Memos from Asia

North, Central, and South Vietnam: Which Region Should You Choose?

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Danang, Vietnam

Vietnam is divided into three main regions: North, Central, and South. They serve an array of common values that bond the Vietnamese people together. Yet each of these regions has developed its own features that set them apart from one another based on the fluctuation of history, climate, and topography.

If you are a first-time visitor to Vietnam, you can be lost in wonder when it comes to which region to start off with. As a native Vietnamese, born and raised, I will break down the differences and features in each region to give you a clearer perspective. This definitive comparison will grease the wheels and help you settle upon the most suitable region for your upcoming Vietnam trip.

What to Expect before Landing in Vietnam?

Vietnam to me is a complete fusion of what you observe in the rest of Asia. With the excellent geographic location as a gateway to the East Sea, Vietnam bridges Northeast and Southeast Asia while adopting all of the finest quintessence from the neighboring countries.

Vietnam map with capital Hanoi, national borders, important cities, rivers, and lakes.

Anyone who travels the length of Vietnam will witness a swift change from the North to the South. If the gigantic mountains encompass the North, and the deep blue sea kisses the Central coastline, then South Vietnam is enriched with the vibrant and modern way of life while the people are always smiley.

Food is definitely that one masterpiece Vietnam is always proud of! The authentic cuisine in each region is the reflection of both culture and history behind it.

The Northern Vietnamese prefer less flavor in their food to preserve the initial taste. Central cuisine is pungent with a strong kick of spiciness. Meanwhile, people in the South love it sweet and savory!

Pho (Phở) – Vietnamese national dish

Now you have an overview of what to expect before visiting Vietnam. Let’s dig deeper into each region and see which one is your jim-dandy pick!

North, Central, and South Vietnam: Which Region Should You Pick?

Northern Vietnam – The Land of Sierra and Ethnicity

When I think of Northern Vietnam, the picture of mountain ranges and ethnic culture pops into my mind. The majority of Northern Vietnam is encompassed by rippling mountains and cascading rice fields.

A typical scene of Northern rural life

A small part of the land is enclosed with the sandy beaches and natural bay to the East. Only a flat low-lying plain dominating the middle of the region is the Red River Delta.

Sunset in Halong Bay, Vietnam

This type of topography gives birth to a diversity of ethnic cultures. The ethnic majority of the Kinh accounts for 86% of the total population. They dominate the low land around the Red River Delta.

Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is the brightest gem in the heart of the Delta. The patchwork of narrow streets embraces a paradise of street food chaining along the sidewalks.

Cyclo riders on the street of Hanoi

A few hours away from Hanoi is Halong Bay, a UNESCO’s Natural Heritage that takes the world by storm. Halong is a seascape of limestone towers looking down the mirror-calm waters dotted with luxury cruises.

Halong Bay panorama

Meanwhile, the hill tribes reside in the heartland of the Northwest mountains. Amongst these hilly cities, Sapa is the most famous destination to observe the tribal culture.

In this area, the villages of Dzao, Tay, and H’mong people snuggle along the terraced rice fields. They put on the colorful scarlet headdresses while dancing the day away at a tribal festival.

A tribal child in her colorful costume

Central Vietnam – A Historical Destination

If the North is conquered by the endless sierras, then Central Vietnam welcomes you with the award-winning beaches, tropical rainforests, and the mighty history.

Stretching from the provinces of Quảng Trị to Bình Thuận, Central Vietnam witnesses a vast carpet of rainforests covering the Central Highlands and the sunny beaches kissing it from the Eastern coastline.

My Khe (Mỹ Khê), a Forbes-renowned beach in Da Nang (Đà Nẵng), is home to a great collection of top-notch resorts looking out to the ocean from Sơn Trà Peninsula. (Vietnam Online, https://www.vietnamonline.com/news/my-khe-among-worlds-six-most-attractive-beaches.html)

Da Nang, Vietnam – Mai 12, 2019: View of the seafront high-rise hotels on the south end of the golden sand beach My Khe, Danang

Apart from Đà Nẵng, Nha Trang Bay is another world-famous beach destination in Central Vietnam with plenty of watersports to indulge in.

Nha Trang, Vietnam – December 23, 2019 View of the Vinpearl Resort & Spa Nha Trang Bay.

The historic sights scatter throughout the region hiding the untold stories of the lost kingdoms.

Hue Citadel (Huế Citadel) is majestic evidence of the last emperors ruling Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, known as the Nguyen (Nguyễn) Dynasty.

Dai Noi Palace (Complex of Hue Monuments)in Vietnam, Unesco World Heritage

The Complex of Mỹ Sơn Ruins is left behind by the Champa Kingdom. It was once defeated by the Nguyễn Dynasty.

Hoian Old Quarter, a unique UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage sits gratefully by the bank of Faifo River.

And if you are a history buff who got hypnotized by the infamous Vietnam War, don’t miss your chance to marvel at the military sites of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The bridge 17 latitudes of the division of Vietnam

Southern Vietnam – Warm Up Your Heart with the Brightest Smiles and Mouth-watering Cuisine

It feels like I have a lot to say about Southern Vietnam. I was born and raised in this very part of the country. The Sun is shining all year round. And the food comes in such a wide array that will take you months to sample each one every day.

Let’s start with Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh, or Hồ Chí Minh City). This bustling and vibrant metropolis welcomes a huge number of immigrants every year. This sleepless city is dotted with modern skyscrapers looking down the French colonial mansions below.

Landmark 81 – Vietnam’s Tallest Skyscraper

Saigon, in my eyes, is the miniature of the world. It seems as if you can find anything you ask for in this city, from European delicacy to Chinese cuisine or a generous serving of Saigon street food.

Beyond the city limits, you will end up at the lush life of the Mekong Delta. Located at the very end of the country, Mekong Delta is an immense network of rivers and canals sneaking through the vast rice fields.

The smiley farmers work bare-back on the field, harvest pomelo in the plantation, or ride the waves on a wooden boat.

Cantho, Vietnam – January 25, 2014: The Cai Rang Floating Market, the largest wholesale floating market in the Mekong Delta, starts around 05:00 and runs until around midday. The market is about six kilometers from Can Tho, or about a 30-minute boat ride. While floating down the river, you will glimpse life along its shores. You’ll pass vibrantly painted boats anchored along the shore, merchant vessels carrying loads down the river and houses built on stilts over the water.

I can never make up my mind and choose one to reside for the rest of my life! Vietnam has so much beauty in it that it will take me years to fully discover.

There’s no wrongdoings if you like them all and plan to travel the length of Vietnam. If you wish to do so, put aside a whole month straight to enjoy Vietnam to the fullest!

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