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Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the second most populous city in the country with approximately 4 million people. Compared to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is more traditional and refined. Today it is best known for its thriving contemporary arts scene and French architecture, visible by the many colonial villas scattered throughout the city. While it is rapidly developing, the city has retained many of its cultural traditions. Observe elderly people practicing Tai Chi by the lake or witness traditional festivals during the Lunar New Year. Hanoi has a vibrant “street culture” where daily activities, such as hair cutting and eating at food stalls, take place on cramped sidewalks. As Hanoi is becoming more populated with people and automobiles, the city is experiencing more traffic congestion, particularly in the Old Quarter.
A visit to the north is not complete without experiencing the spectacular views of more than 3,000 limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, Ha Long Bay is a naturalist’s dream. Sculpted into strange shapes by the wind and weather, the karsts hide deserted beaches, many magnificent caves, and hidden lagoons that may only be reached by chinks in the cliffs that are revealed at low tide.
Getting here: A 4 hour drive from Hanoi through urbanized areas. You’ll transfer to the docking station, since this is a popular destination, expect bustling scenes of boats and large crowds. All this will be left behind once you sail away to a more serene environment.
Nestled in a valley amongst verdant hills in the northwestern highlands, Mai Chau’s stunning scenery offers excellent opportunities for trekking and mountain biking while providing a glimpse into the village life of the H’mong and White Thai ethnic hill tribes.
Getting here: Mai Chau is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi. Although the drive can be strenuous due to the mountainous roads, it does offer a good view of the countryside.
Set high in Vietnam’s northeast mountains, the hamlet of Sapa offers spectacular views of jagged mountain ridges, terraced rice paddies and green valleys inhabited by people of various ethnic minority groups, most of whom congregate in Sapa’s colorful market. Each group has its own distinctive style of dress. 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. More recently, Sapa has become a tourist mecca. Expect hilltribe vendors to follow you and to be persistent in persuading you to buy their handicrafts. If you buy from one vendor and other vendors see you making purchases, they will attempt to sell you their products too. If you’re not interested, just say ‘no’ and ask your guide to walk you away.
Getting here: The best way to get to Sapa is to take a 10-hour overnight train from Hanoi. Departing at night you wake up refreshed the next morning in Sapa ready to begin your adventure. Visiting a more remote hill tribe market requires a 3 to 4.5 hour drive on bumpy dirt roads through mountains. The trip is for the adventurous; otherwise enjoy your time in nearby hill tribe villages.
Set near the coast in central Vietnam, from the 16th to 19th centuries the riverside town of Hoi An once drew merchants from as far as Japan, India, Indonesia and Europe who bought the area’s silk, spices and porcelain. Hoi An still retains remnants of its trading days as evident in the bustling market and abundance of souvenir and tailor shops. What makes Hoi An remarkable today is that its Old Quarter has been beautifully preserved, the streets still lined with old tile-roofed shop houses, shady pagodas and colorful communal halls earning it the status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hoi An is surrounded by attractive countryside where you can observe the traditional way of life of farmers and fishermen.
Getting here: Hoi An is a 30 minute drive from Danang International Airport.
While imperial rule ended more than six decades ago, the central city of Hue still bears the marks of its royal past. From 1802 to 1945 Hue was home to 13 Nguyen emperors, whose palaces and tombs provide fascinating glimpses into the luxurious and secretive world of the court. During this period, the Imperial City was built according to the practices of Feng Shui that dictates the location and shape of spaces in harmony with both the physical and spiritual. Visitors may explore the red-lacquered pavilions of the Citadel, wander through ancient garden houses, or feast on delicacies once served in the royal palaces.
Getting here: Hue has a small domestic airport. It is a 1 hour flight from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Quy Nhon once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Champa in the 11th century and was an important US naval and military base during the Vietnam War. Today Quy Nhon is a port city with a population of a quarter of a million and is becoming better known for its secluded beaches. A recently-built international hotel offers the possibility of a relaxing break well away from other more traveled paths.
Getting here: Quy Nhon has a small basic domestic airport. It is a 1hr 45minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.
Located in central Vietnam, the sun-washed town of Nha Trang hugs a seven-km-long stretch of golden sand, making this the perfect place to get a dose of sun, surf and fresh seafood. Clear blue seas dotted with offshore islands offer excellent opportunities for diving, fishing and snorkeling, while the town itself is home to some interesting sites, including a massive white Buddha statue and a cluster of Cham towers built between the 7th and 12th centuries. For a truly dirty pleasure try the mineral mud baths warmed by natural hot springs.
