Rounding up guidebook and Internet advice, here are some places to visit and things to see and do while I’m in Vietnam. Part 1 because I know commenters will have suggestions!
See a show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in Hanoi, or some other water puppetry venue. Apparently this art form developed as a way of appeasing spirits and entertaining fellow workers in flooded rice fields. Today, puppeteers stand offstage and manipulate the puppets via bamboo poles and string, and the puppets appear to walk on water. The shows are usually comedic. Sounds like fun!
Eat a lot. Here are some foods I’ve been encouraged to sample: phở bò, bánh xèo, bún thịt nướng, cơm tấm, bánh mì, banh bao vac, lau, and French-influenced foods like croissants and duck. I think every single person who learns I’m going to Vietnam says a variation on “oh the food!” This is a promising start.
Visit war memorials and museums. I have a longtime fascination with what we Americans call the Vietnam War, and I’m interested to see it presented from the other side. The Hanoi Hilton, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and his mausoleum, and the National Museum of Vietnamese History are all in Hanoi and should give a pretty comprehensive view of the struggle, and there’s also the Vietnam History Museum and War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Take a boat to Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue. It’s one of the oldest structures in Hue (a town midway between the two major cities of Vietnam, on the coast), and it’s still a working temple populated by monks.