The north, middle and end.
Your Vietnam holiday guide.
Planning a holiday anywhere can be a mixed experience. Planning a holiday to Vietnam can be even more so. You’re confronted with the prospect of a long haul flight, international airports and an often beguiling country and culture you know little about.
But don’t fret. Remember why you wanted to go in the first place. Recall the images of Halong Bay, the supercharged streets of Saigon, the epic mountain scenery, deserted coastlines and the delightful cuisine you’ve seen on those celeb cooking shows.
To help ease your planning I’ve put together a quick guide to (in this authors opinion) the very best bits of Vietnam.
Halong Bay: First popularised by the French film Indochine (1993) Halong Bay is a collection of white limestone pillars (around 1,600 in total) chequered with greenery and set amongst deep turquoise waters. These are best enjoyed on a cruise, by day or overnight.
Hanoi: Vietnam’s capital city and arguably its most charming. Centred around the Hoan Kiem lake the city has been influenced (mainly through occupation) by many foreign cultures, the most pernicious of which is French. At Hanoi’s heart is the old quarter. A collection of streets lined with colonial shop fronts, luscious trees, quaint boutiques and delightful restaurants. A great way to gently soak up Hanoi’s atmosphere is relax street-side in one of the city’s many Bia Hoi’s!
In the city you can stroll the banks of the Hoan Kiem Lake (at the center of which is the Turtle Pagoda) and the city’s famed Red Bridge. Elsewhere take a visit to the 18th century Confucian Temple of Literature. Or, if history is more you bag, then take a trip to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
A final tip for Hanoi: leave the bikes and taxi’s, this city is best explored by foot.
Hoi An: An ancient port town, Hoi An offers an ambiance, charm and beauty in equal measure. It’s small streets are dotted with old Japanese influenced shop fronts, Chinese assembly halls and French colonial houses (many have been turned into bakeries that exceed many you’ll find in Paris!). You’ll struggle to see anything built in the past 100 years.
The Beach: And relax. After a 10 minute cab drive (US $4-5 each way) out of Hoi An you’ll find numerous beaches (Cui Dai being one of the better options). Other central Vietnam beach resorts can be found in Hue, Nah Trang and Da Nang. If you’ve got some budget to spare then head to one of Vietnam’s numerous beach-front hotels that range from 3*- 5*.
Ho Chi Minh City, but do as the locals do and just call it Saigon. After a 30 min cab ride from the airport you’ll reach the city center, or District 1. Here you will find local boutiques, international chains, magnificent restaurants and hospitable drinking establishments.
The War Remnants Museum is a must see for anyone with the slightest penchant for history. Here you’ll be given a comprehensive (if a little biased) overview of the American Vietnam war with artefacts you’re not likely to see elsewhere. These include tanks, documentation and some of the conflicts most powerful images. Continue your historical escapades with a tour of the close-by and very kitsch looking Reunification Palace.
As ever the French left their mark with some impressive architecture. Be sure to check out the grand Opera House or the Notre Dame Cathedral.
From Saigon you can arrange a visit to the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi tunnels. Ho Chi Minh Airport (30 min cab from city center) serves almost every airport hub in Asia so onward travel is a doddle.