Sightseeing along the Mekong River

Sightseeing along the Mekong River

The mighty Mekong, flowing for over 4,000 kilometres through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is the world's twelfth longest river. This river has witnessed thousands of years of history unfolding on its banks, as well as boasting an incredibly diverse natural history. For visitors, a trip along the Mekong River, the lifeblood of Vietnam, will leave a lasting impression.

In common with other expanding Asian nations, Vietnam is undergoing considerable economic development. However, Vietnam remains proud of its unique cultural heritage and environment, and large tracts of the Mekong remain well-preserved. This means the Mekong provides the perfect backdrop for anyone wishing to experience natural beauty. Along the way you can view charming ancient citadels, explore romantic highland villages, or savour the unforgettable hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.

Luxury cruises

How you choose to travel along Vietnam's celebrated river is down to personal choice. One popular method is to book a voyage on The Jahan, a stylishly appointed cruiser. Commencing at Saigon, in the south of the country, you'll quickly leave behind the bustling streets to enter the lush green surrounds. Sailing on into the Mekong delta you'll experience verdant valleys, rich with the cries of exotic birdlife, before coming across magnificent riverside temples.

This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to get a true taste of Vietnam – its scents, its cultural secrets, its unique sights and sounds. The vessel itself is from a new breed of cruiser, one that offers luxury and faultless service, with modern facilities that will enhance the cruising experience. You can watch the Mekong banks unfolding before you from your own personal balcony, refreshments to hand.

Travelling on to Hanoi, Vietnam's ancient capital city, will offer glimpses of its rich architectural past, together with a hint of what makes it such an exciting and cosmopolitan modern city. And no river trip would be complete without an excursion to Halong Bay to the north-east of the country, the location of some of the most renowned natural landscapes anywhere in the world.

Junk trips

Another way to enjoy Vietnam's unparalleled scenery is by traditional junk boat. Voyages through the UNESCO World heritage-listed Halong Bay offers a range of opportunities. Taking a two-day cruise will give you the chance to experience the area's renowned limestone Cave of Surprises, as well as some leisure time when you can take the chance to sunbathe or swim in the jade-green waters, or explore the many lagoons by kayak.

Accommodation is superb, in fully air-conditioned cabins, with transport to and from your hotel factored into the deal.

Traveling to Vietnam – top manners

Traveling to Vietnam – top manners

Just like visiting any country, Vietnam has its own unique list of things you should do, and things you shouldn't. The first thing to note is that this vibrant and beautiful country has longstanding cultural traditions. But with a modicum of pre-planning you can ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.

So here are your top five do's.

When it comes to greeting, there is nothing different to what any westerner is used to. Friendly smiles and warm handshakes are appreciated.

Always keep hydrated. Especially if you are doing a lot of walking around, soaking the sites, ensure you have a steady supply of bottled water at hand. There are street vendors on every other corner – quite often they'll find you first!

Pagodas are to be particularly respected. When you step inside any of these traditional buildings, it is best to avoid scruffy shoes or tatty t-shirts. You will rarely be expected to take you shoes off, but if you are in any doubt about the protocol, a good tip is to observe what the locals are doing.

Keep your valuable safe. If you should lose cash, credit cards or airline tickets then you'll be remembering your visit to Vietnam for all the wrong reasons.

Book your travel with reputable official travel agencies. For journeys within Vietnam, you should do a bit of research before setting out to purchase tickets.

So here are your top five dont's.

While violent crime is extremely unusual, as in any populated area there will always be petty thieves. So don't wear a lot of jewelery, and keep a sensible hold of cameras or phones.

Women should be aware that the Vietnamese are likely to be more conservative than Brits or Americans, so displaying too much flesh might attract a lot of stares.

Public displays of affection are also frowned upon. It is perfectly acceptable to clasp hands while strolling through the street markets, but try not to hug or kiss too much.

Always keep calm and display politeness in all your social interactions. In Vietnam, losing your temper is equated with a loss of face.

Lastly, be aware that Vietnam is still a developing country, that has suffered more than its fare share of strife and hardship in its relatively recent history. So don't take everything for granted - be aware of your surroundings and act sensibly.

Vietnam Museums

Vietnam Museums

Vietnam has an incredibly rich history, stretching back thousands of years (evidence of human habitation have been found in caves in the north of the country dating to around 500,000 BC). The nation's unfolding story has seen frequent struggles against oppressors (Chinese, French), as well as the Vietnam War, which saw the unification of North and South Vietnam in 1975. Naturally, such a vivid historical backdrop means that Vietnam has countless cultural and artistic treasures for visitors to experience, with artefacts collected in various museums and galleries.

War Remnants Museum

While Vietnam has enjoyed peace and prosperity for a long time, over the years it has suffered from its fair share of strife. This museum, situated in District 3 of Ho Chi Minh City, depicts the North Vietnamese side of the Vietnam War (the lengthy conflict which most westerners have only ever seen through the eyes of American filmmakers). On a cautionary note, as well as US military equipment and cages used to house political prisoners, there are graphic photographic montages showing the effects of chemical warfare. Included is notable work by the Vietnamese war photographer Bunyo Ishikawa. However, the museum is incredibly popular, attracting some half a million visitors through its doors per annum (of whom about two-thirds are foreign).

Can Tho Museum

Located in Can Tho on the Mekong Delta (Vietnam's fourth-largest city), this museum holds over 5,000 historical artefacts. Amongst its exhibits are a traditional teahouse, as well as a lifelike tableau of the work of a herbalist. Anyone visiting this venue will get a glimpse into Vietnam's distant past, with exhibitions relating to ancient Khymer settlement, as well as the contributions made by Ming refugees from China. A lifesize pagoda is amongst other memorable exhibits.

Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts

Regarded as Vietnam's principle arts museum, fine arts are displayed representing every historical period during Vietnam's evolution. It is located in Hanoi, in a former Catholic girl's boarding house (built in the 1930s for the daughters of high-ranking officers), next door to an artists' colony. Amongst the museum's diverse exhibits are paintings, lacquers and ceramic art, dating from both the post-war period and back to feudal times. The fact that a lot of stock was damaged during the Vietnam War means some displays are merely faithful reproductions of the originals. Tours though the museum are available in both English and French.

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Hanoi also houses this museum, dedicated to the life of the revolutionary Vietnamse leader Ho Chi Minh. Built in the 1990s, it is an impressive contemporary structure, complete with 'Uncle Ho's' mausoleum. The exhibits trace an overview of the man's leadership and his part in Vietnam's struggles for independence since the 1940s. The extensive grounds are perfect for enjoying tranquil walks.