Special prayers are held at Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when the moon is either full or the merest sliver. Many Buddhists eat only vegetarian food on these days. Some of the major religious festivals follow a lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late January or early February), the most important festival of the year, which lasts a week (with rites beginning a week earlier), marking the new lunar year; Wandering Souls Day (Trung Nguyen), held on the fifteenth day of the seventh moon (August), is the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead; Tiet Doan Ngo (Summer Solstice Day) in June sees the burning of human effigies to satisfy the need for souls to serve in the God of Death's army; and Holiday of the Dead (Thanh Minh) in April commemorates deceased relatives.
Vietnam has 3450km (2140mi) of coastline, and you can hire snorkelling and diving gear at most beach resorts. The most popular beaches include Vung Tau, just north of the Mekong Delta (which suffers from polluted water, although there are cleaner beaches nearby); Nha Trang, near Dalat; and the 30km-long expanse of beaches named China Beach, near Danang - but be careful of the currents. There is good hiking, horse riding and cycling in the beautiful countryside around Dalat, while some of the national parks are also good for hiking. Vietnam is a favourite place for long-distance cycling because much of the country is flat and the shortage of vehicles makes for light traffic off the main highways.
Spelunkers should head for the spectacular Pong Nha river caves, north-west of Dong Hoi. Those interested in the Vietnam War can walk part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a series of roads, trails and paths used as supply routes by the North Vietnamese during the war. It ran from North Vietnam southward through the Truong Son Mountains and into western Laos. Those with a 4WD can drive a 60km (37mi) stretch between Aluoi and HuÃ©. The network of tunnels at Cu Chi (35km - 22mi - from Saigon) and Vinh Moc (near the old border between North and South Vietnam) enable visitors to experience the claustrophobic life led by villagers and guerrillas during the war.
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