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Travel inspiration: The best of Vietnam

Vietnam is a country bursting with flavours of more than one sort. Beautiful architecture meets crumbling ancient structures, picturesque rice terraces flow through the valley like rolling waves and the cities radiate a chaotic yet captivating atmosphere. Vietnam provides travellers with stunning countryside, unassuming beaches and a delightful assortment of food. So if you like your holiday packed with new adventures, plenty of history and enough variety to be wowed at every turn, then look no further than this southeast Asian gem. Here are our top recommendations for a trip to Vietnam. Sail around Halong Bay Halong Bay is one of the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam. Located on the northern coast, the area consists of soaring limestone islets sat upon calm water which is bursting with marine life. The unique formations of the rock, the lush green foliage that covers them and the stunning blue sea creates a paradisaical location which is perfect for switching off and immersing yourself in nature. The best way to experience Halong Bay is aboard a traditional junk boat that sails around the bay. You’ll sleep in the heart of Halong and enjoy beautiful sunrises and sunsets, plenty of water-based activities and the chance to simply exist in such a peaceful corner of the world. Visit the most important historical sites of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formally known as Saigon) are the two largest cities in Vietnam. Both offer an abundance of historical and cultural sites which should not be missed on a holiday through Vietnam, especially if you wish to educate yourself on the long history of the country. In Ho Chi Minh City, visit the War Remnants Museum, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the South Vietnam Women’s Museum, for an insight into the roles that women played during and after the war. In Hanoi, you can discover Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, the Stilt House and the famous 1-Pillar Pagoda. Moreover, Hanoi has a charming Old Quarter which is best explored while getting lost down the many side streets. Be sure to stop off for a famous egg coffee – a speciality in Vietnam! Take part in a local cooking class Vietnam is known for its delicious and fresh local food. It doesn’t matter which corner of the country you are exploring, you’ll be faced with an abundance of fresh and colourful herbs and vegetables, exotic sauces and some truly tasty dishes. Some of the most popular are fresh spring rolls, a hot bowl of pho or seafood curries. Cooking classes are a fantastic way to learn the secrets behind the cuisine while experiencing the markets at the same time. Most local classes will take you on a tour of the chosen market where you will pick up the ingredients, before cooking up a storm. These classes are a fantastic way to learn more about the local way of life too. The Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, as an example, gives you the chance to ride a basket boat, visit a coconut tree forest and even do some fishing too! Take in the vibrance of Hoi An A visit to Vietnam isn’t complete without setting your eyes on the colourful charm of Hoi An – a city famous for its multicoloured lanterns which are peppered throughout the streets. Hoi An originally served as a trading port due to its coastal location around the 15th century, while there is evidence it was also inhabited by the Cham people from around the 10th century. In fact, because of its well preserved examples of a southeast Asian trading port, the town was added to the UNESCO list in 1999. It offers some fantastic examples of architecture that hold both traditional and international influence – most notably the famous Japanese Bridge that dates back to the 16th century. Hoi An was largely spared during the Vietnam War and so many of the buildings are impeccably well preserved. Hoi An is also famously known for its tailor-shops and if you look in the right place, you can get some really great custom made pieces at affordable prices. Cruise around the Mekong Delta on a long-tail boat The Mekong River spans an impressive 4,350 kilometres, making it the seventh longest river in Asia. It runs from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and the Mekong Delta is the area in southern Vietnam where the river empties into the ocean. It has long been an important place for all aspects of life in the south. Many of the villages here are much easier to access by riverboat than by land! The Delta is a canvas of floating homes, vendors selling their produce on long-tail boats and picturesque rolling hills in the backdrop. There are various day or overnight trips to the Mekong Delta where you can experience the floating markets, taste some local fruit or even stay in a traditional home-stay. Appreciate the history of Hue Hue was the capital city of Vietnam between 1802 and 1945 and was also the location of the infamous Battle of Hue – the bloodiest conflict of the Vietnam War. Located on the central coast and sat on the Perfume River, Hue has an abundance of historic sites and unique garden houses which offer a glimpse into the past Mandarin lifestyle in Hue. The well preserved village of garden houses is the former residence of the high mandarins and members of the royal family, and oozes luxury with their exotic gardens and tall trees. The most popular attraction of Hue is the 19th century citadel, surrounded by a moat and lovely ponds sprinkled with water lilies. It houses palaces and temples as well as seven imperial tombs and the imperial city – once home to Vietnam’s emperors. Go hiking in Sapa Sapa is a gem of northern Vietnam, with its rolling rice fields, mountain ranges (including the highest mountain in Vietnam – Fansipan!) and fantastic views. It’s most famous for its walking and hiking trails which give you fantastic insight into the Vietnamese countryside. Sapa town itself is small and unassuming, yet there are a few points of interest such as the cathedral, a museum and local markets. Hiking between the villages is very accessible and one of the most popular activities for travellers in the north. Temperatures are generally cooler too, making walking more enjoyable. You can expect to reach Sapa in around five hours by train from Hanoi, so while a day trip would be too rushed it’s the perfect overnight experience to get away from the city. Visit Phu Quoc Island If getting off the beaten path and searching for some of the best beaches is your kind of thing, then look no further than Vietnam’s Phu Quoc, an unassuming island off the coast of Cambodia. This pretty and lesser visited tropical paradise is full of lovely beaches, crystal blue water to swim and a huge national park for hiking and exploring. The district consists of 29 islands, and while most are inhabited it’s possible to reach them by boat for a day trip, although most of them require a local tour and guide. Phu Quoc itself boasts 150 kilometres of stunning coast, a great selection of accommodation and restaurants and enough adventure activities to keep you occupied for as long as you need! On top of that, have you ever wanted to spend the night in a tropical over water bungalow? While they are normally associated with the likes of the Maldives (with a price tag to match!) Phu Quoc offers the same experience for a much more affordable stay. Matt Gannan is the CEO and Owner of Tucan Travel. Tucan Travel operate cultural tours in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Europe, as well as tailor-made holidays in Latin America, Africa and Asia. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Matt Gannan

