Is it time to take a closer look at Vietnam? It’s a destination that’s been quietly gaining in popularity over the last few years, especially for those who have already embraced other parts of Southeast Asia including Thailand and Malaysia. Vietnam offers a fresh perspective through which to experience the fascinating culture, incredible food and wonderful natural beauty that defines Southeast Asia…from the enchanting streets of Hanoi to the serene beauty of Halong Bay, the imperial history of Hue, the stunning beaches of the South, and the vibrant energy of Ho Chi Minh City.
Let’s take a look at some of Vietnam’s highlights which our eShores travel experts can mix and match to form your perfect tailormade multicentre holiday to Vietnam.
Historical Hanoi: the 1000-year-old Capital
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, boasts a fascinating history that dates back over a thousand years and has been shaped by various historical influences, including imperial dynasties, French colonialism and Japanese occupation. Hanoi beautifully blends historical landmarks with ultra-modern skyscrapers and has a lively, buzzing atmosphere.
Top of the list for places to head to in Hanoi is the Old Quarter, also known as ‘36 Streets’, which is located in the heart of the city. At first sight, it can seem a little bit frenetic, but the best way to embrace the Old Quarter is to hop on a cyclo guided tour which will take you through its vibrant chaos, allowing you to take in the sights and sounds of the area from the comfort of a 3-wheeled taxi. The 36 guild streets were originally named due to the 36 trades or crafts that thrived in the area and which once produced goods for the royal family who resided at Thang Long Citadel. Today, only a handful of the original trades still remain, but nevertheless, the whole area offers a captivating and authentic experience.
Other highlights of the city include the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is located in the middle of Ba Dinh Square and is a magnificent marble-clad monument that serves as the resting place of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh, known to the locals as ‘Uncle Ho’. Inside the Mausoleum you can view the President’s embalmed body but it’s important to note that you will need to stick to specific guidelines including dress code and photography to show respect during the viewing.
There are other delights to explore inside Ba Dinh Square including the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which is next to the Mausoleum. Each floor of the museum details the distinct chapters from the life of ‘Uncle Ho’ and the complexities of his historical significance. Also, within the square you’ll find One Pillar Pagoda, an historic Buddhist temple built in 1049 that is regarded as one of the most iconic and important religious sites in the country. It is called ‘One Pillar’ due to the unique architectural design of the pagoda which is built of built of wood on a single stone pillar that rises from a lotus pond.
For an escape from the hustle and bustle, head to the Temple of Literature which offers a tranquil place to relax in its lush gardens with ornate gates, traditional-style pavilions, and well-manicured lawns. Here you can learn about Hanoi’s commitment to education and culture.
Aside from the historical landmarks, Hanoi is renowned for its fabulous street food scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to try local specialities including pho (noodle soup), bun cha (grilled pork with noodles), and banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich).
For something a little different, head to The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre to experience water puppetry – a traditional Vietnamese performing art that has its roots in the villages of Northern Vietnam. The unique aspect of water puppetry is that the puppets perform on a water stage whilst the puppeteers stand behind a bamboo screen in waist-deep water, controlling the puppets with long bamboo rods hidden beneath the water’s surface. It’s a great spectacle with lively music and colourful puppets.
Ha Long Bay: Limestone Karsts & Junk Boats
Close to Hanoi lies the UNESCO World Heritage site, Ha Long Bay, which offers awe-inspiring landscapes and natural marvels. Here you’ll find breath-taking limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters, and hidden caves. The best way to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the area is to embark on a ‘junk boat’ cruise. Contrary to the term ‘junk,’ it actually originates from the Javanese word for ‘ship’ rather than indicating the boat’s condition – so you can rest assured that your cruise will be on a meticulously crafted wooden vessel that offers the luxuries of modern day living – including some very good dining opportunities! Nestled in your own comfortable private cabin, you’ll find yourself immersed in stunning views and the serene ambiance of the tranquil waters.
Some of the sights you’ll be treated to as you glide along on your junk cruise will be the limestone karsts and islets that emerge majestically from the bay. You’ll also discover hidden caves and grottoes with stalactite formations and witness the distinctive daily life of Ha Long Bay as you pass by the floating fishing villages where residents have built their homes on stilts above the water.
Some of the longer cruises along the bay also incorporate Cat Ba Island, which is the largest island in the bay and known for its untouched beauty of pristine beaches and the walking trails through its National Park.
