1. Sapa – Vietnam
Set high in Vietnam,s Northeast Mountains, the hamlet of Sapa offers spectacular view of jagged mountain ridges, terraced rice paddies and green valleys inhabited by people of various ethnic minority groups, most of whom congregate in Sapa, s colorful market.
Each group has its own distintive style of dress. From early childhood , girl learn to grow and weave hemp, to dye cloth with indigo, to sew the family, s clothes, and to decorate items with traditional embroidery motifs. More recently Sapa has become tourist mecca. Expect hill-tribe vendors to follow you and to be persistent in persuading you to buy their handicrafts. If you buy from one vendor and other vendors see you making purchases, they will attempt to sell you their products, too. If you are not interested, just say “no” and ask your guide to walk away.
The best way to get to Sapa is to take a 10 hour overnight train from Hanoi. Departing at night you wake up refreshed the next morning in Sapa ready to begin your adventure. Visiting a more remote hilltribe market requires a 2- 3 hour drive along the mountains. Otherwise enjoy our time in nearby hilltribe villages.
2. Ha Noi – Vietnam
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the second populous city in the country with approximately 7 million people. Compared to Ho Chi Minh, Ha Noi is more traditional and refined.
Today, it is best known for its thriving contemporary arts scene and French architecture, visible by many colonial villas scattered through the city. While it is rapidly developing, the city has retained many of its cultural traditions. Observe elderly people practicing Tai Chi by the lake or witness traditional festival during the Lunar New Year. Hanoi has a vibrant “street culture” where daily activities, such as hair-cutting and eating at food stalls, take place on cramped sidewalk. As Hanoi is becoming more populated with people and automobiles, the city is experiencing more traffic congestion, particularly in the old quarter.
3. Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a popular travel destination, located in Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam.
A visit to the north is not complete without experiencing the spectacular views of more than 3000 limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1994 by UNESCO, Ha Long Bay is the naturalist, s dream. Sculpted into strange shapes by the wind and the weather, the karsts hide deserted beaches, many magnificent caves, and hidden lagoons that may only be reached by chinked in the cliffs that are revealed at low tide.
A 4 hour drive from Hanoi through urbanized areas. You will transfer to docking station, since this is a popular destination, expect bustling scenes of boats and large crowds. All this will be left behind once you sail away to a more serene environment.
4. Hue – Vietnam
While imperial rule ended more than six decades ago, the central city of Hue still bears the marks of its royal past. From 1802 to 1945 Hue was home to 13 Nguyen emperors, whose palaces and tombs provide fascinating glimpses into the luxurious and secretive world of the court.
Hue is the capital city of Thua Thien-Huế province, Vietnam. Between 1802 and 1945, it was the imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty. It is well known for its monuments and architecture. Its population stands at about 950,000 people. In Sino-Vietnamese script, used until 1945, the name of the city is written
Huế originally rose to prominence as the capital of the Nguyễn Lords, a feudal dynasty which dominated much of southern Vietnam from the 17th to the 19th century. In 1775 when Trịnh Sâm captured it, it was known as Phú Xuân. In 1802, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh (later Emperor Gia Long) succeeded in establishing his control over the whole of Vietnam, thereby making Huế the national capital.
Huế was the national capital until 1945, when Emperor Bao Dại abdicated and a communist government was established in Hà Nội (Hanoi), in the north. While Bảo Đại was briefly proclaimed “Head of State” with the help of the returning French colonialists in 1949 (although not with recognition from the communists and the full acceptance of the Vietnamese people), his new capital was Sài Gòn (Saigon), in the south.
In the Vietnam War, Huế’s central position placed it very near the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam; however, the city was located in South Vietnam. In the Tết Offensive of 1968, during the Battle of Huế, the city suffered considerable damage not only to its physical features, but its reputation as well, most of it from American firepower and bombings on the historical buildings as well as the massacre at Huế committed by the communist forces. After the war’s conclusion, many of the historic features of Huế were neglected because they were seen by the victorious regime and some other Vietnamese as “relics from the feudal regime”; the Vietnamese Communist Party doctrine officially described the Nguyễn Dynasty as “feudal” and “reactionary.” There has since been a change of policy, however, and many historical areas of the city are currently being restored.
Hue is well known for its historic monuments, which have earned it a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.The seat of the Nguyễn emperors was the Citadel, which occupies a large, walled area on the north side of the Perfume River. Inside the citadel was a forbidden city where only the emperors, concubines, and those close enough to them were granted access; the punishment for trespassing was death. Today, little of the forbidden city remains, though reconstruction efforts are in progress to maintain it as a historic tourist attraction.
