In a country like Vietnam, the word ‘culture’ has a thousand meanings. It might mean the red-and-gold gilded doors of the Hue Citadel, or the tin-filter drip coffee served on every street corner. It might mean the sensitive watercolours hanging in a contemporary gallery, or the throaty cry of Ca Trù sung poetry. It could even encompass the embroidered costumes of the Flower Hmong, or the subtle lines of the áo dài. Past and present, hand-in-hand, are what makes Vietnamese culture so compelling.
If you’re a history enthusiast, the cities of Hue, Hanoi and Hoi An will reward you with atmospheric pagodas and ochre-painted shop houses. For art lovers, the museums, galleries and performances in the capital and Ho Chi Minh City are the ticket. Good with your hands? Vietnam has literally hundreds of craft villages, specialising in everything from incense sticks to silk painting. You could spend years in Vietnam and only scratch the surface of its cultural treasures. Luckily, even brief forays yield many delightful discoveries.