Hue: The Imperial City
Nestled along the banks of the Perfume River (aka Haong River), Hue is a fascinating city steeped in history with some truly magnificent buildings. The term ‘Imperial City’ in Hue is often used to refer specifically to the walled citadel known as the ‘Hue Citadel’ which was the centre of the Nguyen Dynasty which came to an end in 1945. The Citadel is a part of a larger area known as the ‘Historic Monuments Complex of Hue’ which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. Hue Citadel is surrounded by walls and a moat and as you wander through the labyrinthine paths, you’ll come across beautiful palaces, such as the Thai Hoa Palace and the Forbidden Purple City, which is an area containing several palaces, pavilions, and residences that was reserved for the private life of the emperor and his family.
If your feet are weary from wandering the sights of the Citadel, a wonderful way to explore the area is to take a boat ride along the Perfume River, which is flanked by lush landscapes and provides the perfect backdrop to witness the elaborate royal tombs that were constructed for Nguyen emperors, and beautiful temples and pagodas along the banks of the river.
The city’s culinary scene is a delight for foodies, with traditional dishes such as Bun Bo Hue, a spicy beef noodle soup and banh khoai, a crispy pancake.
In the surrounding countryside around Hue you’ll find gems such as the Thanh Toan Bridge, an ancient wooden bridge adorned with ornate carvings. Also, just outside the city centre, are the Thanh Tan Hot Springs, where you can enjoy the soothing thermal waters, surrounded by the natural beauty of the countryside.
Hoi An: A Time warped Town
Hoi An is one of the country’s best-preserved towns and, while it may not be as large or bustling as some of Vietnam’s major cities, its unique charm and historical significance make it a wonderful place to include on a multi-centre trip to Vietnam.
Hoi An was once a thriving port, until the Thu Bon River silted up in the late 19th century and made the passage for larger ships impossible. This resulted in the city being caught in something of a time warp, which is one of its major appeals for visitors today. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the town is its Old Town, where you’ll find pretty, narrow streets with low, tiled-roof houses with decorative wooden panels and pretty pagodas and temples. The architecture is reminiscent of what you might see in Japan and China and is an indication of the cultures that have influenced the city’s development in the past. The Old Town is at its most beautiful at night, when traditional lanterns illuminate the streets and alleys, highlighting the wares in shop windows, while many of the locals will take advantage of the cooler temperatures around dusk to do their shopping and socialising.
One of the most recognisable monuments in Hoi An is the Japanese Covered Bridge and its pagoda. It is believed to date from the 16th century, although restoration has been carried out on the picturesque wooden structure over the years.
Also, pay a visit to Tan Ky House, a lovingly preserved property that has been cared for by seven generations of the same family and is somewhat of a ‘living museum’ with antique-filled rooms. When it comes to food, you won’t be disappointed in Hoi An with local specialities such as Cao lau which is a noodle dish that originates from Hoi An and is a delicious fusion of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese flavours.
Nha Trang: Stunning beaches and islands
Nha Trang, Vietnam’s most popular beach resort, is a coastal paradise of turquoise waters and golden pristine beaches that is situated along the southern coast of Vietnam. It’s the perfect choice for those wanting to incorporate some beach time on a multicentre holiday to Vietnam. Nha Trang’s coastline boasts miles of pristine stretches of white sands and clear waters, with several small islands off the coast including Hon Mun Island, which is a great spot for snorkelling/scuba diving and Hon Lao Island which is known for its wildlife, hot springs, hiking trails and a large monkey population. The city of Nha Trang itself offers a bustling urban atmosphere and as such has a great nightlife scene, numerous restaurants, and plenty of entertainment options.
Make sure you take a trip on the Vinpearl Cable Car which connects the city to the beautiful Hon Tre Island. As you glide above the water, you’ll be treated to a wonderful panoramic view of Nha Trang’s coastline, giving you a unique perspective on the area.
Phan Thiet: Red Sand Dunes & Pristine Beaches
Further down the coast from Nha Trang is Phan Thiet, a smaller yet equally stunning coastal region and also being close to Ho Chi Minh, makes getting there nice and easy. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to sunbathe or want to indulge in some water sports, there’s a beach for everyone along the miles of golden sand and some of the most popular ones include Mui Ne Beach, Ham Tien Beach and the more serene Binh Thuan Beach.
A highlight of the area is the famous Red Sand Dunes, which provide a stunning backdrop for watching the sunset – or for something a bit more adventurous, try sand-sledding or rent quad bikes to explore more of the dunes. Phan Thiet is home to a thriving fishing industry, so make sure you visit the picturesque fishing village of Mui Ne where you can watch local fishermen bring in their daily catch and sample some of the freshest seafood in Vietnam. Head to the ancient Cham temples and pagodas, including the Po Sah Inu with its intricate carvings and stunning architecture, built in the 8th century as a place of worship for the Cham people. Also, don’t miss the enchanting Fairy Stream, where a gentle stream winds through vibrant red and white sand formations, creating a surreal and picturesque landscape—a must-visit gem.