Roughly along the Perfume River from Huế lie myriad other monuments, including the tombs of several emperors, including Minh Mạng, Khải Định, and Tự Đức. Also notable is the Thiên Mụ Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Huế and the official symbol of the city.
A number of French-style buildings lie along the south bank of the Perfume River. Among them are Quốc Học High School, the oldest high school in Vietnam, and Hai Ba Trung High School.
The Hue Museum of Royal Fine Arts on 3 Le Truc Street also maintains a collection of various artifacts from the city.
Geography & Climate
The city is located in central Vietnam on the banks of the Sông Hương (Perfume River), just a few miles inland from the Biển Đông. It is about 700 km south of the national capital of Hanoi and about 1100 km north of Hồ Chí Minh City, the country’s largest city, formerly known as Saigon.
Huế features a Tropical monsoon climate under the Koppen climate classification. The dry season is from March to August, with high temperatures of 35–40 °C. The rainy season is from August to January, with a flood season from October, onwards. The average rainy season temperature is 20 °C, sometimes as low as 9 °C. And Spring lasts from January to late February
Hue has a small domestic airport. It is a 1 hour flight from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
5. Hoi An – Vietnam
Hoi An is a beautiful and peaceful city in Vietnam, just south of Danang. The Old Town of Hoi An is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the foreign influences are discernible to this day. While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Danang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While almost all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved as is, which is unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully – it’s mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors. The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi to the west, reachable via Hai Ba Trung, and Cam Nam to the east, reachable via Hoang Dieu.
Set near the coast in central Vietnam, from the 16th to 19th centuries the riverside town of Hoi An once drew merchants from as far as Japan, India, Indonesia and Europe who bought the area’s silk, spices and porcelain. Hoi An still retains remnants of its trading days as evident in the bustling market and abundance of souvenir and tailor shops. What makes Hoi An remarkable today is that its Old Quarter has been beautifully preserved, the streets still lined with old tile-roofed shop houses, shady pagodas and colorful communal halls earning it the status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hoi An is surrounded by attractive countryside where you can observe the traditional way of life of farmers and fishermen
My Son – Hoian
Once the site of magnificent temples and towering structures belonging to the Champa Kingdom, My Son is, at the present, a remarkable tourist attraction. While one can no longer witness these massive structures in their original splendor, the ruins are still present and one an individual can surely obtain an image of the likeness of the once marvelous edifices. The site was actually named to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites recently as well.
Getting there: Hoi An is a 30 minute drive from Danang International Airport or more than an hour flight from Hanoi & Saigon
6. Cat Ba Isand – Vietnam
Cat Ba is the largest of the 366 islands spanning 260km2 that comprise the Cat Ba Archipelago, which makes up the southeastern edge of Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam.
Cat Ba Island has a surface area of 285 km2 and maintains the dramatic and rugged features of Ha Long Bay. It is commonly used as an overnight hotel stop on tours to Ha Long Bay run by travel agency from Hanoi. Cat Ba is the largest island in the bay and approximately half of its area is covered by a National Park, which is home to highly endangered Cat Ba Langur. The island has a wide variety of natural ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial, leading to incredibly high rates of biodiversity. Types of natural habitats found on Cat Ba Archipelago includes limestone karsts, tropical limestone forest, coral reefs, mangrove and sea grass beds, lagoons, beaches, caves, and willow swaps forests. Cat Ba Island is one of the only populated islands in Ha Long Bay with roughly 13000 inhabitants living in six different communes, and 4000 more inhabitants living on floating fishing villages off the coast. The large majority of the population can be found in Cat Ba Town which is located at the southern tip of the island (15km southern of the National Park) and it is the commercial center on the island. Since 1997, Cat Ba Town has rapidly and has become a tourist hub for both the island and greater Ha Long Bay.
A trip to Cat Ba can be done separatedly and in combination with a visit to Ha Long Bay. Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago that consists of 350 limestone outcrops adjacent to Ha Long Bay. This is an oasis where you can be gone for one or several days. If you start from Ha Long Bay Wharf, it will take you four hours by boat with stopovers for swimming, visiting the spectacular karsts and eating fresh seafood. You can contemplate the beautiful scenery of Ha Long Bay before reaching the island. There is alternative way of getting to Cat Ba Island if you are pressed for time or can not take in Ha Long Bay on your tour. You can take a hydrofoil from the Hai Phong Seaport.
