Unique culture, turbulent history, delectable cuisine and hardworking locals, Vietnam is a country of great contrast.
It’s this diversity that keeps travellers coming back time and time again. From north to south, you will find authentic Asian experiences - from drifting along the slow-moving Mekong River, dodging traffic on the frenetic streets of Ho Chi Minh City to sharing a rice wine with locals in the Mekong Delta. Despite its troubled history, Vietnam is firmly focussed on its bright future. This is obvious in the smiles of her people, the bustle in her cities and the lush, green, carefully tended rice fields in her countryside.
With over 3,000 kilometres of coastline excluding islands, Vietnam offers travellers a huge variety of awe-inspiring sights, ethnic minorities, regional delicacies and renowned beauty. For many travellers, it’s discovering the real Asia on the streets, and amongst the people, that makes their trip to Vietnam such a memorable experience. The warmth and charm of the people you meet belies their painful past.
Central Vietnam is home to historic Hue, the seat of power during the Nguyen Dynasty and Vietnam’s spiritual, artistic and cultural centre. Life moves at a slower pace in UNESCO World Heritage listed Hue with its complex of spectacular Imperial tombs, pagodas, monuments and remains of the Citadel – first built in 1804 and modelled on Beijing’s Forbidden City. The old buildings of Hue were only saved from decay as recently as 1990, when local government recognised the tourist potential of these beautiful buildings, now presenting the regal aura of their former glory.
Unwind on the magnificent beach resorts of Phu Quoc Island, Phan Thiet or the country’s premiere beach destination, Nha Trang. Cruise amongst the islands just off the coast of Nha Trang or delight in seafood that is bursting with freshness. Just one hour flying time from Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang is the Surfer’s Paradise of Vietnam but on a much smaller scale. It offers beautiful beaches and islands but it is also famed for Po Nagar Cham Towers, a national treasure built between the 12th and 17th centuries.
The mountainous city of Dalat can be found in the Central Highlands, where some of the best produce and most beautiful flowers in the country are grown. A great place to grab some respite from the heat with its cool mountain breezes, it is also Vietnam’s honeymoon capital and a popular domestic holiday destination.
Close to the Chinese border in the north-west of Vietnam, Sapa is a picturesque former French colonial hill station established in 1922. A comfortable overnight journey away from Hanoi, Sapa is nestled in a misty and beautiful valley with a landscape made up of terraced rice paddies. Home to many of Vietnams’ ethnic hill tribe minority groups, it’s the perfect place to meet the locals and gain insight into their fascinating lives. Trek through villages and lush green rice fields spilling down the edge of the Hoang Lien Mountains. Join the locals that come from far and wide at the bustling markets on a Saturday, resplendent in their colourful costumes. Check out the vibrant colours of their beautiful dyed and handmade textiles or purchase some of their detailed, etched silver jewellery.
Lively Da Nang is a major hub between North and South Vietnam and a good base to explore sights such as the famous China Beach, the caves of Marble Mountain or take in the stunning views from the Hai Van Pass. Da Nang is also famed for the Museum of Cham Sculpture which includes work sculptured between the 6th and 17th centuries.
A short 20 minute drive from the port city of Da Nang is the charming town of Hoi An. Formally a thriving port town, Hoi An retains a sleepy small-town feel and is a favourite with all who visit her. Meander through narrow cobbled streets, admiring the beautifully preserved architecture with ancient houses and bridges leftover from its merchant heyday. Take a class at the Red Bridge Cooking School where you’ll spend the morning at the local market, shopping for fresh ingredients before learning to prepare well-known dishes. A shopper’s paradise; the streets are filled with tailor shops, artist stalls and quaint galleries. Famous for its tailor’s and shoe shops – in less than 24 hours, you can have a new suit, dress, pair of shoes or copy of an existing outfit made to measure. Set on the banks of the tranquil Thu Bon River, the early morning fish market is a must-see and a great opportunity to have a chat to the friendly locals. Hoi An is the best base from which to explore the stunning ruins of My Son, Vietnam’s most important Cham Site.
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