Lush paddy fields, Jungle mountains, tropical beaches, Vietnam has it all when it comes to the gifts from the gods
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For a country not even the size of California, Vietnam has pretty much everything you could ask for: lush green paddy fields, tropical jungle, white sandy beaches – it has it all. A relatively narrow strip of mountainous land falls down into the South China Sea, just north of the equator giving this small piece of planet earth a huge range of geological gold stars.
Much of Vietnam is made up of lush mountainous regions, where thunderous waterfalls crash through tropical jungle. The Central Highlands, bordering Laos and Cambodia is populated by minority farming people who live in ‘longhouses’ in the misty mountains. Working on coffee, rubber or tea plantations, the Jarai or Bahnar minorities – dressed in woolly jumpers and bobble hats – are more likely to see elephants, gibbons and bears wandering through the jungle mountain than a lonely backpacker.
During colonial times, the French would escape the stifling heat by creating hill stations as they went. Da Lat near Lak Lake in the Central Highlands is a far flung but picturesque resort, whereas Sapa in the north west is somewhat more accessible and arguably offers the most impressive views of anywhere in Vietnam.
The dramatic scenery around Sapa is what postcards were designed for: sunlight reflecting on the lush rice terraces, create creating magical vistas whatever time of the year or time of the day. Minority people populate this region, including the Hmong, who wear bright colourful clothing with extravagant headdresses, and their neighbours the Dao people recognised for their red headwear on top of dark blue gowns. With babies strapped to their backs, they have spent centuries tilling the land using the same techniques passed on from one generation to the next.
And not all mountains are inland. The jagged karst mountains that crash out from the still waters of Halong Bay made a backdrop you’ll never forget in the nearby Gulf of Tonkin.
One defining feature that can be found throughout the country is rice fields. It wasn’t long ago that rice was Vietnam’s top export along with fish – today its electronics and shoes. But rice is still a staple in Vietnam. The noodles are made from it, even the bread is made from it.
Rice fields, which nowadays can be utilised three times a year or more are incredibly hard manual work to plant and harvest but they keep large swathes of land untouched by the modern industrial world. In the northern hill regions, reflective terraces snake around steep mountains. In the plains of the Perfume River, fields of rice turn into a never ending ocean when the sun sets reflecting on the wet fields glistening off into the distance. And the water buffalo, knee deep in mud, that can be seen helping plough the flat lowlands of the Mekong delta create a picturesque view of a time gone by.