Top 10 Things to See and Do
1. Elected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay is a place steeped in eerie mysticism and superlative beauty. Hundreds of islands rise from the translucent waters, and caves and grottoes of all shapes and sizes are carved into the dramatic limestone. We’d recommend a two-day overnight cruise around the bay if you have time - even then, you’ll feel like you could have stayed longer!
2. Hanoi is the prime example of a city where Old Asia has collided with New, and created somewhere uniquely fascinating. Explore the tangled web of winding streets that comprise the Old Quarter, eat at stylish restaurants, visit a plethora of museums and galleries and wake at dawn to watch t’ai chi taking place on the shores of Hoan Kiem lake.
3. The dreamy, watercolour landscape of the Mekong Delta is best explored by boat; cruise through the green paddies and small sleepy villages of an area that produces enough rice to feed the entire country (with plenty left to spare), and also cultivates sugarcane, coconut, shrimp and fruit.
4. A vibrant city that seems to pulsate with an endless supply of dizzying colour and roaring energy, Ho Chi Minh City is a metropolis on the rise. From bustling markets to decrepit wooden shops, soaring skyscrapers to ornate churches, the contrasts are captivating and the journey of discovery is endless.
5. Escape the bustle of the city to the hills of Sapa in the quieter northwest of the country; the small town of Sapa overlooks a stunning vista of mountains plunging into valleys that are studded with rice terraces and often shrouded in mist. The hiking and trekking opportunities are excellent, and the views are nothing short of spectacular.
6. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the port town of Hoi An boasts atmospheric cobbled lanes, regal architecture and a stately riverside setting. It also has an emerging restaurant scene and a multitude of cultural attractions, all without any of the congestion or pollution of a city.
7. Stretching out for so long that they often seem to climb right into the horizon, the beach of Da Nang are endless and often relatively empty, as most travellers simply admire them from the passing trains.
8. A fascinating assortment of ancient hill tribes have settlements scattered throughout the rolling countryside and rugged mountain landscapes of Vietnam; visit their highland homelands and experience unforgettable aspects of their way of life, including the dazzlingly colourful traditional dress and authentic hilltribe markets.
9. Hon Lao island is home to 1000 or so native monkeys, none of whom are shy about approaching you for food handouts! Although endlessly popular with tourists, be careful about safeguarding your belongings, as they have been known to snatch and run.
10. Trekking in general is something that simply must be mentioned on a Top 10 list for Vietnam; the country’s scenery is spectacular and endlessly varied, from the soaring mountains to the white beaches and tiered paddy fields, your opportunities are endless.
Top 10 Honeymoon Experiences
1. Whether you wish to meander peacefully across the paddy fields or take on a more challenging route through the rugged mountains, exploring Vietnam by bike is an excellent way to escape the bustle of the city and explore the country’s captivating natural scenery together.
2. What better place to unwind and indulge yourselves than in one of the natural hot springs or mineral mud baths that Vietnam is blessed with? Upmarket thermal spas have capitalised on Vietnams natural assets to offer a selection of additional high quality spa and massage treatments, always in spectacular rural settings.
3. Adrift from the mainland, the Con Dao islands are liberally adorned with pristine white sandy beaches, and boast some of the best diving and snorkelling opportunities anywhere in Vietnam. Some of Vietnams most experienced (and conservational) diving operators can be found here, and can cater to all levels of ability, as well as often offering PADI and SSI courses.
4. Aptly nicknamed the Venice of Vietnam due to the narrow canals that line the streets, the port city of Hoi An is steeped in a romance that pervades its winding, cobbled streets, serene riverside setting and mesmeric old town, where Chinese temples, Japanese merchant houses and traditional teahouses all vie for space.
5. With a mainland so diverse, colourful and ceaselessly beautiful, it can be easy to forget the hundreds of stunning islands that Vietnam also claims as its own. Once the paradoxically beautiful backdrops to brutality and hopelessness for thousands of island-exiled prisoners, the islands now boast pristine beaches and exquisite atmospheres of almost untouched tranquillity – excursions to explore them are a must for any honeymooner!
6. A highly spiritual country with eclectic influences from Chinese Buddhism and Hinduism, the ornate temples, pagodas and war memorials adorn Vietnam like scattered jewels. With striking temples in all the big cities and a number of regal imperial tombs and monuments commemorating those who died in the war throughout many parts of the country, visiting these sites should constitute an essential part of the true Vietnamese experience.
7. Once little more than a sparsely populated fishing village by an isolated stretch of endless sand, Mui Ne has been heavily developed in the past two decades, yet has somehow retained its charm. Strong sea breezes induce excellent conditions for surfing and wind and kite surfing, while the views across the ocean at sunset are truly sensational.
