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Impressions of Vietnam

Vietnam is not just the country which was wrecked and ruined in the violent clashes of the 20th century between colonial ambitions and desire of independence, and between that epoch's diametrically opposed ideologies. These recent tragedies would make one forget that Vietnam is also a country of rich ancient history, with cities founded in the 3rd century BC, an ancient language and culture. For a thousand years this long-stretched strip of land, curved along the South China Sea, was ruled by its far mightier Chinese neighbours and culturally imbued with Chinese influence. But things changed dramatically when in 968 Vietnamese resilience finally resulted in the creation of an independent and unified State, called Dai Co Viet. Less than a century later, a new dynasty came to power, stronger and more forcefully able to withstand the constant Chinese threat: Dai Co Viet was transformed into Dai Viet and Hoa Lu was replaced as a capital by nearby Thang Long. Now, don't go and search for it on a map, because since 1831 the place is simply called … Hanoi.

Hanoi, capital of Communist North Vietnam for part of the 20th century, since the end of the 'American War' capital of a re-unified Vietnam, at the beginning resolutely devoted to austerely ideological Communism, then gradually allowing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to veer factually towards a genuine open market economy. In the end, with plenty of historical and above all very tragic detours into which the country had been dragged, Ho Chi Minh's endeavours have resulted in a solidly unified Vietnam, a modern, hard-working country well and dynamically integrated in our global village.

That is the Vietnam we are about to discover, in its diversity from the Mekong Delta in the South to the karst mountainous North. On our way, we will also explore Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon – as it is often still called colloquially -, we will dig into the grand Imperial past of the Dai Viet State in Hué, visit elaborate Buddhist pagodas, sober French churches and alienating Cao Dai temples. And above all, we will meet Vietnam in the dynamics of its people. People at work in the rice fields, people on the move and manoeuvring their cyclos, the iconic three-wheel bike taxis, through the perpetually crowded streets, people on Buddhist pilgrimage, colourful but in sincere humility, people in towns eating their daily portion of street food in a chaotic covered market hall and people in rustic villages fishing, vending, living much of their days rowing their little boats over a slowly moving river. For, Vietnam is above all a water country, a country of grand deltas, of canals and brackish lagoons.

It's all there, part of the journey I invite you to, from South to North, along the sea and through the mountains.

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