With an area of 350 km2, Cat Ba encompasses forested zone, coastal mangroves, fresh water swamps, beaches, caves, waterfalls. In 1986 the Northeast side of the island was designated a National Park and includes protected marine zone. Cat Ba Island supports a population of over 20,000 inhabitants most of whom live off fishing and farming in and around Cat Ba Town. The town is small and ancient, with cluster of fishing boat. It is an ideal spot to watch inspiring sunsets across the harbor. You can even check out the catch of the day in the early morning as the fishing boats return to port. See cuttlefish dried over hot charcoals, or stroll around the old town. It is short hike from Cat Ba Town through a tunnel to Cat Co Beach where mountain forms a throne like picture holding a marvelous sandy coast. You can even hike further along the beach to reach rockier Cat Vang Beach.
As transportation in and around the town is not well-developed, the easiest and best way to get the larger Trung Trang Cave with its many chambers, or to the National Park, or to discover other beaches around the island is by motorbike. A tour guide will be necessary to help you communicate with the local drivers and point out and explain the many beautiful sites. The National Park is made up of stringy trees, thick undergrowth and slippery vines. In the Park there is also a great view of an old French, now Vietnamese, farming village from the top of the mountain and a wonderful lake in the middle of the Park that takes a half day to reach.
7. Nha Trang – Vietnam
Located iin the central Vietnam, the sun-washed town of Nha Trang hugs a seven km long stretch of golden sand, making this perfect place to get a close of sun, surf and fresh seafood.
Nha Trang is a coastal city and capital of Khanh Hoa Province, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is bounded on the North by Ninh Hoa District, on the East by the South China Sea, on the South by Cam Ranh Town and on the West by Dien Khanh District. The city has about 3,00.000 inhabitants, a number which is projected to increase to between 5,00.000 to 6,00.000 inhabitants by 2020 according to an estimation of Nah Trang Administrative Board Statistics.
Nha Trang is well-known for its pristine beaches and excellent scuba diving and is fast becoming a popular destination for the international tourists, attracting large numbers of backpackers as well as more affluent travelers on the Southeast Asia Circuit. It is already very popular with Vietnamese tourists. Nha Trang Bay is widely considered as amongst the world, s most beautiful bays. Tourists are welcome to participate in the sea festival, held biennially. Nha Trang was the site of the Miss Universe 2008 Pageant on July 14, 2008 and Miss Earth 2010 held December 4, 2010. Besides, Nha Trang was also approved to host 2016 Asian Beach Games.
Historically, the city was known as Kauthara under the Champa. The city is still home to the famous Po Nagar Tower Champa built between the 7th and the 12th centuries. For a truly dirty pleasure try the mineral mud baths warmed by natural hot springs. Being a coastal city, Nha Trang is a centre for marine science based at the Nha Trang Oceanography Institute. The Hon Mum marine protected area is one of tour first marine protected areas in the world admitted by the IUCN.
Commercial flights to Nha Trang no longer use the city, s municipal airport, but fly to the larger Cam Ranh International Airport, a former US Air Force Based (built during the Vietnam War) located approximately 35km south of Nha Trang.
A 45 minutes drive from the small domestic airport located in Cam Ranh City. It is a hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City and 1 hour 40 minutes from Hanoi.
8. Phan Thiet – Vietnam
The capital of Binh Thuan Province, Phan Thiet is a small but thriving Vietnamese city and would be a decent destination for tourist in its own right
Phan Thiet is large fishing village best known locally for its fish sauce production. Located 200km from Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet is a gateway to nearby beaches which are popular for both local and tourists alike. Mui Ne, a nearby resort town, has 21km stretch of sandy beaches lined with hotels, resorts, restaurants, and night clubs. Mui Ne is subject to onshore winds from the South China Sea and is especially breezy from November to May, which may not be ideal for swimming but is popular for wind and kite surfing. Other attractions in the area include the white and red sand dunes, Po Klong Garai Charm Tower, and Ocean Dune, s Golf Club a 6746 yard par 72 course designed by Nick Faldo.
For the Vietnamese tourist however, Phan Thiet is a compromise – they do not have to choose between expensive resorts and low rent guest houses like Mui Ne, good, reasonably- priced seafood restaurants line the water, and the beach is just as fine as Mui Ne – there is just less of it.
A number of minor treats including Cham Towers and huge cemeteries – can be all easily visited either independently from here (or Mui Ne). In terms of the cost of accommodation, the variety of of eats and things to do, we have to recommend Mui Ne as the better destination. But there are things to do and see in Phan Thiet proper that make it worth a day trip, and a night or two here is not a bad idea if you have the time and budget for it in your travel schedule.
