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Jon Platt helps fight Parkinson's Disease.

Vietnam Travel Guide

by Jon Platt on September 17, 2017

Vietnam


From Ha Long Bay to Ho Chi Minh City

 

From the vertiginous rice valleys of Sapa in Vietnam’s north stretching to the fascinating bustle of the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam is home to a wealth of attractions that will seduce both budget and top-range travellers.




Welcoming foreign tourists and their dollars since the late 1980s, enterprising Vietnam has rapidly developed a well-trodden trail of attractions. Vietnam’s war-torn history—the French, Americans and Chinese have all left their own unique and not-often positive stamps on the nation—as well as its stunning and varied geography, amazing cuisine, plentiful beaches and near-endless shopping are all reasons to travel to the fast-paced Communist nation.

Pagoda-hopping in Cholon.

Pagoda-hopping in Cholon. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Our Vietnam travel guide is here to help you get the most out of each and every one of your trips to Vietnam. We begin with some simple guidelines below, aimed at first-time travellers to the country.


Absolute highlights

There is a lot more to Vietnam than Ha Long Bay and Hoi An! It is a country, however, where it really pays to follow the maxim less is more. Don't be overly ambitious in what you're trying to see, especially if you're factoring in a lot of long distance travel. If your time is limited, keep yourself to one area of the country as Vietnam doesn't lend itself to high-speed travel. Slow down and try the soup!

Hello Hoi An.

Hello Hoi An. Photo: Cindy Fan

Hanoi: One of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities, Hanoi is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, and what a great welcome or farewell it is! Oozing with charm, the city has gone through wholesale changes since Vietnam swung open its doors to tourism, but it remains true to its essential personality and is an amazing city to experience.

Ho Chi Minh City: As cyclo drivers rest easy below vast neon billboards, the emerging Vietnamese middle class—smartphones in hand—cruise past, draped in haute couture on their imported motorcycles. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City—Vietnam’s largest and most exciting city.

Hoi An: Canary yellow houses draped in bougainvillea, rickety wooden shops aglow with red silk lanterns, rippling green fields of rice, baskets laden with silver fish: Hoi An is redolent of a bygone era, or the 17th and 18th centuries, to be exact.

Phu Quoc Island: Lying in a hammock, looking out over a glassy Gulf of Thailand glowing amber from the setting sun, consider yourself lucky to be in the know about one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. Sadly, developers have taken notice of the island’s potential and change is afoot and Phu Quoc is being primed for mass tourism—get here quick!

Can Tho: In the heart of the Mekong Delta, and often referred to as Vietnam’s rice basket, Can Tho is home to many orchards and farms, and it’s the goods from here tourists flock to see in the floating markets dotted around the city.

Popular destinations

Ha Long Bay: A cruise on Ha Long Bay—or the Bay of the Descending Dragon—for many represents a pinnacle of their experience in Vietnam.

Out on the Bay of the Descending Dragon.

Out on the Bay of the Descending Dragon. Photo: Sarah Turner

Sapa: Choice views of the Muong Hoa valley and Mount Fansipan are the prime commodity on sale in Lao Cai’s signature destination, Sapa, a hill station high in the mountains and a vestige of the French colonial era.

Hue: Straddling the truly beautiful Song Huong (Perfume River), Hue first rose to prominence in the 18th