Getting here: A 45 minute drive from the small domestic airport located in Cam Ranh City. It is a 1 hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City and 1hr 40min from Hanoi.
Phan Thiet is a large fishing village best known locally for its fish sauce production. Located 200 km from Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet is a gateway to nearby beaches which are popular for both local and tourists alike. Mui Ne, a nearby resort town, has 21 km stretch of sandy beaches lined with hotels, resorts, restaurants, and nightclubs. 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. Other attractions in the area include the white and red sand dunes, Po Klong Garai Cham tower, and Ocean Dune’s Golf Club, a 6746-yard par 72 course designed by Nick Faldo.
Getting here: Phan Thiet is a 4½ hr drive or a 5 hour train ride from Ho Chi Minh City.
Set in Vietnam's picturesque Central Highlands, this quiet town boasts cool mountain air, some of the best-preserved French colonial architecture in Indochina, and stunning natural beauty. Year-round, the temperature hovers around 20˚C (68˚F), making this a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Mountain bikers and hikers will delight in the area’s trails, as well as in views of pine-covered hills, organic farms and lush tea and coffee plantations. Dalat hosts a flower festival every other year which normally takes place in mid-December for one week and features a flower exhibition and a flower parade around Xuan Huong lake.
Getting here: Dalat has a small domestic airport. It is a 45-minute flight or a six hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. From Hanoi it takes 1hr, 40 minutes.
Located off the tip of Vietnam’s south coast, Phu Quoc is a haven for nature and sea lovers looking for a place to unwind. The island is considered “off the beaten track” as it remains remarkably undeveloped. Phu Quoc’s virgin forests and pristine white sand beaches make this an ideal place for trekking, diving, and snorkeling. The infrastructure remains basic with dirt roads and a small number of four-star properties. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway without any distractions or a noisy nightlife then Phu Quoc is the ideal place to visit.
Getting here: A 20 minute flight from Rach Gia (Mekong Delta) or 50 minute flight from HCM City.
Con Dao, or Con Son if referring to the main island in this 16-island archipelago, is possibly the best kept secret in Vietnam. Currently virtually undiscovered - except by the ex-prisoners of the South Vietnamese regime who return to visit their places of incarceration prior to 1975 – Con Dao offers stunning virgin forest, deserted tropical beaches, unique sea life, forgotten prisons being consumed by the jungle, and the possibility to experience a castaway lifestyle without any of the pains normally associated with life 180 kilometers from land. The Con Dao archipelago is an ideal place for nature lovers and an opportunity to visit unspoiled tropical islands before they become developed.
Getting here: Con Dao has a small modern domestic airport. It is a 50-minute flight from HCM City.
Life continues in Vietnam's agrarian heartland much as it has done for centuries. Farmers cultivate paddy fields, tend their orchards of tropical fruit and fish in the rivers and canals that criss-cross this fertile plain. Offering an ideal opportunity to adopt the pace of local life, choose to slow down and cycle along the flat roads of the Delta. You may also choose to visit a farmer’s home, try your hand at fruit picking or explore the myriad waterways on a loud one engine boat as used by locals for their daily transportation.
Located 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho is the gateway to the Delta and is ideal for those who are seeking a glimpse of agrarian river life. Traveling further south, you reach Cai Be, best known for its trading activities at the floating market and traditional craft villages. A 4-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, you reach Can Tho, the heartland of the Delta. Can Tho is famous for its floating market, the largest in the Delta, and its numerous fruit orchards.
Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling metropolis of approximately 10 million people. Formerly known as “Saigon” prior to 1975, today the city is Vietnam’s commercial center. The city’s dynamic energy is apparent in the bustling street scenes with thousands of people on motorbikes constantly on the move. Although Saigon has rapidly developed into a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping centers, there are still remnants of its past visible in the historic landmarks and beautiful French colonial buildings dotted throughout the city. In Saigon, you will still see women dressed in Vietnam’s traditional ao dai tunic stroll past modern trendy boutiques and crowded cafes. You’ll find great nightlife and some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia in this vibrant, fast-changing city. The city is home to people from all aspect of Vietnamese society. You’ll see newly wealthy entrepreneurs in their luxury cars driving past beggars on the street side. As in any large city, petty theft exists and you must exercise caution. From Saigon you can make a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See temple.