Matt Gannan is the CEO and owner of Tucan Travel. Tucan Travel is an adventure travel tour operator that specialises in South America, where they started 32 years ago in Colombia. They run tours in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Europe and Southeast Asia, where travellers can choose between over-landing tours, small group tours or tailor-made holidays. Tucan Travel pride themselves in offering authentic adventures where customers can experience once in a lifetime activities. Cruising through the Okavango Delta in Botswana, exploring the lesser known country of Kosovo, conquering the Inca Trail or watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat – the options are endless. Tucan Travel has a strong focus on sustainability and responsible travel and were delighted to win South America’s Leading Green Tour Operator in the 2018 World Travel Awards.

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  1. If you could pack all of these highlights into a Vietnam trip you’d really have a dream holiday but I think you’d probably need a few days on Phu Quoc’s paradise beaches to recover from your exertions.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom. I would suggest about two weeks to see the highlights of the country, and if you can squeeze in more time on the island then perfect!

  2. Last year my daughter returned from travelling. She talks more about Vietnam than all the other wonderful places she visited, staying in Vietnam far longer than she planned.

    1. Glad your daughter had a great time Julie. It’s often one of travellers favourite places if they travel Southeast Asia.

  3. If these pictures are anything to go by then Vietnam is in remarkably good shape. It’s one of those countries that I’ve always said that I want to visit. It’s amazing how the country has bounced back from war and trauma. A friend took the Reunification Express recently and that’s something that I would like to try too.

    1. Hi Ellen, thanks for your comment. Vietnam has transformed (and continues to do so!) over the years indeed. I hope you do get to visit one day :) All the best

  4. I fell in love with Vietnam when I visited in 2018. Hoi An was a particular highlight – you’re not joking when you say the whole of the old quarter is covered in colourful lanterns! I would love to return one day and explore more of the south, I didn’t get to visit the Mekong.

    1. Glad you enjoyed your trip there Jane – it’s such a special place. Hoi An is a regular on peoples “highlights” list! All the best

  5. Asian countries have truly preserved their culture, it has beautiful sunny days, and welcoming locals. These are only few reasons why the number of tourists is abundant in asian countries especially during summer or holiday season. Aside from the historical sites featured in this article that tourists can visit in Vietnam, I also suggest visiting markets around the country. By doing so, one will be able to discover more about the local culture, food, and traditions. The vietnamese cuisine is also something worth trying because of its vibrancy in terms of flavor. Their beaches and mountains are also breathtaking and relaxing. It shows the beauty of Vietnam’s natural landscapes and how they are able to preserve it properly up until this day.

  6. My grandfather was sent to Vietnam during the war to entertain war soldiers, he was a guitarist who played for a number of bands and he loved music. I remember when I was a kid he used to tell good stories about a peaceful time in Vietnam that I looked forward to visiting when I grow up. Now that I have the means to travel, I’d love to fulfill that dream even when my grandfather passed on already. I know many things have changed since then but somehow I’d like to find that image my grandfather left of Vietnam even if it is a different place.

  7. The lockdowns gave me the time to think long and hard about where I really wanted to travel too. I’m pretty much fixed on Vietnam. The more I research things like this the more certain I am that it’s gonna be the place for me.

  8. I’ve never been to Vietnam and the more I read about it the more I want to go. It is a country which seems to have so much history and variety.

  9. I’m back from my first post-pandemic overseas trip. Admittedly only from Gatwick to Malaga and it all went perfectly so after 3 years off from travel I’ve now got my confidence back.

    For some time now, Vietnam has been up there on my travel bucket list. Glad I came across this as it gave me some inspiration on where to go and what to do.

  10. Watching Michael Portillo, in his yellow trousers, on television I got a good taste of Vietnam. He was on one of his great rail journeys of exploration.

    It’s a superbly researched programme as Portillo meets some really interesting characters who take you to the heart of the country. He’s very direct with his questions too,

    If made me want to go back to Vietnam again so I thought I’d start doing some research.

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