There is a reason Heritage Line began their story in Southeast Asia, and indeed, Indochina. In a world where so much history is confined to books, they are inspired by a place where history, tradition and culture live, breathe and prosper.
This is not to say these nations are not developing, on the contrary, Vietnam, in particular, is thought by many as a sleeping giant with the potential to emulate a global economic presence. No, these nations have much to offer the world, however they are doing so with grace and absolute respect to their ancestors. There is a definitive Buddhist influence in this region and you can feel the history, respect and teachings of the past playing a vital role in developing the future.
Vietnam plays the role of muse to any artist. There is so much to inspire. Perhaps it’s the steam and aroma wafting from a street stall, while an elderly woman in a conical hat slowly stirs her magical elixir. This is a region rich in history and lore.
The food (which incidentally is being emulated and adored the world over), scenery, architecture and culture of this region inspire at every turn, and looks back at you through the smiles of its people.
This place is a storyteller’s dream, that for Heritage Line, has become a reality and we look forward to sharing this unique part of the world with you.
The richness of Vietnam's origins is evident throughout its culture
The richness of Vietnam’s origins is evident throughout its culture. Spiritual life in Vietnam is a grand panoply of belief systems, including Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Tam Giao (literally ‘triple religion’), which is a blend of Taoism, popular Chinese beliefs, and ancient Vietnamese animism.
The most important festival of the year is Tet, a week-long event in late January or early February that heralds the new lunar year and the advent of spring. Celebration consists of both raucous festivity (fireworks, drums, gongs) and quiet meditation. In addition to Tet, there are about twenty other traditional and religious festivals each year.
Vietnamese architecture expresses a graceful aesthetic of natural balance and harmony that is evident in any of the country’s vast numbers of historic temples and monasteries. The pre-eminent architectural form is the pagoda, a tower comprised of a series of stepped pyramidal structures. Generally speaking, the pagoda form symbolizes the human desire to bridge the gap between the constraints of earthly existence and the perfection of heavenly forces. Pagodas are found in every province of Vietnam.
As a language, Vietnamese is exceptionally flexible and lyrical, and poetry plays a strong role in both literature and the performing arts. Folk art, which flourished before French colonization, has experienced a resurgence in beautiful woodcuts, village painting, and block printing. Vietnamese lacquer art, another traditional medium, is commonly held to be the most original and sophisticated in the world. Music, dance, and puppetry, including the uniquely Vietnamese water puppetry, are also mainstays of the country’s culture.
Although rice is the foundation of the Vietnamese diet, the country’s cuisine is anything but bland. Deeply influenced by the national cuisines of France, China, and Thailand, Vietnamese cooking is highly innovative and makes extensive use of many fresh herbs. Soup is served at almost every meal, and snacks include spring rolls and rice pancakes. The national condiment is nuoc mam, a piquant fermented fish sauce served with every meal. Indigenous tropical fruits include bananas, pineapples, coconuts, lychees, melons, mandarin oranges, grapes, and exotic varieties like the three-seeded cherry and the green dragon fruit.
Legend has it that Vietnam’s origin lay in the harmonious union of lac Long Quan, King of the Sea, and Au Co, Princess of the Mountains. Real life was not so paradisical, as Vietnam’s early history–like its recent history–is characterized by a nearly continuous struggle for autonomy. First came an entire millenium of Chinese domination, which was finally thrown off in the 9th century. External control was imposed once again in the 19th century, when Vietnam was occupied by the French.
French rule lasted until WWII, when the country was invaded by Japan. At the war’s end the predominantly Communist Viet Minh, which had led the resistance movement against the Japanese, declared the country’s independence. The French Indochina War ensued, until France admitted defeat in 1954, and the Geneva Accords left Vietnam divided into a Communist north and an anti-Communist south. By this time the U.S. had replaced the French as the primary sponsor of the anti-Communist government. Tension between north and south mounted over the next few years, until in 1964 full scale war erupted. The conflict lasted for the next eight years, and involved hundreds of thousands of troops from the U.S. and other countries. In 1973 a cease-fire agreement allowed the U.S. the opportunity to withdraw its troops, and in 1975 the southern capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. An extended period of political repression followed, prompting massive emigration from the country. In 1991, with the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War, many western powers re-established diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam. The last country to do so, in 1995, was the U.S.
