What do people think of when they think of Vietnam?
Conical hats, noodles, rice paddies, the war probably all crop up. This country is so diverse and has a whole host of fantastic elements that people just don’t realise. So here are five things you probably didn’t know about Vietnam.
Long and thin with a lot of coast
Vietnam is a long and thin country. With more than 3000km of coastline there are plenty of beaches. In fact, Hoi An’s An Bang beach and Phu Quoc’s Bai Dai recently found themselves in CNN’s “100 Best Beaches in the World”. However even though the country is reasonably long, it is also very thin with the narrowest point of the country being just 50km across from the coast to the Laos border.
Lots of ethnic minority groups
Vietnam is very ethnically diverse with a long history of influence from other nations and ancient cultures. The influence of the Cham and Khmer cultures can be seen across the region, but the population of Vietnam is made up of 54 different ethnic groups (recognised by the government). Perhaps the most noticeable of ethnic groups are the minority communities in the mountains of northern Vietnam. Beyond Lao Cai in the town of Sapa or up into remote villages around Ha Giang, different colourful cultural groups such as the Tay, Red Dzao, Nung and Flower H’mong go about their daily business and make for an interesting cultural adventure.
Full of beans
Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world next to Brazil. Introduced by le French in the mid-nineteenth century, Vietnam has come to embrace the coffee bean and a good cuppa coffee. Most coffee is grown in the central highlands but of course you can find good coffee all over the country with the most famous brand being Trung Nguyen…no need to go to Starbucks in Saigon. Why not take a look at our guide to good coffee in Hanoi.
Biggest caves in the world
When people think of Vietnam, they often think of the beautiful limestone formations on the glassy waters of Halong Bay. Head inland to Central Vietnam, the jungle-clad limestone karsts across the Phong Nha National Park hide a series of huge cave systems below the ground. One of the most impressive is the 31km Paradise Cave with cathedral-like 100m high caverns which was opened up as late as 2011, but more recently, the 5.5 mile and 650ft wide Son Doong cave was discovered and confirmed as the biggest cave in the world. The cave is open to a limited number of adventurous travellers a year, but the UNESCO World Heritage Phong Nha national park is well worth a visit.
Rich Biodiversity and wildlife
Beyond the hustle and bustle of the cities, Vietnam is blessed with a rich biodiversity. There are two UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites with the still waters and limestone karsts of Halong Bay and the Phong Nha national park (mentioned earlier), but there are also several protected Biosphere Reserves and some very interesting wildlife tucked away in the mountains, rivers and jungles of Vietnam. Nam Cat Tien national park is home to some rare animals such as the Siamese Crocodile, the Javan Rhino, various Gibbons, Asian Elephant and more.