Steamy jungles, endless beaches and ancient cities form the backdrop of a trip to Vietnam – a country steeped in history and culture. From the traditional lifestyle of indigenous hill tribes to the intoxicating flavors of local cuisine, this southeast Asian country promises an unforgettable sensory experience.
With its colourful history and spectacular landscapes, Vietnam is one of the most rewarding destinations in Southeast Asia.
- Get lost among the ancient streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and sample Vietnamese street food with the locals
- Marvel at the majesty of Halong Bay, where 3,000 limestone karsts rise from the sea like monsters from the deep
- Breath in the fresh air around Sapa, where hill tribes and villages still follow a traditional way of life
- Feast on fresh local cuisine in Hoi An, or take a cooking course to learn the secret to a good pho
When to visit
Vietnam’s climate is as varied as its geography. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Hanoi and Halong Bay, which get hot and humid in the summer. Temperatures drop to freezing in the far north and the Central Highlands during the winter, but spring and autumn promise moderate temperatures with little rain. Spring and early summer months are usually warm and dry in Hue, Danang and Hoi An, before the rains begin in August. Southern coast beaches are warm year-round.
Areas of Vietnam
Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam’s Red River Valley was settled by the Hong Bang Dynasty almost 5,000 years ago. Millennia of dynastic rule were interrupted by intermittent periods of Chinese occupation, until the French assumed control in 1887. Vietnam, or French Indochina, became an important source of tobacco, tea and coffee, and French settlers in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – left their mark on the architecture of the country. Vietnam claimed independence from the French under Ho Chi Minh in 1954, but the ideological divide between the north and south quickly descended into the Vietnam War, which raged until 1976. The country now enjoys relative peace, and the rapid growth of tourism in the last 10 years has created economic stability and employment for many.
Attractions of Vietnam
The Vietnamese capital is home to more than 7.5 million people; a sometimes-elegant mass of wide tree-lined boulevards, narrow alleys and the constant buzz of motorcycles. The French Quarter captures the spirit of old French Indochina, with glorious period architecture including the 105-year-old Hanoi Opera House, modelled on the Garnier Opera in Paris. In the labyrinthine Old Quarter, 36 streets named after the trade for which they are known are home to artisans and traders who hawk their wares in open-air markets. Home to some of the city’s top attractions including the Temple of Literature and the One-Pillar Pagoda, you could easily lose a day wandering the streets and soaking in the atmosphere. Nearby, Hoan Kiem Lake (or Sword Lake) is the heart and soul of the city.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Home to towering limestone karsts and a vast network of caves and underground rivers, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is a must for action adventurers. Dozens of caves can be explored on foot or by boat on guided tours, including Phong Nha, which plunges almost 45 kilometres deep into the earth. Above ground, forested cliffs and crystal clear rivers teem with wildlife and pathways lead mountain bikers deep into the jungle.
The visual impact of the 3,000 limestone rock formations emerging from the sea at Halong Bay is exacerbated by seasonal mists (January to March) and spellbinding sunsets, forming one of the most iconic and endearing images of Vietnam. Visit on a day trip from Hanoi, or take an overnight cruise to experience the bay at its best and kayak among the islands.
In 1802, the administrative capital of the country was moved from Hanoi to Hue, where the Imperial City was built for emperor Gia Long of the Nguyen dynasty. The Imperial City citadel and its manicured gardens make up one section of the city, while the residential area of Phu Cat provide a contrast on the other side of the Perfume River, with ancient pagodas and waterfront houses. Hue’s recent inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list has helped restore some of the ancient buildings, which suffered catastrophic damage during the war, and today it’s one of Vietnam’s most endearing destinations.
Some of the most evocative sites from the Vietnam War can be found in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) – the official no-mans-land between North and South Vietnam – which carved the country in two along the Ben Hai River. The thousands of tombstones of Truong Son National Cemetery are a powerful reminder of the tragic toll the war took on Vietnam’s population, and Khe Sanh Combat Base was the site of one of the most bitter battles. The Vinh Moc Tunnels are a two-kilometre network of underground tunnels used by villagers to escape the bombs at the peak of the war.
Framed by a ring of white sand beaches that vanish into the South China Sea, Danang sits half way down the Central Coast. The Son Tra Peninsula is home to the Linh Ung Buddhist Temple and its 67-metre high statue of the Lady Buddha, as well as gorgeous beaches and a 1000-year-old banyan tree. When you’ve had your fill of the beach, take a guided tour of the Marble Mountains – five hulking monoliths that rise from the landscape. Home to labyrinthine tunnels that were used by the Viet Cong during the war, the mountains are also dotted with Buddhist and Hindu temples and pagodas. The Museum of Cham sculpture in downtown Danang is the world’s biggest collection of artefacts from the Champa kingdom, which once covered modern Vietnam and Cambodia.
Once a bustling port on the Thu Bon River, Hoi An is an ancient town of narrow alleyways, elaborate pagodas and traditional merchant houses – a complex web of shops, residential buildings and wooden bridges, which glows at night with the light of thousands of lanterns. Today, Hoi An is as well-known for its food as its aesthetic appeal, thanks to a glut of excellent restaurants, cafes and cookery schools that have helped it earn the title of Vietnam’s foodie capital. Between meals, visit one of the local tailors, who can measure, cut and fit a silk suit in less than a day.
Not far from Hoi An are the Cham ruins of My Son, an ancient Hindu temple. Much of the site was destroyed by bombing during the war, but what remains is an arresting collection of red-brick temples with bright patches of green foliage growing from their walls.
Con Dao Islands
For years, the 16 islands of Con Dao were a French penal colony, where unlucky souls were sent to live out their days in tropical hardship. Today, things couldn’t be different. Home to some of Vietnam’s top luxury hotels and many of the most spectacular beaches in southeast Asia, Con Dao is world’s apart from the frenetic streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Getting there requires a flight from Ho Chi Minh, but its well worth the effort to reach the idyllic islands, which are surrounded with warm waters teeming with turtles, dugong and other marine life.
Just off the coast of the Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc is a mesmerising island of untouched beaches, mangrove forests and jungle-covered mountains. Much of the 567 square kilometre island is a national park covering land and marine habitats. The warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand are home to pristine coral reef, myriad species of tropical fish, hawksbill turtle and the elusive dugong, gentle giant creatures. The forested slopes and wild beaches of the northern mountains are home to a wide variety of wildlife including long-tailed macaques, slow loris and silver langurs.
Discover Myanmar and its fascinating culture from the bustling city to local villages with crystal clear lakes where you can watch Burmese fishermen rowing with one leg while using both hands to fish. Take in breath-taking backdrops of the sunset over the lake or fascinating scenery of Bagan and Mount Popa.
Home to more than 100 different ethnic groups, Myanmar is a beautifully diverse and culturally rich country with white beaches, clear blue lakes and fascinating history and traditions. Discover the stunning attractions in Myanmar and the country’s striking uniqueness. Explore Yangon’s historic buildings, tree-lined streets, lakes and visit the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, a must see landmark of Myanmar. Don’t leave without taking a stroll through the bustling Bogyoke Aung San market, also known as Scott’s Market.
Soak up the sun at stunning Ngapali Beach which stretches natural and unspoiled along the Bay of Bengal. For a truly breathtaking experience, take a hot air balloon over Bagan and gaze at the incredible scenery of the templestrewn plains of this beautiful city.