| History weighs heavily on Vietnam . For more than
a decade, reportage of the war that racked the country portrayed
it as a savage netherworld, yet, only twenty-odd years after the
war's end, this incredibly resilient nation is beginning to emerge
from the shadows.
As the number of tourists finding their way here soars, the word
is out that this is a land not of bomb craters and army ordnance,
but of shimmering paddy fields and sugar-white beaches, full-tilt
cities and venerable pagodas. The speed with which Vietnam's population
of 77 million has been able to transcend the recent past comes
as a surprise to visitors who are generally met with warmth and
curiosity rather than shell-shocked resentment and war fatigue.
Inevitably, that's not the whole story. The adoption of a market
economy has polarized the gap between rich and poor: average monthly
incomes for city dwellers remain at about $50, but drops to $15
in the poorest provinces.
the majority of visitors, the furiously commercial southern city
of Ho Chi Minh
City provides a head-spinning introduction
to Vietnam, so a trip out into the rice fields and orchards
of the nearby Mekong Delta makes a welcome next stop - best explored
by boat from My Tho, Vinh Long or Can Tho . Heading north,
quaint hill-station of Da Lat provides a good place to cool
down, but some travellers eschew this for the beaches of Vung
Phan Thiet . A few hours' ride further up the coast, the city
of Nha Trang has become a crucial stepping stone on the Ho
run. Next up comes the enticing little town of Hoi An , full
of wooden shop-houses and close to Vietnam's greatest Cham
temple ruins at My Son . The temples, palaces and imperial mausoleums
of aristocratic Hué should also not be missed. One hundred
kilometres north, war-sites litter the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
, which cleaved the country in two from 1954 to 1975.