Occupying a slender slice of the east Asian landmass, Vietnam combines jagged alpine peaks in the north, a pancake-flat river delta in the south, cave-riddled limestone hills in its central provinces and dense rainforest along its western border with some of the world’s most productive ricegrowing terrain. And that’s just the countryside.
Climatically the northern half of the nation experiences a much cooler winter, and the cuisine, lifestyle and character of the people reflect this. As you head south, the country has more of a tropical feel, with coconut trees outnumbering bamboo plants and fish sauce replacing soy sauce on the menu. The southern provinces are always humid, hot and sticky, their food sweet, spicy, aromatic and complex.
Food – History – Culture
Spectacular Street Food
- Dine in elegantly restored colonial villas, or pull up a stool and chow down on street food classics like pho bo (beef noodle soup) or bun cha (barbecued pork with rice vermicelli).
A Millennium of History
- Immerse yourself in Hanoi’s heady combination of history and culture. The tumultuous events of over one thousand years are showcased in fascinating detail at the city’s excellent museums.
Traditional & Cutting Edge
- Hanoi’s eclectic cultural scene includes storied musical traditions like Ca tru and Hat tuong, and newer visual arts on display at hip galleries like Manzi and Zone 9.
Landscapes – Trekking – Adventure
Soaring Limestone Peaks
- Halong Bay’s majesty is best observed shrouded in ethereal morning mist, and to the north the sublime mountainous scenery of Ha Giang province is arguably even more spectacular.
Meeting the Locals
- The cascading rice paddies around Sapa and Bac Ha are a spectacular hub for trekking and homestays with ethnic minorities, including the colorful Dzao and Flower H’mong people.
- Adventurous detours in northern Vietnam include rock climbing on Cat Ba Island or kayaking to hidden coves and sandy beaches in nearby Lan Ha Bay.
Food – History – Landscapes
- Hoi An is a foodie capital, with outstanding restaurants and delicious local dishes. While in Hue, sample its incredibly intricate imperial cuisine.
- At Hue’s citadel, you’ll see a unique collection of palaces, temples, gateways and towers, despite wartime bombing. Other gems include the Perfume River’s royal tombs, pagodas and Hoi An’s Old Town.
- The area around Ninh Binh is typified by sublime limestone mountains. Further south, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park offers more of the same, plus several immense cave systems.
Beaches – Temples – Food
- Vietnam’s coastline at its most voluptuous. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are the big hitters, but there are hundreds of kilometres of empty beaches to discover, including on the Con Dao Islands.
- The Kingdom of Champa once held sway over much of this region. The legacy is still visible in a host of ancient brick temples, including the Po Nagar towers (Nha Trang) and the Po Klong Garai towers (Thap Cham).
- Vietnamese cuisine is always a delight, but in this region fresh seafood stands out. Choose from succulent prawns, soft squid or juicy crabs, grilled on a barbecue at your table.
Adventure – Wildlife – Culture
- Get off the trail with a motorbike trip into the hinterlands. Self-drive on a Minsk, Vespa or Honda Cub, or hook up with the Easy Riders to experience a Vietnam less travelled on the back roads between Dalat and Hoi An.
- Explore some of Vietnam’s leading national parks where the wild things are. Cat Tien is home to endangered primates and the innovative Gibbon Trek. Yok Don, easily accessible from Buon Ma Thuot, is where elephants roam.
Meet the Locals
- Leave the lowlanders behind on the coast and meet the high-ground minority people. Get to know them better with a traditional village homestay around Kon Tum.
Ho Chi Minh City
War History – Nightlife – Food
- The fall/liberation of Saigon was one of the late 20th century’s defining moments. Explore sites associated with the American War, from the tunnels at Cu Chi to the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace.
Bars & Clubs
- From late-night bars to full-on clubs, Saigon’s sizzling nightlife keeps things hopping till the wee hours. The tireless Pham Ngu Lao backpacker strip is virtually 24/7.
- Chefs here have more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Even if you stick purely to Vietnamese cuisine, there’s a bewildering array of choice, along with a juicy menu of foodie tours to choose from.
Beaches – Boat Trips – Pagodas
- The white sands of gorgeous Sao Beach and graceful Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island are Mekong Delta trump cards. The island’s a world away from the muddy riverbanks of the delta. Don’t forget your beach gear.
- Boat trips are essential for grasping how water defines this part of Vietnam, a region where children swim all day and the river can get so wide that you almost lose sight of either bank.
- The delta’s constant religious undercurrent percolates most visibly in Vietnamese Buddhist sites, such as Sam Mountain, and a wealth of Khmer temples, where young monks in saffron robes read Sutras.
Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor
Temples – Dining – Activities
- Many think that it’s all about Angkor Wat. True, the ‘city that is a temple’ is one of the world’s most iconic buildings, but nearby are the enigmatic faces of the Bayon, the jungle temple of Ta Prohm and the inspirational carvings of Banteay Srei.
- Contemporary Khmer, spiced-up street food, fine French and a whole host more, plus legendary Pub St-Siem Reap is where it’s happening.
- Take to the skies by hot-air balloon or helicopter to see Angkor from a different angle. Learn the secrets of Cambodian cuisine with a cooking class or indulge in a massage at a spa.