8. Dubbed the beach capital of Vietnam, Nha Trang boasts what is generally agreed to be the most beautiful stretch of beach anywhere in the country; picturesque islands are scattered offshore, and the enticing turquoise waters offer some of Vietnam’s best diving. Mountains tower behind the city, and whole days can be spent wandering through the parks and sculpture gardens that line the seafront.
9. Artistic Vietnamese treasures from across the ages are housed in Hanoi’s remarkable Fine Arts Museum. Set aside a few hours for a thorough visit, and peruse astonishing statues of Buddhist monks from Tay Son dynasty, ancient Champa stone carvings, and effigies of Guan Yin, the thousand-eyed, thousand-armed goddess of compassion.
10. For a honeymoon experience that will never be forgotten, kayak together through the otherworldly beauty of Ha Long Bay, where limestone formations rise majestically from the glassy waters and every turn reveals another hidden cave, sheltered lagoon or mystical, bush-cloaked island
Top 10 Family Experiences
1. Topping the family to do list in the city of Ho Chi Minh, the Dam Sen Park boasts an impressive variety of attractions for everyone; there is a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and bumper cards, as well as more sedate attractions such as paddle boats and a monorail that snakes through the park. There are plenty of interesting themed areas including a dinosaur park, an aviary and orchid gardens, while the bandstand sees a range of shows on weekends, all of which are performed by children!
2. When it comes to stunning beaches and diverse coastline, few places deliver the goods quite like Vietnam. From the white sandy stretches of the central coastline to the ethereal beauty of Halong Bay (and plenty of variety in between) you can explore for days and still not experience a fraction of what the beaches of Vietnam have to offer.
3. With some of the most delicious and diverse cuisine in East Asia, the best thing you can bring home with you from Vietnam is some new culinary skills! Many excellent cooking classes are offered in most major cities and tourist areas, and will often include extras such as market visits, kids clubs and special street food tours.
4. With its pristine beaches, ample coastline and crystalline blue waters, it is no real surprise that Vietnam is one of East Asia’s premier diving locations. Plenty of professional diving companies operate along the coast, many of which offer both PADI and SSI courses and cater to all levels of ability.
5. 40 kilometres northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (and easily accessible via a plethora of tour buses) an immense network of underground tunnels and chambers make up the famous Cu Chi Tunnels. Used by guerrillas as hiding spots during the Vietnam War, they have now become a popular tourist attraction, and guided tours ranging from 90 minutes to half a day are available.
6. The famous citadel palace of Hue, yet another one of Vietnams vast collection of World Heritage sites, sprawls across a huge complex on the banks of the serene Perfume River. A building of great architectural beauty and cultural importance, the citadel contains centuries of history within its walls, and is not to be missed if you are visiting Hue.
7. From remotely island-based to city accessible, encompassing soaring mountains, vast lakes, limestone caves and rolling paddy fields, the National Parks of Vietnam offer endless variety and constant beauty.
8. Unquestionably the country’s most exciting theme park , Dai Nam Theme Park lies 30 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City and boasts some serious attractions for thrill-seekers, including a sky dive, a log flume, and a roller-coaster with several corkscrews! There are also plenty of rides for the little ones, and a safari park style zoo that counts white rhinos and white tigers among its impressive collection of wild animals.
9. To experience the true character of any given Vietnamese town or city, make a beeline for the market, which is usually located at the heart of the community. Whether it’s a knock off designer shirt or electrical gadget you’re after, a taste of mouth-watering street food, or something a little more exotic (say, a live chicken or buffalo) it can all be purchased from one of the enthusiastic stall-holders hawking their wares.
10. A tradition dating back to the 11th Century, Vietnamese water puppet theatre is as captivatingly beautiful as it is entertaining. With the puppeteers hidden behind screens, large rods and pulleys are skilfully manoeuvred beneath the water to make it appear as if the puppets are moving across the surface. Many of the stories recount Vietnamese folk tales, and are often accompanied by a Vietnamese orchestra playing traditional music using bamboo flutes, cymbals, drums, wooden bells and horns.
Culture in Vietnam
Vietnam boasts one of the oldest cultures in South-East Asia, although little was known about it to those outside the country until relatively recently. Community and kinship is at the centre of Vietnamese life, and there is a deep respect for education, family and elders. A highly spiritual country, the religious life of the population has been largely influenced by four great religions or philosophies: Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity and Buddhism. Over time, aspects of these have been merged to create Tam Giao, which is a kind of uniquely Vietnamese Buddhism.