Vibrant cities. Pristine beaches. Cultural quests and outdoor adventuring. Curving along more than 1,600 kilometres of the eastern edge of the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam offers something for everyone. Here are five fantastic places to start your explorations.
Broad, tree-lined boulevards and French architecture have earned capital city Hanoi the nickname ‘Paris of the Orient’, and it’s the perfect destination for a city-break. In addition to providing a fascinating window into the country’s history, it’s an energetic and colourful city with excellent food, nightlife and shopping. The Old Quarter in particular teams with restaurants and stores housed in charming old shop houses, with vendors selling everything imaginable - hill tribe costumes, sneakers, art, housewares, jewellery, clothing and more.
Ha Long Bay
A two-hour drive east from Hanoi to the coast lands you at one of Asia’s natural wonders: Ha Long Bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay comprises a cluster of more than 3,000 monolithic limestone islands rising dramatically from the ocean, several of which have giant caves ripe for exploration by intrepid travellers.
Hoi An sits on the country’s central coast, midway between Hanoi and Ho Chin Minh. A UNESCO-listed town known as the “Living Museum of Vietnam”, it has served as a major trading port from the end of the 1500s. Now known in part for its abundance of affordable tailors, the city has become a favourite destination for travellers who appreciate its narrow backstreets [apic src="Hoi-An-street-lanterns.jpg" pos="left"]and historic buildings in styles influenced by Japanese, French, Chinese and Vietnamese traders. At night, many streets are closed to cars and motorbikes, and the city springs to life with brightly coloured lanterns.
Further south, Mui Ne also offers pristine and sweeping beaches perfect for soaking up the sun, and warm, clear waters that invite swimming and watersports. For exploring on dry land, check out the hiking trails that meander through high rolling sand dunes and charming villages.
Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City sits 1,100 kilometres south of Hanoi and is the commercial hub of Vietnam. Big, busy and increasingly international, it encapsulates the energy driving Vietnam forward and is an excellent launch pad for ventures to the coast, where some of South East Asia’s most pristine beaches are to be found.