Formerly a hill station for European visitors in the early 20th century, Sapa is now firmly established as a base for touring the spectacular mountains of northern Vietnam. The region is home to various ethnic minorities who offer village homestays, and climbing Mount Fansipan is a highlight for more intrepid visitors. The Sunday market at nearby Bac Ha is one of northern Vietnam’s most chaotic & photogenic experiences.
Want spectacular scenery, great trekking/cycling, and ethnic hilltribe villages, but don’t have time to go as far as Sapa? Mai Chau is the place for you! Less than 4 hours south of Hanoi & located in a stunning valley, Mai Chau is home to many ethnic Thai communities who live on farming and, increasingly, homestays. The colourful Sunday market draws in tribespeople from all over the region and is a most colourful sight.
Known as “Halong Bay on land”, the Ninh Binh area features some stunning scenery as well as a national park and some ancient temples. Cruise along quiet waterways amongst limestone karsts in Tam Coc & Kenh Ga; explore beautiful Cuc Phuong National Park; and visit the temples of Hoa Lu and stunning Phat Diem cathedral. A truly quirky and under-explored area of Vietnam.
If Vietnam can be said to have one marquee attraction, one place you simply must not miss, then Halong Bay is it. Almost 2000 limestone islands set in over 1500km2 of scenic bay, it is a genuinely stunning, breathtaking place and is currently in contention for Natural Wonder of the World status. An overnight junk cruise is the best way to experience Halong – but make sure you book the right boat as there are a LOT of cowboy operators around!
Vietnam’s capital is a captivating mix of old-world colonial charm and Asian bustle. Its charismatic Old Quarter, nestling on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, is the main draw for visitors – a dense network of narrow streets & alleyways housing hundreds of shops, restaurants & bars – while peaceful West Lake is an oasis of calm from the noise of the city centre.
Formerly Vietnam’s imperial capital, Hue is a quiet provincial city located on the Perfume River, its imperial past evident in its citadel, Imperial City, royal mausoleums and Thien Mu pagoda. It’s also a great spot for visiting the DMZ area (including the Moc Ba tunnel complex, a more authentic alternative to Cu Chi), scenic Lang Co and the Hai Van Pass, Bach Ma National Park, and Thuan An beach.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An attracts more repeat visitors than anywhere else in Vietnam, and it’s not hard to see why. An immaculately preserved 16th century trading port, Hoi An sits on the Thu Bon river and boasts countless historic buildings as well as plenty of shops, some lovely boutique hotels, and a unique local cuisine all its own. And there’s even a superb beach just 15 minutes out of town.
Originally established by the French as a cool mountain getaway from the heat of Saigon, Dalat remains a popular tourist spot, with its mix of historical charm, mountain scenery, its picturesque lake and one of the country’s finest golf courses.
Big, bold & brash, Nha Trang is Vietnam’s most popular beach destination, a lively seaside spot with plenty of big luxury hotels & resorts (as well as plenty of cheaper guesthouses), a big beach, a waterpark, and a wide range of local & international dining options.
Around 4 ½ hours’ drive from HCMC, Mui Ne is a very popular beach destination for tourists and resident expats alike, a scenic strip of beach lined with low-rise bungalow-style resorts and a great selection of bars & restaurants.