Walk around midnight in an unrecognizable street. Sit along the shoreline and watch the world breathe another year. See all those lively fireworks that burst like fierce bubbles in the horizon. Join the crowd in the street, rub elbows with unfamiliar faces and be part of history.

Strange. But one of my long standing wishes in life is to spend New Year in another country. Not that I detested the way New Year is celebrated in the Philippines and want to escape to another territory, but I just want to experience what it feels like being in a completely different environment at the start of another year.

I want to discover something worthy of a book. I want to explore how magical the world is on the other side of the planet when New Year comes. The custom, tradition, culture and other rituals. I want to find out how other races celebrate New Year and how it differs from the Philippines. It could be one of the most amazing experiences I would have in my lifetime.

Some of the countries I considered to spend New Year are Italy and England due to its glorious history and cherished traditions. I always thought these nations offer some of the best memorable experiences of celebrating holidays.
However, it would take years, even decades, to fulfill this very ambitious European New Year dream due to the high cost it entails, so I rewrite my plans, get in touch with reality and take a reroute, diverting my focus to neighboring countries.
While searching for an ideal destination closer to home that would not only offer a unique experience of traveling to a strange territory but also a historic discovery, I remember Saigon, one of Asia’s most interesting cities with a touch of Europe, so, we (I will be traveling with my friends) decided to choose Vietnam for this New Year holiday escape dream.
Most Filipino travelers might never consider Vietnam as an ideal holiday destination maybe due to its economic reputation, non-popular attractions and its legacy on war. When it comes to Asian destinations for leisure, Filipinos easily think of Hongkong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, even South Korea and Japan, but not so much about Vietnam.
However, I don’t travel just for leisure, I travel because of the anticipation and excitement of having new discoveries and learning, having new stories to tell to the world and a unique travel memories to keep that only few can relate.
Vietnam might never live up to the expectation of a gorgeous Asian nation to visit but it is equally exciting as discovering Croatia in Europe--- a nation that's not totally familiar to travelers but offer amazing discoveries with hidden historic milestones worthy to be explored.
Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City
Image credits: Onthegotours.com

Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, is located in Southern Vietnam, far from the country’s capital of Hanoi, but it’s very historic because of its attachment to Vietnam War. It has long been the subject of intense curiosity since Cameron Macintosh used it as the story backdrop of his famous and elite West End musical, Miss Saigon.
In the 19th century, when Southern Vietnam was under the French colony of Cochinchina, Saigon was named as its capital city. In 1976, it was renamed Ho Chi Minh city, in honor of Ho Chi Minh, the country's great revolutionary leader who became Prime Minister and subsequently, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Today, French influence is still visible around Ho Chi Minh City earning a reputation of being the Paris of the Orient! And the greatest perk, Vietnamese Dong, the country's currency is inferior to Philippine peso, meaning I would have to visit this country without too much worries on my budget. Ho Chi Minh City's most popular attraction is the Reunification Palace - former residence of the President of Southern Vietnam.

Step in to another world in another time? It can be experienced in Mekong Delta,
Vietnam's famous tourist attraction due to its floating market culture
Image credits: mekong-delta.org

Lonely Planet warns that prices on commodities in Vietnam reach its peak between Christmas and New Year and the streets will be crammed with bikers, so if you're someone who hate this scene better travel between September and November when all the streets seem at the quietest.

The biggest downside for tourists however, although it's a little bit exciting and eventful, is when the plan of travel falls on the last week of January and early part of February when the country will celebrate "Tet" (Vietnamese New Year), the streets would be totally chaotic as people come to celebrate the festival, some of the leading shuttle buses will be shut down to give way to bikers, leading business establishments and shops will be closed and everything gets pretty crowded.

The world famous Ha Long Bay with its "ascending dragon" features
Image credits: Selectiveasiatour.org

If you're traveling to Vietnam in a short period of time and want to experience the best of this nation, aside from Saigon, the most recommended destinations are the following:

Da Lat - It's one of the most visited places in Central Vietnam and very popular to tourists. Its charming background can be attributed to its remaining French influence among its chalets, architecture and colossal buildings. It has a cooler climate due to its location in the highlands. Travel hours from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Lat takes almost seven hours.

Halong Bay - Absolutely terrific like nowhere else on earth! According to one source, it feels like you're watching spies of James Bond Films cavorting with sexy girls in an unknown beach due to its magnificent view by the sea similar to those wacky scenes in Bond Films. It has been declared one of the world's natural wonders and UNESCO'S World Heritage due to its breathtaking formation in the sea. It gives Vietnam the monicker, " Land of the Ascending Dragon".

Nha Trang - Vietnam's most popular beach destination. This place has so many things to offer when it comes to a satisfying beach holiday getaway according to some travel bloggers who had visited Nha Trang. It also boasts pagodas and temples and foods are great!
Mekong Delta - Famously known as the "Nine Dragons", it features a tradition unique only to Vietnam, the floating market. Though it is closer to the highly modernized city of Ho Chi Minh, Mekong Delta, however, is somewhat laid back. According to one travel blogger, stepping into Mekong Delta is like stepping back in time and into a totally different world! Now, that's worth of discovery! This is closer to Cambodian border.

Hanoi - The country's capital city still boasts amazing French influence among its colonial buildings and the city is covered with trees! Perhaps why, even if dense traffic is maddening like Manila, the experience evokes harmony and romance and not totally annoying.

Hue - The country's former capital until 1945, offers a delightful experience of discovering the cultural highlights of Vietnam. It houses old buildings and elaborate mausoleums of Nguyen Emperors which are more like palaces to look than tombs with courtyards, temples and lakes. One of Hue's most impressive sites is Thien Mu Pagoda, a Buddhism religion site that has an amazing seven-storey octagonal tower.

Hoi An - Its town center is declared a UNESCO's World Heritage Site to protect its Chinese, Japanese and European architectural influences. Visitors will experience the country's unique and distinctive culture here with its ancient streets, quaint town market and delectable cuisine that is unique around Asia.

Sapa - If you're a nature lover and love photography, oh well, according to Selective Asia site, Sapa is for you! Dubbed as "Tonkinese Alps" by the French, Sapa is one of those rare places in Asia where lifestyle is far from modern and left untouched by the severely chaotic influence of technology, according to one source who visited this place. Its picturesque surrounding offers the best experience of being in a quiet, tranquil environment where strong regional culture dominates the landscape. So if you love to take pictures of the country side life and want to learn something from Asia's thriving old culture, Sapa is the best destination to choose.

Amazing holiday escape isn't it? What made this country more exciting is its proximity to Cambodia and Thailand, travelers may opt to take a quick visit to any of these Asian nations with equally great history to discover.