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Vietnam is a Southeast Asian marvel where bustling cities thrive alongside timeless villages, where age-old traditions accommodate modern changes, where limitless natural wonders await and where you will experience one of the finest cuisines in the world. Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbours like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, this treasure of the Southeast is gaining attention in recent times, and rightly so. The country takes the shape of a long snaky ‘S’ and boasts of a diverse natural landscape, from hilly mountains and forests to sandy beaches and charming islands. Its rich history and ancient structures add a cultural flavour, making your trip to Vietnam wholesome in every way.
Vietnam’s capital Hanoi is located in the north of the country and is an excellent place to try out the famed Vietnamese street food experience. The city is packed with historical monuments, French architecture and classical pagodas. The city is also a great shopping destination and hosts amazing night markets. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake are the major highlights. Make sure you catch a water puppet show, which is the unique and traditional Vietnamese form of theatre. You can get excellent views of Hanoi’s cityscape from the 65th floor observation deck in the iconic skyscraper – Lotte Center.
Hanoi is also the starting point for Vietnam’s most iconic destination – Halong Bay. Watching thousands of rainforest-covered limestone islands towering above the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin is an extraordinary sight to behold. Going on a junk boat tour is the best way to experience Halong Bay.
North of Hanoi, Sapa is a mountain town, which is home to the beautiful Muong Hoa Valley and is landscaped by paddy terraces and quaint villages. Its rugged terrain is perfect for trekking and also houses the highest mountain in the country, Fan Si Pan.
Located about 100km south of Hanoi is Ninh Binh which is known for its scenic boat cave tours. The highlight of the province is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Tràng An Scenic Landscape Complex, which includes Vietnam’s largest pagoda – Bai Dinh.
In Central Vietnam lies Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park – a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong. The national park’s karst mountains are believed to be the oldest in Asia. The park is made up of mountains, forests, underground rivers, and extensive cave systems.
The former capital of Vietnam, Hue (pronounced who-a) is known for its walled Imperial City. Alongside its modern architecture, you can witness some of the best remains of imperial Vietnam and this blending of old and new is the most fascinating thing about Hue.
The coastal city of Da Nang is home to one of Vietnam’s latest architectural wonders – the Golden Bridge, more popularly known as ‘God’s Hand’. But it is more importantly a gateway to Hoi An, situated about 30km away. Cycling through Hoi An’s well-preserved Ancient Town, staying at a boutique hotel and investigating the carefully restored historical mansions and temples could perhaps be the most memorable experience of your trip.
Southern Vietnam is home to the country’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city – Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Once known as Saigon, it was renamed after the country’s first president, Ho Chi Minh in 1975. It is an energetic city dotted with skyscrapers and museums where you can learn of the Vietnam-US war and see relics from those days. HCMC also has a legendary street food culture and Ben Thanh Street Food Market is a dream destination for foodies. From HCMC you can visit Cat Tien National Park – a biodiverse park with tropical rainforests which offer excellent birdwatching, hiking and mountain biking opportunities.
Apart from HCMC, other notable cities in Southern Vietnam are Da Lat and Nha Trang. Da Lat is known as Vietnam’s “City of Eternal Spring” for its unique spring-like weather throughout the year. Dotted with hills, forests, lakes, and waterfalls, Da Lat is Southern Vietnam’s adventure-sports capital, where you can enjoy canyoning, mountain biking, white-water rafting and trekking. Nha Trang is a resort city located on the coast of the South China Sea and is home to a pristine beach, a beautiful island-dotted bay and offers excellent nightlife and delicious seafood. Mui Ne, once a small fishing village is another top beach destination and is a popular hub for sailing, windsurfing and kite-surfing.
Southern Vietnam is home to Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island is known for its white-sand beaches and resorts. More than half of the island is designated as Phu Quoc National Park – a great place for camping, hiking and nature watching. The jungle-clad islands of the Con Dao archipelago are surrounded by coral-reefs and secluded beaches, and are a hiking wonderland. The island group’s main island Con Dao was once known as Devil’s Island because of its notorious prison which was shut down after the Vietnam War in 1975 but is now open to visitors.
Vietnam is like that introverted guy who shys away from everyone at first, but once you start knowing him better, you will realise how wonderful he is.
Thousands of rainforest-covered limestone islands of Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s biggest attractios.