Colourful markets, dramatic mountains, cosmopolitan cities, golden beaches – Vietnam enjoys the full spectrum and is blessed with an intoxicating mix of cultures and stunning natural beauty.
Beaches of Vietnam
Vietnam is blessed with thousands of miles of beautiful coastline and as the country’s tourism infrastructure improves, the number and quality of delightful beach hotels increases.
Located in central Vietnam, the sun-washed town of Nha Trang hugs a seven-km-long stretch of golden sand, with clear blue seas dotted with offshore islands offering excellent diving, fishing and snorkelling.
Phan Thiet is a large fishing village and the gateway to nearby beaches such as Mui Ne, a nearby town with a 21 km stretch of sandy beaches lined with hotels, resorts and restaurants. Mui Ne is subject to onshore winds from the South China Sea and is especially breezy from November to May, which may not be ideal for swimming but is popular for wind and kite surfing.
Set off the tip of Vietnam’s south west coast, Phu Quoc is a haven for nature and sea lovers looking for a place to unwind. The island remains fairly undeveloped with virgin forests and pristine white beaches. The infrastructure remains reasonably basic with dirt roads and a couple of four-star properties. This offers a relaxing beach getaway on a nice quiet island.
The Con Dao Islands are a 16-island archipelago off the far south east coast, and one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. Once the preserve of political prisoners, the archipelago now offers stunning virgin forest, deserted tropical beaches and unique sea life.
Banyan Tree Lang Co
Con Dao Islands:
Six Senses Con Dao
Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, and just three hours drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay is a truly stunning seascape of over 3000 thousand limestone islands that rise out of the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Known within local folklore as ‘The Dragon Descending to the Sea’, the area’s tiny islands are dotted with caves, grottoes and beaches and the surrounding scenery of towering mountains and lush forests is one of Vietnam’s most dramatic natural sights.
The best way to explore the area is to relax on one of the delightful junks (boats) and float amongst this awe inspiring scenery and it’s a wonderful way to experience local life going on around you as the fishermen ply their trade. The area is also renowned for its excellent hiking with paths meandering through the surrounding mountains.
Our preferred Junks are:
Bhaya Legend and Bhaya Classic
Located on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi is the delightful capital of Vietnam where the exotic style of old Asia blends with the dynamism of the new. With its ochre-coloured colonial buildings, tree-lined boulevards and scenic lakes, it retains the charm and allure of a beautiful provincial city, yet at the same time this is a thriving hub of commerce.
Key sites of interest are the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, an imposing monument lavishly built using marble and granite, and where the preserved body of ‘Uncle Ho’ resides. The lotus shaped One Pillar Pagoda, built in 1049 by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong and resting on a single stone pillar is another highlight. The Temple of Literature gives an overview about Hanoian culture and appreciation for ancient Vietnamese architecture, whilst the Museum of Ethnology offers a fascinating insight into Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups.
Take a wander through the tangled web of streets in the Old Quarter, relax in a coffee shop whilst soaking up the hustle and bustle of local life and cap off your day by taking in a show at the water puppet theatre – a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form depicting scenes of rural life and episodes of national history. Vietnamese water puppets were invented a thousand years ago by farmers in the Red River Delta region near Hanoi as entertainment when the rains flooded their paddy fields.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s commercial centre and a lively city with over eight million inhabitants and four million motorbikes! This is the city that never sleeps and a place of boundless energy with not only great hotels and wonderful cuisine, but a fascinating history, rich culture and a seamless blend of the ancient and modern where one minute you can be wandering down bustling little alleyways and next you find yourself staring up at sleek, shiny skyscrapers. This is a city that is fast developing into one of the most metropolitan cities in the Far East.
Despite the well-documented hustle and bustle, Saigon retains its connections with the past and the city’s historic landmarks include the Notre Dame Cathedral, a red brick neo-Romanesque edifice built between 1877 and 1880 with twin spires and based on the original construction from Paris. The former Presidential Palace, the headquarters of the Saigon Government during the Vietnam war, reveals the history of Saigon during its turbulent recent past.
Cholon is the bustling Chinatown region of the city well known for its markets, restaurants and pagodas, whilst a wander down the lovely tree-lined avenue of Dong Khoi street, offers some of the most exclusive shopping in the city.
To the north west is the Cao Dai Great Temple, which houses not only the temple, but also a hospital of traditional medicines, which is frequented by people from all over the south of the country.
Also to the northwest of Saigon, through the typical lush southern Vietnamese countryside, are the famous Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnel complex was initially started in 1948 to protect the Viet Cong guerrillas from the French air and ground sweeps. The tunnels also served as communication routes, storage facilities for food and weapon caches as well as hospitals and living quarters for guerrilla fighters throughout the war. A visit to the underground villages provides a good understanding of the tunnels’ history, the hardship of life in the tunnels and the Vietnamese resilience during combat.
