9 ways to experience the best of Vietnam
Sometimes we're seeking quiet moments of reflection in the mountains, other times the thrill of city life. Where can you find the perfect mix of both? Vietnam*!
This S-shaped country of neon-green rice paddies, sugarloaf mountains, burgeoning cities, rare wildlife and a coastline of some 2,000 miles doesn't disappoint. From north to south, here's a tantalising glimpse of the best experiences in Vietnam.
Getting to Vietnam: try these experiences and more on a guided trip to Vietnam with Wendy Wu Tours*.
Rickshaw around old Hanoi
In times gone by, artisans made paper, calligraphy brushes, coffins, baskets and bricks to serve the imperial court of Hanoi*'s Thang Long Citadel. They tinkered in narrow streets named after each trade.
Today, the 36 streets of the makers' guilds are vibrant with businesses, shops, cafés, and food stalls, and are still home to some of those original arts and crafts.
This intriguing old quarter of Hanoi is best explored by cyclo (rickshaw) navigating past motorbike traffic, pedestrians and pavement stools.
Cruise Halong Bay
Halong Bay* in the Gulf of Tonkin is an ethereal limestone wonderland of rocky pillars sprouting from the emerald green sea.
Back in the myths of time a dragon showered 1,000 pearls from its mouth creating thousands of karstic battlements to defend Vietnam from invasion.
Take at least an overnight cruise; more than one night will transport you to the more distant less busy Bai Tu Long, sailing past this otherworldly watery seascape.
Go trekking in Sapa
French colonisers escaped the suffocating heat of the capital Hanoi by moving to the mountains during the summer months. Sapa*, in the northwest of the country, founded as a hill station promised them relief.
They built homes up in the Alpinesque air in the Hoang Lien Son Mountains today beautifully contoured with rice paddies. Come for the trekking, to explore high-altitude life and visit the Black Hmong and Red Dao minority communities.
Want sky-high views? Mount Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak, once only reachable on foot, can now be visited by a glide above the clouds in a cable car.
Explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang Park
Always fancied an Indiana Jones-style escapade? Make your way to the rugged limestone region of central Vietnam where, deep in the UNESCO-protected Phong Nha-Ke Bang Park, the world's largest cave, Son Doong, is punched into the earth.
An expedition underground is expensive. But the park, home to hornbills and rare langurs, villages, churches and paddies, shelters other spectacular caves that are accessible on one or two-day trips.
Stay longer with locals at homestays and dine on farm-to-fork lunches with views across the Song Con River.
Indulge in Hue
The dragon emperors of Vietnam's imperial family, the Nguyen Dynasty, built their citadel, a Forbidden City, at Hue on the central waist of the country.
They also spent much time and a lot of money mulling over their afterlife. Along the city's Perfume River, they designed and built their elaborately carved temple tombs for their mortal remains.
After exploring the sites of the royal court, visit An Hien, a garden home in the city that once belonged to a princess. It's beautifully built in wood and shaded with gardens of apricot, jasmine and a lily flower pond. Hue also serves up some of Vietnam's tastiest food!
See Hoi An by bike
Unfurling along the tranquil Thu Bon River is Hoi An*, an ancient trading port of temples, merchant homes and the exquisite Japanese Bridge.
Stroll the streets busy with markets, shops, restaurants and cafés, and dip into the low-slung ochre-hued buildings of the old quarter.
Sync with the city's rhythms by pedalling through rice paddies to meet farmers and paddle in a round basket boat used by fishermen.
Then explore the delicious tastes of Hoi An with a hands-on cooking class. Before you leave, order some new shirts from the city's renowned tailors.
Get to know the Central Highlands
Dalat enjoys a more European air with a golf course, parks, flower gardens and lakes.
Come for the cool mountain air favoured by the French rulers, quirky buildings, strawberries at the market, café culture and huge, thundering waterfalls.
Curious about Dalat's inland neighbours in the Central Highlands? Visit the country's capital of coffee culture at Buon Ma Thuot, then push north to explore the off-the-beaten-track ethnic minority homelands around Kontum and Pleiku.
Delve into HCMC
A city of motorbikes and fantastic aromatic food, Ho Chi Minh City is a riot. The remnants of the French colonial era are, each year, dwarfed by the high-rise climb of Vietnam's biggest, brashest city.
Explore the city's food by fairy lights by riding pillion (behind the driver) on a vintage Vespa tour by night or go freestyle by hiring your own motorbike taxi (xeôm).
After taking in the city's sights, head to the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war, and the extraordinary colourful Cao Dai Cathedral nearby.
Find peace in the madness by meeting Buddhists in their beautifully designed calming space at Zen House.
Take an eco-cruise up the Mekong
The lush fruit trees, mangroves and flowering plants of the Mekong Delta shelter towns and villages where life is rooted in fishing, farming and ancient trades.
Rise early for a floating market where locals sell pineapples, coconuts and tropical veg from their boats in a cacophony of trading calls. Want to know what they're selling? Look out for the fruit and veg hung on tall poles on the boats.
The best way to explore the river is by boat. The new slo-mo Victoria Mekong, the first eco-cruise ship on the river, also ploughs a different waterway from every other cruise boat in the Delta as it makes its way up to the Cambodian border, and beyond, stopping at villages, temples, markets, museums, and nature reserves along the way.
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