Shaped like an elongated S, Vietnam stretches the length of the Indochinese Peninsula and covers a surface area of 128,000 square miles–making it roughly the size of Italy or, in the U.S., New Mexico. China lies to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, and the East Sea to the east.
Topographically, Vietnam is a verdant tapestry of soaring mountains, fertile deltas, primeval forests inhabited by exotic fauna, sinuous rivers, mysterious caves, otherworldly rock formations, and heavenly waterfalls and beaches. Beyond nature, the curious and open-minded visitor will find in Vietnam a feast of culture and history.
For convenience, the country can be thought of as comprising three unique areas: north, central, and south. The north is known for its alpine peaks, the Red River Delta, the plains of Cao Bang and Vinh Yen, enchanting Halong Bay, and historic Hanoi. Central Vietnam is characterized by high temperate plateaus rich in volcanic soil and by spectacular beaches, dunes, and lagoons. It is also the location of the ancient imperial city of Hue. In the South, visitors encounter modern life in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the fertile alluvial delta of the Mekong River. Vietnam’s territory also encompasses a large continental shelf and thousands of archipelagic islands.
Vietnam’s climate is as complex as its topography. Although the country lies entirely within the tropics, its diverse range of latitude, altitude, and weather patterns produces enormous climatic variation. North Vietnam, like China, has two basic seasons: a cold, humid winter from November to April, and a warm, wet summer for the remainder of the year. Summer temperatures average around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 22 C), with occasional typhoons to keep things exciting. The northern provinces of Central Vietnam share the climate of the North, while the southern provinces share the tropical weather of the South. South Vietnam is generally warm, the hottest months being March through May, when temperatures rise into the mid-90′s (low-30′s C). This is also the dry season in the south, followed by the April-October monsoon season.
Conventional long form: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Conventional short form: Vietnam
Local long form: Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam
Local short form: Viet Nam
Name: Hanoi (Ha Noi)
Geographic coordinates: 21 02 N, 105 51 E
Time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and East Sea, as well as China, Laos, and Cambodia
16 10 N, 107 50 E
Tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (May to September) and warm, dry season (October to March)
Low, flat delta in south and north; central highlands; hilly, mountainous in far north and northwest
Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer, mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)
Buddhism 12.2%, Christianity 6.8%, Caodaism 4.8%, Protestantism 1.5%, Hoahaoism 1.4%, Non-religion 73.2%, Others 0.1% (2014 census)
KALEIDOSCOPE OF MOMENTS
If you see ladies walking around in shiny silk outfits, you’re probably in Tan Chau District. The signature silk is created with dyes made from the mac nua (Diospyros mollis) fruit, a kind of wood tree, and water. Lanh My A silk is made from only the best silk threads, and this is why it is glossy. The silk fabric must be dipped into the dyeing solution about 100 times to absorb the colour completely, and prevent it from fading over time. The dyeing process takes about 40 days, and is considered the most important step of the production.
The district, part of An Giang Province, is located in the southwestern part of the country and shares a border with the Cambodia to the northwest. The Hau Giang and Tien Giang branches of the Mekong are the dominant geographical features of the province. With the exception of the west, most of An Giang is fairly flat, and is crisscrossed by many canals and small rivers worth exploring. This terrain has led to An Giang being a significant agricultural centre and a major part of Vietnam’s “Rice Bowl”.
Sa Dec is a small, sleepy town in Dong Thap Province within the Mekong Delta. However, the town is noted for two significant events. The first, during the Vietnam War, saw Sa Dec as both an American Patrol Boat and Swift Boat base. Secondly, it also was the original setting for Marguerite Duras’ famous novel “The Lover.”
