Vietnam has come a long way since the days of the Vietnam/American War. Today, travelers from around the world flock here to take in the incredible landscapes, tasty cuisine and interesting culture and history. Take in the frenetic energy of Saigon, tour ancient wooden shops along the river in Hoi An, or relax on the beach on tranquil Phu Quoc Island. Vietnam is a huge country, so if you find yourself getting bored in one spot, you can always move on to the next spot for an entirely different scene.
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, and home to some of Vietnam’s most iconic landmarks. This northern city is the site of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, where visitors line up to gaze upon the liberation leader’s embalmed body, the legendary Hoan Kiem Lake, where it is said a giant turtle still roams the depths, and the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university founded in the year 1076. Hanoi is also one of the fastest growing foodie capitals in Southeast Asia, so it is easy to find anything from fine Asian-fusion, French and traditional Vietnamese cuisine, as well as exotic dishes such as fried scorpions, cheap street eats, and roadside drinking stations with fresh beer for just pennies a glass.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Located in the south of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City was once (and still sometimes is) called Saigon. Due to its geographic location, Saigon tends to be much warmer than the north, and some would even say that this extends to the people as well. This is where you will find many eye-opening remnants of the American War, including the War Museum, the Reunification Palace, and just outside the city, the Cu Chi Tunnels. On a brighter note, Saigon is also quickly morphing into a mecca for budding fashion designers, up-and-coming restaurants, boutique shops and innovative nightlife venues in Vietnam and beyond.
It is easy to imagine you are taking a step back in time when you stroll through the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An. Hoi An is a small city made up of ancient wooden shops, houses, meeting halls and bridges that straddle a lazy river. This was once a major shipping port for Chinese and Japanese traders, but now the streets are filled with tourists taking in the historic buildings, boutiques and restaurants on the pedestrian-free laneways. This is also the place to order custom-made clothing, as the city is packed with inexpensive tailors and textile vendors.
Nha Trang and Mui Ne
For sun, sea and sand, Nha Trang and Mui Ne are where it’s at. Nha Trang is popular for its great seafood restaurants, water sports along the sands, and the infamous party boat cruises that include all you can drink sessions out on the sea. For a quieter seaside getaway, Mui Ne is where you will find long stretches of rolling sand dunes, excellent kite surfing conditions, and small bungalows and guesthouses just steps from the sands.
If trekking is your thing, Sapa is the place to be in Vietnam. This stunning mountain town is smack-dab in the middle of the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, close to the Vietnamese and Chinese border. This makes it an excellent base to explore jagged emerald peaks, verdant rice terraces and quaint hillside villages with friendly locals and colorful markets.
Phu Quoc and Con Dao Islands
If you truly want to get away from it all, the islands off the southern coast of Vietnam are oases of white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, small beachside barbecue and beer shacks, and miles of unexplored jungles and hills. For days spent sunbathing, swimming and snacking on superb seafood, Phu Quoc offers a wide range of accommodation, from rustic beach huts to luxurious resort suites. If natural beauty and escapism is your idea of the perfect getaway, head to the Con Dao islands for deserted beaches and stunning natural beauty.