Having moved on from its recent turbulent and troubled past, Vietnam has emerged as a hot favourite with holidaymakers in search of dramatic scenery, a fascinating culture and some of the most exciting cuisine on the planet.
From the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta to the colourful markets of the North via the bustling excitement of Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam is a country rich in both man-made and natural treasures. Here are just a few of the sights you don’t want to miss when travelling around Vietnam.
In a country full of achingly beautiful scenery, one of the most breathtaking spots is the limestone studded coastline of Halong Bay.
This awe-inspiring natural wonder of over 1900 limestone islets lining a 120 km long coastline is truly epic. Majestic limestone formations jut out in rugged shards from shallow waters rich with marine life that are best explored by kayak or traditional Vietnamese junk.
Venture inside hollow islets to find enormous caves, or discover calm enclosed lakes inside some of the limestone islands such as Dau Be Island. You will also come across floating villages which are home to fishermen who still live the life of their forefathers using the skills passed down from generation to generation. The children here learn to swim before they can walk and some of the fishermen will happily swear that they were born on boats, have lived there all their lives and have never set foot on dry land.
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh is the main city in the South of Vietnam and is the country’s main trading and commercial city. Today the city’s character is a rich mix of influences from the various cultures that have visited over the years. From the sophisticated French boulevards and Notre Dame Cathedral to the ancient Cham art and architecture, examples of which can be seen at the Museum of Vietnamese History.
Whereas the more recent history of this city resonates through the Cu Chi Tunnels created by guerilla fighters. An eerie yet fascinating reminder of the Vietnam War.
No visit to Ho Chi Minh would be complete without tasting some of the fantastic regional cuisine. Head for the bustling Ben Thanh Market in District 1 where a succession of hole-in-the-wall food stalls offer exotic flavours that explode on your taste buds. There is also fine dining aplenty for those looking for stylish surroundings in which to sample modern fusion cuisine. For the ultimate five star dining experience you need look no further than The Deck Saigon, located on the banks of the Saigon River, where relaxed, riverside, open-air dining is the order of the day.
The Mekong Delta
Visitors to the The Mekong Delta become entranced by this lush and fertile region. The gently seductive aroma of rice fields follows you everywhere in the Delta. This is because the rice here in these broad, low lying plains and valleys grows better than almost anywhere else in the world.
The watery landscape is festooned with rice paddies, fish farms and sleepy villages built on stilts. Canals and streams criss-cross the region and are used by its people to tend their farms and bring their produce to market. The floating markets are a highlight of a visit to this triangle of land that points out into the ocean at the southern end of Vietnam. Dotted amongst this verdant habitat visitors will also find bird sanctuaries, orchards, flower markets, impressive Khmer pagodas as well as white-sand beaches from which you can go diving.
Self guided travel is fine, but for many people, a great way to see much of the best of Vietnam is via organised tours of the region. A good itinerary and specialist guides can bring to life what can for many western visitors seem an utterly alien (although undeniably welcoming and friendly) culture.
Victoria Brenner is Director atáThe Couture Travel Company.