1. Sample Hoi An delicacies
Little Hoi An has an almost bewildering selection of mouth-wateringly good restaurants, offering up specialities, such as Cao Lau – rice-flour noodles in soup flavoured with mint and star anise, topped with slices of pork, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons. The elegant restaurant Morning Glory is one of the best places to try it, along with other superbly prepared dishes, for a reasonable price. You can also try your hand at Vietnamese cooking by taking one of many cookery classes available in town.
2. Cruise around Ha Long Bay
An exploration of Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam is a must for any visit to Vietnam. Dramatic limestone rock formations which jut straight up from the water make up the two thousand or so forested islands. Visit the enchanting caves via one of the tours available and, if you can, make time for one of the three-day tours, as you get to spend a night at sea. Swimming and kayaking around the bay’s bright green waters is a glorious experience.
3. Trek around Sa Pa
On a clear day the views around Sa Pa in the far north of Vietnam are breathtaking. Lush terraced rice fields line the steep valley and mountains loom from all sides. It’s the gateway to fantastic trekking country and the reason most visitors come here. Explore the Hoang Lien Son Mountain range, home to Fan Si Pan, Vietnam’s highest mountain, and visit the small ethnic communities still living a traditional way of life.
4. Relax on Phu Quoc Island
Picture postcard Phu Quoc island in the Gulf of Thailand is no longer a well-kept secret. Word is out about its powdery white-sand beaches facing glorious sunsets, its dense jungle, and the laid-back atmosphere of the island. But even though visitor numbers are up, there is still plenty of unspoiled creamy soft sand in which to dig your toes. You can also paddle around the bays in a kayak, or dive around the reefs, weaving among colourful tropical fish and perhaps a hawksbill turtle.
Around half of the island is part of a UNESCO-listed national park and remains pretty much untouched. You’ll find hiking trails in its tropical rainforests, and a fantastic array of wildlife. Zipping on a motorbike is a great way to explore the island’s back roads and quiet fishing villages.
5. Hike and bike around Da Lat
Dubbed the city of Eternal Spring for its year-round cool climate, this former hill station in the Central Highlands, with its winding streets and French colonial-era villas, is the place to head when the heat in cities below becomes stifling. Combine a visit to the splendid Bao Dai’s Summer Palace with the Crazy House, a fairytale riot of twisted cement.
But it’s the area surrounding Da Lat that’s the big draw. Fragrant pine forests and dramatic waterfalls beckon, and alongside hiking there’s the opportunity for mountain biking and rock climbing – or, for those seeking greater thrills, canyoning. You can also rent a motorbike for a bit of adventure, and it’s a great way to explore more of the area.
For a more sedate experience, enjoy the beautiful view via the cable car to the Truc Lam Pagoda.
6. Stay in a Stilthouse on The Pu Luong Nature Reserve
This spectacular nature reserve in the northern coastal area of Vietnam is as yet comparatively unknown to outsiders. Trek amid magnificent rice terraces, and visit the white Thai or Muong minority groups, some of which offer home-stay accommodation. You can help prepare a meal and join in with family life, and then bed down in a thatched stilthouse.
7. Soak up the sights and smells of Hanoi
A visit to Vietnam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its capital city. Hanoi, with its constant buzz of motorbikes and general hubbub is the place to experience city life at full throttle. Wander the sinuous streets of the Old Quarter, with its narrow red roofed tube-houses, temples and pagodas, and whir of street vendors. Perch on a plastic stool and watch the hectic world go by over a cup of Vietnamese coffee or glass of beer.
Check out the atmospheric French Quarter, with its impressive Opera House, and visit the many cultural and historical sites, such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum of Ethnology.
Everywhere you go you’ll be hit with the scent of delicious street food, such as the traditional breakfast dish of pho, a beef noodle soup.
Written by Rough Guides