There is a very busy, authentic market near the river and a number of architectural sites from the Colonial period, such as the old market, as well as numerous old mansions and merchant homes. Nguyen Hue, the riverside road, is the perfect setting for a stroll with its cafes and market stalls all overshadowed by the old French church.
Before the nineteenth century, it was the capital of Dong Khau Dao Province, and it was known as one of the largest cities in the Mekong Delta. Today, this romantic and charming town still isn’t very touristy and is a true hidden gem in the Mekong Delta.
My Tho, is the capital of the Tien Giang province in Southern Vietnam. It is the first city in the Mekong Delta that travelers from Ho Chi Minh City will arrive and hence a popular spot for dropping tourists on one of the most luxury Heritage Line’s Mekong Ships: Jayavarman and The Jahan.
Mỹ Tho is well known as floating markets, dealing in all the produce from the region as well as fish and seafood from Mỹ Tho's large ocean-going fishing fleet. The very large and exuberant market is one of South Vietnam's biggest sources for dried fish and other dried seafood products such as Kho Muc (dried squid). At night the market is dedicated to the dealing and sorting of Mekong River fish, particularly catfish for Ho Chi Minh City's wholesale markets. Produce, especially fruit and vegetables, is delivered by boat directly to markets. It is a popular starting point for tourists to take a boat trip on the Mekong River.
Cai Be is a picturesque, sleepy town in the Mekong Delta set near the juncture of three provinces (Tien Giang, Vinh Long and Ben Tre) adjacent to the Mekong. But that bucolic image is shattered every morning with the gatherings of hundreds of boats selling their wares in one of the most colourful floating markets in the Delta.
Smaller than the more well-known market of Can Tho, the boats gather here to trade their local products, mainly fruit, creating a bustling atmosphere. Vendors display their products hanging from poles off the front of each vessel. Pull alongside and let the bargaining begin! Different from other big floating market in the region, Cai Be is a retail market starting at dawn and ending around mid-day, so try to visit it early or risk missing its vibrancy.
But wander the streets of Cai Be and you’ll come across numerous small art galleries, sea-salt extraction plants, bee-keepers with natural honey for sale and the very popular coconut candy making stores. Sit with the craftspeople and learn to cut the coconut treats, make a rice crepe or cook a batch of popped rice corn (Vietnamese popcorn). There is also a fine example of a French built, Catholic Church that dominates the skyline with its’ unique sculptural spire.
Arguably, one of the most noteworthy and visited sites in all of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay is located in Quang Ninh Province on the coast, about a three-hour drive east of Hanoi. The name Ha Long is derived from the ancient Vietnamese-Chinese, meaning “Descending Dragon.” It’s not hard to imagine the spiny serpent emerging from the waters when you first behold the vista of the Bay.
A more modern designation of Ha Long Bay’s core as “one of the natural wonders of the world” is a centre of a larger zone which includes Bai Tu Long Bay and Cat Ba Island and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Ha Long Bay features thousands of limestone karsts (small gum-dropped shaped mountains) that have spawned countless caves and grottoes. Some of the caves have become tourist sites, while others are places to hold private functions. The caves are lit with coloured lights that illuminate the stalactites and stalagmites turning the interiors into fantasy landscapes.
Life on the Bay is mainly relegated to the two major islands – Tuan Chau and Cat Ba (which also is home to a National Park and quaint village). Some of the floating villages scattered throughout the Bay are being closed and the residents moved on land.
Signs of human habitation have gone back tens-of-thousands of years and the Bay also offers a diverse eco system aside from the limestone mounds. It is a place where people come to enjoy sailing, kayaking, fishing, climbing or biking amongst these karst jewels. There are a number of beautiful beaches and vista points scattered amongst the over 2,000 islets that comprise Ha Long Bay.
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Sai Gon, is located near the Mekong Delta and is Vietnam’s largest metropolis. If every town had a symbol, Sai Gon’s would be the motorbike. More than four million of them ply along streets once swarming with bicycles. Teaming markets, sidewalks coffee, massage studios and centuries-old pagodas are just a part of what this charming city has to offer.