are erudite and friendly, the food a delicious
mixture of French and local cuisine\'s, and the scenery is
sublime. Although Vietnam lies in the intertropical zone, local
conditions vary from frosty winter in the far northern hills to
the year-round subequatorial warmth of the Mekong Delta.
At sea level, the mean annual temperature is about 27
degrees C in the south, falling to about 21 degrees C in the
far north. Because of its wide range of latitudes and altitudes,
there are no good or bad seasons for visiting Vietnam. When
one region is wet, cold or steaming hot, there is always
somewhere else that is pleasantly warm and sunny. Visitors
should take into account the Vietnamese New Year
celebration (Tet) which falls in late January or early February
- flights and accommodation are often fully booked. Four
great philosophies and religions have shaped the spiritual life
of the Vietnamese people: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism
and Christianity. Over the centuries, Confucianism, Taoism
and Buddhism have melded with popular Chinese beliefs and
ancient Vietnamese animism to form what is known as Tam
Giao (or \'Triple Religion\'). The Vietnamese language (kinh)
is a hybrid of Mon-Khmer, Tai and Chinese elements with
many of its basic words derived from the monotonic
Mon-Khmer languages. The most widely spoken foreign
languages in Vietnam are Chinese (Cantonese and
Mandarin), English, French and Russian, more or less in that
order. Popular artistic forms include: traditional painting
produced on frame- mounted silk; an eclectic array of
theaters, puppetry, music and dance; religious sculpture; and
lacquerware. Vietnamese cuisine is especially varied - there
are said to be nearly 500 different traditional dishes, ranging
from exotic meats such as bat, cobra and pangolin to
fantastic vegetarian creations (often prepared to replicate
meat and fish dishes). However, the staple of Vietnamese
cuisine is plain white rice dressed up with a plethora of
vegetables, meat, fish, spices and sauces. Spring rolls and
steamed rice pancakes are popular snacks, and the
ubiquitous soups include eel and vermicelli, shredded
chicken and bitter soups. Some of the more unusual fruits
available include green dragon fruit, jujube, khaki, longan,
mangosteen, pomelo, three-seed cherry and water apple.
Vietnamese coffee is excellent. Special prayers are held at
Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when the moon is
either full or the merest sliver. Many Buddhists eat only
vegetarian food on these days. Some of the major religious
festivals follow a lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late
Jan-early Feb), the most important festival of the year,
marking the new lunar year as well as the advent of spring;
Wandering Souls Day (August), the second-largest festival
of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the
wandering souls of the forgotten dead; and Holiday of the
Dead (April), which commemorates deceased relatives. Ho
Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam. It\'s a
bustling, dynamic and industrious center, the largest city (3.5
million), the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter.
The streets, where much of the city\'s life takes place, is a
myriad of shops, stalls, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling
wares spread out on sidewalks. The city churns, ferments,
bubbles and fumes. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the
timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture. Sights
include the Giac Lam Pagoda, the neo-Romanesque Notre
Dame Cathedral, Reunification Hall, Cholon market and the
former US embassy, scene of such havoc during the 1975
evacuations. Central Ho Chi Minh City is the place to be on
Sunday and holiday nights. The streets are jam-packed with
young locals cruising the town on bicycles and motorbikes,
out to see and be seen. The Municipal Theater area is the
hub for young hipsters. Entertainment ranges from disco and
karaoke in the larger hotels, loud Western music in bars such
as the Hard Rock Cafe, dancing at the Rex Hotel or
experiencing traditional Vietnamese music at the
Conservatory of Music. Most forms of entertainment can be
found in downtown Ho Chi Minh City along Mac Thi Buoi
Street. .

Category: History