Ho Chi Minh City: Tunnels & War Remnants
Ho Chi Minh is a charismatic city that was once known as Saigon, situated in the south of Vietnam. The city is adorned with magnificent skyscrapers juxtaposed against the charming French colonial-style architecture that is a reminder of the city’s fascinating past when it was once part of French Indochina.
A good place to start your exploration is in District 1 in the heart of the city, where you’ll find the iconic Ben Thanh Market. This bustling market is filled with numerous sights, sounds, aromas and local treasures where you can pick up everything from fresh produce, delicious street food and traditional handicrafts. Also in District 1, you’ll find the Jade Emperor Pagoda, a Taoist temple built in the early 20th century and dedicated to the Jade Emperor, the supreme deity of Taoism. It’s known for its intricate carvings, statues, artifacts and serene and spiritual atmosphere.
Cholon, which translates to ‘Big Market’ in Vietnamese, is the traditional Chinese area of Ho Chi Minh City and one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. Here you’ll find Binh Tay Market, Thien Hau Temple and several other temples, pagodas, traditional markets, and unique architecture. It’s definitely an area not to be missed.
The city’s War Remnants Museum stands as a poignant reminder of Vietnam’s past, showcasing photographs and artifacts that offer insights into the country’s wartime history. Also, just outside of the city, make sure you visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, which is a complex underground network used by the Vietnamese people during the years of the Vietnam War. The best way to explore the tunnels is by joining a guided tour which will offer you deeper insights into their history and show you how they were by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the conditions faced by the soldiers in these times.
Mekong Delta: A Cruise Along the Nine Dragons
A visit to Ho Chi Minh is not complete without a cruise along the Mekong Delta – also known locally as ‘Nine Dragons’ which represents the nine exit points of the river as it flows into the sea. As you navigate the waterways of this region, you’ll be treated to the sight of a lush exotic fruit orchards and traditional villages nestled along the riverbanks where you can witness daily life unfolds against the backdrop of the river.
No doubt your tour will take you on a visit to the Cai Rang Floating Market, one of the largest and most dynamic floating markets in the region. Here you can experience the bustling marketplace and the lively banter of traders as they sell their wares. If you choose a longer cruise, you may have the opportunity to dock at one of the traditional villages along the Mekong River where you can take a leisurely stroll through the narrow streets and soak up the local culture. You may even witness some of the local skills and techniques such as rice noodle making and towel weaving.
Sapa: Adventure, tribes and rolling hills.
Located in the stunning Hoang Lien Son mountain range, Sapa is home to hill tribes, traditional villages, colourful local markets and beautiful terraced rice fields. This magnificent scenery provides the perfect setting for adventure activities including hiking, trekking, mountain biking, and zip-lining.
Sapa is also gateway to Fansipan Mountain, the ‘Roof of Indochina’, which is the highest peak in Vietnam and attracts many visitors who are keen to embark on the challenging trek to its summit. Fortunately, for those who are not quite up for the 3 to 5-day trek, there is also a cable car providing a more relaxed trip to the top. Whichever way you choose to reach the peak, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view where you can take in the full beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Another highlight of the region is Cat Cat village, located just outside of Sapa. Here you can learn about the culture of one of the local tribes, the Hmong people, including the chance to see their traditional houses, pick up some local handicrafts and admire the stunning waterfall.
Phu Quoc: Pristine beaches and tranquil waters.
Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island and a tropical paradise in the Gulf of Thailand offering pristine beaches, lush jungles, and vibrant coral reefs. The crystal-clear waters that surround the island offer perfect conditions for diving and snorkelling with popular spots off the coast of Ong Lang beach and also around An Thoi Archipelago and Turtle island – both accessible via a boat trip from Phu Quoc.
If being on dry land is more your thing, Long Beach (Bai Trong) offers a stunning 20k stretch of soft yellow sand with swaying palms that is perfect for relaxing, sunbathing and watching the sunset.
The island’s Dinh Cau Night Market is a great place to experience the local culinary scene where you will find various food stalls offering a range of traditional Vietnamese dishes. One of the highlights of the market is the seafood section, where you can select freshly caught seafood which is prepared and cooked for you on the spot. The nearby pier is the perfect spot to enjoy an evening stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the sunset.
If you feel it’s time to experience the wonders that Vietnam has to offer, we’re ready to help! Simply get in touch with one of our travel experts and we can help you put together your perfect adventure to Vietnam that is uniquely crafted to you!
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