And bia hoi, no-frills bars serving ice-cold, house-brewed beer, are the perfect introduction - high on quality and low on pretence.
From sunsets in Ha Long Bay to bustling Ho Chi Minh and cultural Hoi An, here are the best things to see and do in Vietnam.
This little-known island archipelago is being discovered as a new resort getaway.
"Pace yourself," warns Ben, our tour leader, as he ushers us out into the night.
A Mekong cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia's charming rural hamlets.
It feels like flying business class of old, before the introduction of flat beds and the price is terrific value.
A tour that offers plenty of independent time keeps travellers engaged and observant.
A Mekong River cruise through remote villages where few tourists travel.
Ethereal landscape meets bustling food markets; this former French colony is an exotic destination that taps all the senses. Tranquil beauty lingers from jade-coloured waters to soaring limestone islands in the north, majestical wonder surrounds old imperial palaces and bluey hill-tops around Hue, giving way to multi-storey department stores, mega-coffee houses and endless bustle of traffic in the big city life of Ho Chi Minh.