Phan Thiet is a 4,5 drive or 5 hour by train from Ho Chi Minh City.
9. Phu Quoc Island – Vietnam
Located off the tip of Vietnam, s south coast, Phu Quoc is a heaven for nature and sea lovers looking for a place to unwind. The island is considered “off beaten track” as it remains remarkably undeveloped. Phu Quoc, s virgin forests and pristine white sand beaches make this an ideal place for trekking, diving, snorkeling. The infrastructure remains basis with dirt roads and a small number of four star properties. If you are looking for a relaxing beach gate without any distractions or a noisy nightlife then Phu Quoc is ideal place to visit.
Surrounded by more than 40 km of white beaches decorated with coconut palm, Phu Quoc, situated in the Gulf of Thailand near the Cambodia border, is Vietnam, s largest island. Its western coastline is sparsely populated while the interior is largely covered with jungle and mainly deserted.
You can start exploring the island in Duong Dong, the biggest town on the island (west of Phu Quoc), where most of the hotels and resorts are located. Going south, you can drive along the Bai Truong (long beach), which is 20km long, spectacular beach. You will see two pearl farms on the right, the second is worth a visit. At the end of road turn left (you can not miss it) and follow the signs, you will reach the fisherman village An Thoi and the An Thoi Pier, the island, s southern tip. From here the An Thoi Islands, a very nice snorkeling diving area consisting of 15 small islands and islets surrounded by coral reefs in crystal clear water, can be visited by boat.
Continuing to travel north east, you will see a sign to Bai Sao (the sign is somewhat hidden, around 1km away from the main road). Bai Sao with its marvelous white sand and green turquoise water, is one of the most beautiful, quite untouched beaches on Phu Quoc Island. There are a number of simple, on the sand restaurants with tasty, fresh seafood, in this area.
Before going back to Duong Dong, there are some recommendable springs and falls: Suoi Tranh, Suoi Da Ban. Suoi Tranh (some 10 km north of Bai Sao) is a stream connecting tiny ponds at different levels through small waterfall. Suoi Da Ban (a stony surface stream, north east of Duong Dong) is an easily accessible white water creek, gracefully flowing down huge granite boulders, on which you can wake; in some places there are natural pools waiting for a refreshing swim.
A stay on Phu Quoc Island would not be complete without visiting one of the factories producing Nuoc Mam (fish sauce), one of the most popular ingredients of the Vietnamese cooking as well as one of the pearl farms with panels describing the formation of pearls and shops selling pearl jewellery.
The island has a unique species of dogs, the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, which has a ridge of hair that runs along its back in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat. Much of this island, nature is still protected. Around 70% of the island, an area of 31,422 hectares, became a national park in 2001. The rainy season in Phu Quoc is from July to November and the peak season for tourism is mid winter, when the sky is blue and the sea is calm.
Travelers who know the Thailand islands Ko Samui and Phuket often comment: “ The island of Phu Quoc is still natural and untouched like Ko Samui 10 years and Phuket 20 years ago”. Not surprising, a large national airport is being built on the island of Phu Quoc, expected to operate within five years. A golf course and a casino will be also completed. If you like untouched nature and pre-touristic surrounding, you should hurry up!
By air: A 20 minute flight from Rach Gia (Mekong Delta) or 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam Airline offers daily flights from both Ho Chi Minh City (around $50 one way, 4 flights daily) and Rach Gia.
By boat: Several companies operate high speed hydrofoils going from Ranh Gia to Phu Quoc. The boats leave the mainland daily between 7:00 am and 8:30 am and return from Phu Quoc between 12: 30 pm to 1:30 p.m (200.000 – 250.000 Dong, 2,5 hours). Tickets must be purchased in advance and most travel agents can book the passage. The most well-known hydrofoils companies (Tau Cao Toc) include Super Dong (Rach Gia 077-878475, Phu Quoc 077-980 111) and Duong Dong Express (Rach Gia 077 879 765, Phu Quoc 077 990 747)
Very popular to more adventurous travelers is a round trip between Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc: Travel overland through Mekong Delta (Sai Gon – My Tho – Rach Gia – Phu Quoc, taking a ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc) and, after staying and discovering the island, take a short one hour flight back to Ho Chi Minh.
