9 Favourite Towns in Vietnam

If you've read my book Destination Saigon you would know that I have travelled all over Vietnam in the past 16 years - including to some pretty obscure places. People often ask what are my favourite places to go, and I am hesitant to tell them because I know that if you are on a quick holiday a lot of the best places are probably not worth the time it takes to get there, and when you do get there they are often quite laid-back, noteworthy more for the vibe than for things to do. But for what it's worth, here are my 9 favourite towns in Vietnam (for obvious reasons I have left off Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as everyone who visits Vietnam will eventually end up in both of these):

  1. Tay Ninh - A day-trip from Ho Chi Minh City, Tay Ninh is the home of Cao Dai, Vietnam's fascinating indigenous religion. I've spent quite a lot of time in Tay Ninh, and it really is a fascinating place. As well as being the Holy City of Cao Dai, it is right near Nui Ba Den, a mystical holy mountain that locals believe is home to a Goddess.

2. Quy Nhon - Purely by chance I made many friends in Quy Nhon when I was a young man, and now I visit it every time I go to Vietnam. It is a beautiful coastal city in South-Central Vietnam, quiet, clean and cool, and in many ways it is the powerhouse of Vietnamese Buddhism. It is home to many ancient Buddhist temples, and also was the site of the even more ancient Kingdom of Champa, the rulers of which were Hindu. Hence the presence of many antique Hindu temples in the surrounding hills.
(Photo @treasuresofvietnam.blogspot.com)
3. Vinh Long - The great Southern Vietnamese religious leader Minh Dang Quang established his Buddhist sect in Vinh Long, and it is still home to many great Buddhist temples important to his sect, including the original temple he established. It is also just a beautiful little Mekong Delta town which possesses its own Temple of Literature.

4. Dong Ha - The capital of Quang Tri province, the poorest in all Vietnam, I was expecting Dong Ha to be a horrible place but it turns out to be an enchanting little city in Central Vietnam about two or three hours from Hue. It is peppered with groovy little cafes and the people are extraordinarily beautiful, though they speak an incomprehensible dialect which even most Vietnamese find difficult to understand. Take a boat from the centre of town down the river (can someone tell me what it's called?) and visit one of the many picturesque villages that dot the river's banks. It is also close to the old DMZ and the holy Catholic Shrine of La Vang, dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

5. Mui Ne - The real success story of Vietnamese tourism, Mui Ne is the beachside destination of choice for the wealthy elites of Ho Chi Minh City. Until just a few years ago a sleepy fishing village, Mui Ne now has a decidedly international feel, and the beachside hotels, resorts and guesthouses are a cut above the usual Vietnamese offerings. In Destination Saigon I write about my riotous nights there in the company of a gang of fishermen, and Mui Ne really is becoming a kind of "fun central" for Vietnam, with great bars and restaurants. Of course, some don't like it precisely because of its "international" vibe, but I figure what the hell, mix things up a little. Close to Phan Thiet and the Big Buddha Mountain.

(Photo @Find the Light on Flickr)
6. Ben Tre - This is the hometown of my beloved partner, and in many ways it is the quintessence of the Mekong Delta. Famous for bananas and coconuts, it is remarkable how many of the people you meet in Saigon actually hail from Ben Tre. It was the home of the famous Coconut Monk, who attempted to unify Buddhism with Christianity. It was hard hit during the Vietnam War, being the place that the American army famously declared they had to destroy in order to save.

7. Can Tho - Being the third-largest city in Vietnam, Can Tho is one of those places that comes as a surprise to tourists. Way down in the Delta (and the boat trip from Saigon to Can Tho is one of the things I recommend EVERYONE should do), it is steamy and beautifully situated along the river. Wealthy and open-hearted, it has the reputation of being something of a sin city - it has a thriving gay community, and the women of Can Tho are notorious for their forwardness. Can Tho is known as the city that saved the ao dai, the beautiful, elegant and surprisingly provocative national costume of Vietnam. It has a big university and a big bridge, for those who are into such things. There is also a large community of Khmer people, and there is an old Khmer temple in the heart of town.

8. Nha Trang - Until Mui Ne eclipsed it, Nha Trang was the great hope of Vietnamese tourism. It probably suffered by being championed in a more rigidly controlled age, when the central government was trying to keep a tight rein on tourism and the army was responsible for constructing hotels and restaurants. This gives Nha Trang still a very 1980s Communist feel, especially along the beach front. That said, it is a wonderful city, with great food, great nightlife and a very nice beach. I've always enjoyed myself whenever I've visited Nha Trang - it is considerably cleaner and better kept than most Vietnamese cities.

