Travel, Teach, Live in Asia
UNESCO lists five World Heritages in the country, but Adventure Beat editor Christian Kallen's list presents a more varied picture: the Eight Wonders of Vietnam.
If many of a certain generation tried to avoid going to Vietnam at all costs, now these same travelers may be tempted to explore a densely textured destination as historic, culturally rich and scenically stupefying as any country on Earth.
1) Ha Long Bay
Legend has it that the dragon that created civilization dove into these waters (Ha Long means "descending dragon") to his rest. There is a mythic, supernatural quality to this bay on the Gulf of Tonkin, east of Hanoi, that must be experienced to believe. Limestone "haystack" islands draped in jungle foliate erupt from the placid bay, fishermen in dragon-headed boats lay their nets, caves both above and below water level invite exploration. There are some 700 islands in the bay, and nowadays you can sea kayak among them with local tour operators â€” although in ancient times the Vietnamese general Tran Hung Dao outwitted the Chinese navy here.
2) Hanoi's Old Quarter
Few capitals necessarily qualify as "wonders" â€” Paris comes to mind â€” but Hanoi belongs in that class. It was first made capital of Vietnam in 1010 A.D., along a bend in the Red River, and even today, 996 years later, it's still a rush of urban energy and pastoral ease. Walk around the central district's Hoan Kiem Lake in the cool morning hours, while the locals do their daily tai chi; shop in the narrow streets of the Old Quarter where tradesmen have practiced in the same shops for up to 25 generations; dine European, Asian, or fusion at one of the many restored colonial mansions.
3) Cao Dai Temple
Even knowing in advance that the Cao Dai religion counts among its saints Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Sun Yat-Sen does little to prepare the visitor for the psychedelic splendor of its Holy See. Primary colors run riot over plaster dragons, flowers, and figurines crawling up the pillars and walls, while the all-seeing eye (a Masonic symbol also found on the US Great Seal) is everywhere. The temple is just a short drive from Ho Chi Minh City, and elaborate services and ceremonies are held almost daily.
4) Mekong Delta
The Mekong's route begins 2,500 miles upstream in Tibet, and its course through China, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam is a waterway through the exotic. It flows into the South China Sea through a delta of many streams (its Vietnamese name, Cuu Long, means Nine Dragons), a fertile region known as "the ricebowl of Vietnam." The highlight for most visitors are the floating markets of Cai Be and Vinh Long, where you can get everything from fruits, flowers, and handicrafts to exotic snakes â€” and dishes as memorable as the â€œelephant's earâ€