Vietnam is a surprising place to visit, economically vibrant and looking to the future yet steeped in history and age-old customs. Here are just a few of the must-see destinations in this vibrant country:
Ho Chi Minh City
If you’re looking for hustle and bustle then a trip to the country’s biggest city is in order. Sitting on the banks of the Saigon River, this is now a thriving and noisy metropolis complete with everything you’d expect from a cosmopolitan success – restaurants, bars, clubs, stores and fine hotels. Don’t expect a peaceful, laid back time here. This is a hive of activity, construction work and endless traffic but it’s the heart of a growing nation, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of a turbulent past.
Experience Vietnam like you’ve just stepped into a geography textbook – the Mekong Delta is the epitome of all the things we associate with this region. Paddy fields, swamps and orchards stretching as far as the eye can see from the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City to the Gulf of Thailand. This is the area that contributes more than a third of the country’s annual food crop including rice, coconut palms, fruit orchards and sugar cane. See the farmers with their iconic conical hats and the children riding on the backs of the water buffalo – this is picture book Vietnam.
All your senses will be awakened as soon as you hit Hanoi. Stunning, old colonial architecture mixes with the youthful energy of a city that’s modernizing quickly but with style. Here you’ll find the tree-lined boulevards of the French quarter and to the west of the central district, Hanoi’s monuments in the former Imperial City. For a sense of the history here, the ancient walled gardens of the Temple of Literature are a must-see along with the various temples and pagodas dotted around the West Lake.
Otherwise known as the Bay of the Descending Dragon, who could resist a visit to a place with such an amazing name? A cruise is a popular way to take in the sights of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The way UNESCO chooses these sites is to look at geological, historical and cultural significance and Ha Long Bay ticks all these boxes. The striking cliffs, tunnel caves and caverns and the floating fishermen’s houses make this area a truly special sight to behold.
If you were asked about a great place to visit for beaches, chances are you wouldn’t be thinking about Vietnam. The Southern Coast is perfect for those seeking the sun with its endless beaches, top hotels and great food options available – which has seen the area gain great popularity recently, particularly the beach at Mui Ne. Fishing is a big deal here, and you’ll see fleets of fishing boats bobbing in the waters while seafood dries along the side of the roads.
This is where you’ll find the stunning, wild and most breath-taking scenery in the whole of the country. The north-west has the highest peak, Fan Si Pan which thrusts upwards from the floor of the Red River Valley. To the northeast, Ba Be National Park contains the country’s largest natural lake, concealed among limestone crags and deep jungle. The region is not heavily populated so facilities are sparse, and the roads can be in awful condition, but if you want an adventure then there are many Vietnam tours available to help you explore this natural wonderland.
This is an absolute must for the first-time visitor as the canary yellow houses are a delight. The homes are decorated with bougainvillea and you’ll find old fashioned wooden rickety shops bedecked with red glowing lanterns. Nestled on the central coast, this ancient town was a former port city and this is reflected in its eclectic mix of architecture from the Chinese wooden stores, the French colonial buildings and the famous Japanese Covered Bridge. You’ll fall in love with this classy and graceful city!
Many visitors head for the larger mountain ranges of the north, but for those who love carving their own path, this region can offer those beautiful misty mountain top views, cascading waterfalls and nature at its most undisturbed. Animals you could spot here include elephants, gibbons and bears. Places to visit include Da Lat, a French mountain retreat and Lak Lake, a very scenic spot surrounded by villages.
If you’re fascinated by conservation and wildlife then Vietnam will not disappoint. There are numerous parks to visit with an abundance of stunning natural habitats and historical significance. Bach Ma National Park covers 40,000 hectares of unspoilt land and offers hiking trails, waterfalls and camping opportunities. Yok Don contains 858 species of trees, 200 bird species and 93 different types of animals, some of which are highly endangered. Cuc Phuong is the oldest National Park in Vietnam and is a haven of tropical rainforest in which prehistoric tools and ancient tombs have been discovered.
This is Vietnam’s third largest city with many hotels lined up along the coastline, and the incredible Dragon Bridge to cross (if you dare!). The city is prospering, attracting continued investment and welcomes many international visitors. Visit the Cham Museum to learn more about the history of the city but dig a little deeper off the main tourist streets, and you’ll find colonial architecture, an ancient citadel and a vibrant street food scene sure to tempt the taste buds with incredible Asian cuisine not found elsewhere in Vietnam.
Need a place for some rest and relaxation before you head back home? Doc Let is the peaceful sanctuary where you can experience the perfect wind down after your thrilling adventures in this beautiful land of contrasts. There’s plenty of beach front, ocean view accommodation here – ideal for opening the doors in the morning and walking straight into the sea!