9. Tra Vinh - When I was studying Vietnamese at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University back in the late 90s I really became interested in the Khmer culture and people that make up a big minority in southern Vietnam. I would visit the Khmer Buddhist temples in Ho Chi Minh City almost daily, and I met and made friends with many of the monks there. A number of them hailed from Tra Vinh, a place I'd never even heard of before. Eventually they took me there and I discovered one of the most fascinating parts of Vietnam. In Tra Vinh the Khmer population is quite dominant, and you hear Khmer spoken on the streets and broadcast on the radio and TV. Theravadin Buddhist temples are the norm, and the rich and ancient Khmer culture is said to be lived there more authentically than in Cambodia itself, for obvious historical reasons.

So there you have it - my nine favourite towns in Vietnam!
If you have any more you'd like listed, please comment and tell us about it!

You should also follow me on Twitter @walterm
Incidentally, there is another excellent post I recommend you check out over at Your RV Lifestyle called Best Things to Do in Vietnam and it is filled with lots of great info!

Angel Reading Cards by Debbie Malone - A Review

Debbie Malone is one of the most unpretentious and inspiring people currently working on the Sydney spiritual scene, and I have been blessed enough to work with her on a couple of occasions over the years. Her gentle energy, quiet confidence and always-loving messages come through her work with the angels, and over the years Debbie has written about her angelic messengers and created ways in which everyday people might also be able to work with them. In her latest deck of reading cards Debbie has manifested an exquisite display of Angelic energy, and anyone who uses the Angel Reading Cards will, from the very first time they open them, recognise the powerful mystical energy that informs them.

Debbie creates a distinctly 21st century gathering of Angels - there is an Angel of Parking, for example, and an Angel of Relationships for those seeking some bigger answers to life's usual array of vexing questions. Each card has been exquisitely painted by Romanian artist Amalia I. Chitulescu, and each perfectly combines a kind of modern photo-realism with a wonderfully sparkling quality of angel-light that lifts the spirits no matter how many times you see the same card.

The deck comes with a comprehensive book, which supplies a full page of in-depth description for each card along with other information for using the cards. Debbie suggests that, on first opening the cards, the new owner should imprint them with their own good and loving energy, and to that end she provides a handy dedication exercise for their first use.

The book also provides a number of suggestions for using the cards, including 3 card angel guidance layout and a 7-day layout for a whole week’s guidance. When using oracle cards like these Debbie reminds us that we should pay careful attention to the ways they “behave” in our hands and on the table. Cards that fall out or stick should not be ignored – this is usually the message we most need to read.

The entire deck is working with positive energy, of course, but this does not mean that Debbie’s angelic work is not without its challenges. She nominates the Angel of Patience as the most challenging card in the deck, because nobody wants to hear that they need to sit and wait. I know exactly what she means.

There are 36 different angels to work with in in this deck, and Debbie tells us that they make the perfect companion to the rest of our spiritual work. At a recent talk she described a cleansing ritual that involves opening all the windows of the house and smudging each room with sage, all the while inviting the angels into the space. This leaves every room perfectly suited to higher states of existence, and better enables us in whatever spiritual discipline we pursue, be it meditation, prayer, mantra work or sacred reading.

With an eye towards finance in the coming year, I have found myself especially taken with the Angel of Abundance (card No. 17), and naturally she keeps appearing again and again as I shuffle the cards. The waterfall in the background of this beautiful image represents the constant flow of abundance, the pulsating energy of giving to the universe in order to receive.

There is also a smattering of male angels in the deck, all of them distinctly hunky. They remind us that the angelic energies are male as well as female, and that strength and power are equally as angelic as love and nurturing. The cards remind us to imbue our own actions and words with the quality of angelic thought and behaviour. Debbie Malone’s Angel Reading Cards make a beautiful addition to anyone’s daily spiritual routine. Morning or evening, take a card or two at random and see if you can divine the heavenly message contained. Simply ask the Universe: “What do you want from me?” and your angel will appear and direct you.

This is a deck that provides answers, inspiration and plenty of beauty. Get it and play with it and entertain the possibility, just for a moment, that angels are moving amongst us. Have fun with them, and see just how your life might improve with the help of the angels.
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