That picture you have in your head of Vietnam is likely what you'll find in Southern Vietnam. This region covers the Mekong Delta and area around Ho Chi Minh City. This rich and lush area is covered with rice fields that produce more rice than Korea and Japan combined. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of Southern Vietnam.
Chances are if you're in South Vietnam, you'll be in Ho Chi Minh City. As the largest city in country and the former capital, this city has plenty to see. Begin your visit by learning the history of this once troubled area. The Reunification Palace, also known as the Independence Palace, is a 5-floor museum that will carry you back to the 1960s. The place has been virtually untouched since the day before Saigon fell to the North. This building was once the presidential palace for South Vietnam, and today has exhibits such as a replica of the tank that ended the war, a recreation room with a circular sofa and a creepy basement with 1960s phones, radios and office equipment that was left just as it was the day the North took over.
For a view into the modern Ho Chi Minh City, take a trip to the top of the Bitexco Financial Tower. This 68-floor tower has an observation deck on the 49th floor. Open everyday, this stunning panoramic view of the city and Saigon River is the best view in the south.
If you're more interested in the spiritual life of the South, visit the Quan Duc Pagoda in Can Tho. This is one of the biggest and most active temples with monks still living and working there. Visitors are welcome all day, but keep in mind that the afternoons get very hot and the nights get very lively.
A truly unique experience is waiting for you in Cai Be. The Cai Be floating market is off the beaten path held along the Tan Hong Island. Every morning hundreds of boats come together to trade local produce. This little retail market is vibrant and quite a sight to see.
A short trip outside of the city of Chau Doc is Sam Mountain. This Buddhist pilgrimage site is a great place to take a hike with steps of concrete all the way to the top. As you make your way up the 160 meters, you'll pass several colorful temples and cafes to stop and rest with some coffee or coconut water. If you have it in you, wait until you make it to the top to take your coffee break. The café at the summit has hammocks to enjoy while taking in the sights of the delta and neighboring Cambodia.
For a bit more adventure, Phu Quoc Island is the place to be. Rent a motorbike and get lost along the dirt-packed roads of this island for some of the most amazing views in the world. Don't expect to zoom down the roads, but you can ride through untouched forests and expect to be the only one there. It's the perfect way to spend an afternoon reflecting on your own thoughts.
Food and Dining
The local food of South Vietnam is undoubtedly influence by French colonial times. Bakeries are usually stocked with fresh baguettes filled with cheeses and meats of many flavors. Beef is also commonly used in many Vietnamese dishes from pho to hue beef soup to the Vietnamese omelets known as banh xeo. These omelets are deliciously stuffed with bamboo shoots, enoki mushrooms, meat, shrimp or both.
If you're on a budget, there are certain dishes that can be found at a bargain. Pork sandwiches known as banh mi thit, or com tam plates of rice and grilled pork are easily found at a great prices.
By staying in Ho Chi Minh City you're basically ensuring that you'll find any type of food you'll crave. With the amount of tourists traveling through this city, restaurants have adapted to the influences of their foreign visitors.
If you plan on traveling between the cities of South Vietnam, the bus is a convenient option. Visit any bus station to find schedules and connections just about anywhere you'll want to go. If you want to get there in a hurry, there are express buses available. The most reliable system is the Mai Linh.
Within the smaller cities, walking is completely possible and biking is recommended. For the traveler who needs a little more thrill with their transportation, motorbikes are also available.
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