Between the 17th and the 19th Centuries, Hoi An was a prosperous centre of trade and one of the most important in South East Asia. Today the town no longer enjoys such influence, yet this World Heritage UNESCO listed ancient town oozes charm and history with its well-preserved buildings, pedestrianized streets and unique cuisine, allowing visitors a glimpse of its illustrious past.
The narrow lanes are ideal for a guided walking tour and there is plenty to visit including the old merchant’s houses with influences from Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture; the 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge; the Assembly Hall of the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation with outstanding wood carvings; and the colourful market with stalls brimming with local specialties including silk, which can be turned into fashionable garments within a day or two.
Once the imperial capital to the Nguyen Lords, a feudal dynasty which reigned from the 17th to the 19th Centuries, with the Perfume River winding its way through this fascinating city, Hue is an architectural delight full of cultural gems including the Imperial Citadel, emperors’ tombs, historic temples and ancient pagodas.
For many years the monuments were allowed to slowly crumble away, until the 1990’s when they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and gradually have been restored ensuring the city’s future as one of the most important cultural hotspots in the country.
Principally designed by the Emperors themselves and spread along the banks of the Perfume River, the royal mausoleums such as the Tu Duc and Khai Dinh Royal Tombs were wonderfully elaborate and built on principles of feng-shui and showcase elements of eastern art and western designs.
A boat trip along the Perfume River to visit Thien Mu pagoda is another of the city’s highlights. Standing on the riverbank with its seven-storey tower, the pagoda is a sight to behold and Hue’s best-preserved religious monument.
The Museum of Royal Fine Arts is perhaps Hue’s most important museum and where the lost splendour of the Nguyen dynasty, which ruled Vietnam from 1802 until 1945, is displayed in the old royal Long An palace, a beautiful all-wood palace built in 1845. The museum is notable for its atmospheric setting and sumptuous royal artifacts, including ceramics, paintings, furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ceremonial weapons, and silk gowns.
Our preferred hotels are:
La Residence Hue Hotel & Spa
Mekong Delta & River Cruises
As the Mekong River heads towards the South China Sea in Vietnam, it splits into nine smaller rivers and innumerable streams that form the huge, fertile region known as the Mekong Delta, and often referred to as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam. This is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in Southeast Asia, growing enough rice in its endless lush green paddy fields to feed the whole of Vietnam as well as producing a wide variety of fruit and fish.
This whole region is a lush, gleaming water world of streams and canals where bustling floating markets just outside Can Tho are a daily focus for people to buy and sell their goods. A boat ride through the markets and canals to experience the incredible diversity of river life or a bike through through the paddy fields are a real highlight.
For those with a little more time available, a week long cruise up the mighty Mekong River, one of Asia’s most exciting and enigmatic rivers, offers a fascinating insight into the very different, but inextricably linked rural communities of Vietnam and Cambodia. This is a world of floating markets, canals, floating villages, catfish farms, Cham communities and the stilted ‘waterworld’ of Kampong Chhnang.
Lazy days can be spent watching the world go by as you cruise upstream from the bustling Vietnamese delta into Cambodia, culminating with the great Khmer Temple of Angkor. Daily land-based excursions offer an intriguing diversion as you explore some of the more remote villages and other highlights in this extraordinary region, whilst enjoying all the comforts of a thoroughly comfortable boat.
The far north-west of Vietnam is a world of towering peaks, lush river valleys and colourful hill tribes such as the Dzao and H’Mong scattered amongst the hills. Sapa itself was established as a hill station by the French in 1922 and offers spectacular views of jagged mountain ridges, terraced rice paddies and wonderfully colourful markets.
Sapa is reached by an overnight train from Hanoi and offers the most dramatic and interesting trekking in the country. It is the launch pad for treks to see the various hill tribes and their villages. Each group has its own distinctive style of dress and from early childhood, girls learn to grow and weave hemp, to dye cloth with indigo, to sew the family’s clothes, and to decorate items with traditional embroidery motifs.
Our preferred hotels are:
Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa
Vietnam has a wonderfully rich cultural history stretching back to Emperor Ly Thai Tong in the 11th Century and beyond, and to the feudal dynasty of the Nguyen Lords all the way to French colonialism, the American war and the vibrant, Asian tiger that it is seen as today. This huge diversity of influences can be seen and enjoyed throughout the country with its beautiful temples and tombs, delightfully preserved old Chinese towns and the colonial splendour of Hanoi.
From the dramatic beauty of Halong Bay to the myriad waterways of the Mekong delta and the lush, rolling hills of the remote tribal areas, the country is a playground for the inquisitive and adventurous, whilst its heavenly beaches handsomely cater to those in need of a well-earned rest.
On a more human level it is the bustling markets, zipping cyclos, the delicious street cuisine, trendy art festivals and ultimately the people’s gracious hospitality that makes Vietnam such a special place to explore.
Full Vietnam Itineraries with details coming soon. Call us on 01905 731373 for more detailed information.