Vietnam’s cultural backcloth is a complex weave of its many peoples, historic eras and influences from beyond its borders.

Among its ancient monuments, and dating from the fourth to fourteenth centuries, the tombs and temples of My Son, west of Hoi An, and Po Nagar near Nha Trang are the surviving remnants of the Champa Kingdom, itself part of a greater cultural empire based on both Hinduism and later Buddhism, the impressive remains of which are also evident in Thailand at Sukhothai and in Cambodia at Angkor.

In Hanoi, the area around West Lake bears witness to the seat of power of the Dai Viet People. Thang Long citadel, dating to the 11th century, is among the oldest surviving buildings in the Capital, along with the Temple of Literature and Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Hoi An, a former harbour of the Cham people, who were gradually displaced by the Viet, was later developed as a major trading port with both European and other Asian cultures during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and the unique blend of influences of its charming historic buildings, including the famous Japanese bridge, are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The influence of Hoi An declined in the nineteenth century, when the Nguyen family, opposed to foreign trade, assumed the Vietnamese Emperorship and set up their capital in their ancestral home city of Hue in 1802. The Forbidden Purple City, Emperor's Tombs and Garden Houses are the legacy of this period.

It was during the Nguyen Dynasty that the French turned up in earnest, in 1858, and using spurious religious pretexts, eventually invaded Vietnam in 1861 and fully conquered the country in 1887. The memory of the Nguyen Emperors is found a little way along the Perfume River, at the site of their tombs.

The legacy of the French colonial presence can be found in the pleasant leafy civilised boulevards of its major cities and many of its buildings, but beneath the surface of this charming coffee house and croissant air, the Con Son Prison at Con Dao, built in 1861, is a testament to the sober reality of the methods used by the French to ensure control of the country.

France’s intractable inability to relinquish colonial territory, as the British had begun to, in aftermath of the Second World War, led to Vietnam's fateful communist uprising, and the eventual intervention of the United States. The legacy of the Vietnam War is also evident at Con Dao prison, but the most obvious effects of the American bombing are to be seen in the area of central Vietnam, still referred to by its wartime moniker as the DMZ.

American bombs also caused considerable damage to much of Vietnam's heritage, including the Citadel at Hue and the ancient Champa site at My Son.

The Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon bear witness to the extreme resilience of the Viet Cong resistance, who would eventually triumph in 1975, leading to the founding of Vietnam as a renewed independent entity. The legacy of its founder Ho Chi Minh, is particularly evident in Hanoi, especially in his mausoleum.  

Much has changed in Vietnam since regaining its independence and the people of Vietnam are reconciled to, and now protect, the diversity of their heritage in the modern era. Meanwhile the welcome making of future history and heritage continues apace, exemplified by modern structures, such as the lovely Golden Bridge at Ba Na, near Hoi an and Da Nang, close to the restored hilltop French colonial retreat.