10. Sai Gon – Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city of Vietnam, in the southern part of the country near the South China Sea. An ancient Khmer settlement, it was known as Sai gon throughout most of its history, serving as the administrative center of French Indochina and after 1954, as the capital of the South Vietnam. The city has renamed after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975
Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling metropolis of approximately 13 million people. Formerly known as “Sai gon” prior to 1975, today the city is Vietnam, s commercial center. The city dynamic energy is apparent in the bustling street scenes with thousand of people on motorbikes constantly on the move. Although Sai gon has rapidly developed into a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping centers, there are still remnants of its past visible in the historic landmarks and beautiful French colonial buildings dotted throughout the city. In Sai Gon, you will still see the women dressed in Vietnam traditional tunic stroll pass modern trendy boutiques and crowed café. You will find great nightlife and some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia in this vibrant, fast- changing city. The city is home to people from all aspect of Vietnamese society. You will see newly wealthy entrepreneurs in their luxury cars driving pass beggars on the street side. As in any large city, petty theft exists and you must exercise caution. From Sai Gon you can make a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See Temple.
11. Cuc Phuong National Park – Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam
At 45km from the city of Ninh Binh and about 140 km to south of Hanoi, is located the Cuc Phuong National Park. This treasure of the Vietnamses biosphere was declared National Park in 1962. It is the first of its kind in the country and perhaps the most important, not only for its 25000 hectares, but because of the wide diversity of plant and animal that shelters inside.
Cuc Phuong stands out among its similar for the kilometers of pathways that pass through ancient forests filled with vines and creepers. The many caves that can be seen along the way were inhabited by prehistoric people. The streams, waterfalls, and traditional villages that make up this nature reserve are also attractive to tourists. The botanical richness of the forest in the Cuc Phuong National Park is impressive. This primeval forest has ancient trees, parasitic plants and various species of vines, many of which have been introduced from neighboring region such as Myanmar, India and Borneo. Some of the large trees that populate the park as the Parashorea Stellata and Terminalia Myriocarpa exceed the 50 meters high and date back over a thousand years old.
In Cuc Phuong have also been discovered nearly 500 medicinal plans, both native and foreign, which grow wild in the park. Multiple exotic mammals such as panthers, bears, monkeys, gibbons, and flying squirrels also inhabit this nature reserve. In addition to the always beautiful pheasants that abound in the region, nature lovers will appreciate the 250 different species of birds, and 64 mammals, including tigers, leopards, bats, feral pigs, and flying squirrels among other.
Besides, it offers for your Vietnam Luxury holidays bath in therapeutic hot springs of the park, which is maintained at the constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius and contains over 20 chemicals with healing properties.
12. Mai Chau – Vietnam
Isolated Mai Chau is a 139 km trip from Hanoi, 66km further on from Hoa Binh. Though is not far, the trip from Hoa Binh to here takes almost two hours by motorbike due to the mountainous terrain.
Nestled in a valley amongst verdant hills in the northwestern highland, Mai Chau, stunning scenery offers excellent opportunities for trekking and mountain biking while providing a glimpse into the village life of Hmong and white Thai ethnic hill tribes.
Mai Chau is in a valley just over the biggest hump, about 10km from the Song Da River and only 150 m above sea level. The village presents an idyllic rural valley that could easily charm you into staying longer than intended. Nestled between two towering cliffs and surrounded by emerald green paddies, it is an enchanting sight as you wind down the cliff side.
In spring Mai Chau is a bright, almost parrot green and by autumn this green transforms into golden hues as the rice approaches harvest. Taking the time to watch these transitions of color seems like a perfectly useful way to spend your time while here.
Beware that whilst a beautiful time of year, Mai Chau can become unbearably hot in June/July with little respite from the heat as electricity does not come on until the evening.
These bemoaning the dearth of truly budget accommodation in Vietnam will be happy to learn that this is one place you can stay for a song. The star attraction here is a “home stay” in a silt house in one of the two ethnic White Thai villages, Ban Boom Coong and Ban Lac. While both are run by ethnic minority families who have lived on and worked the land for generations, this is hardly like trucking into a Karen Vil in northern Thailand and staying in the spare room of someone, s house.
The “bare bones” accommodation is purpose – built to give tourists the home stay experience while the watchful eye of the government makes sure they have western toilets, ample bedding and sometime satellite TVs in the common rooms.
Ban Lac is the more developed of the two villages, with more gift shops and a busier nightlife, what there is of it but there is little differentiate the accommodation on offer. The lodgings are mostly traditional silt houses with large communal rooms where you can sleep on a mat laid upon a squeaky, split bamboo floor, for jus about the same cheap price every where. The sleeps are really a loss leader – they make the real money off the food you eat, and the curios and textiles you buy. Not to mention, the liquor you drink. A typical charge is 150.000 Dong per person for dinner, breakfast, and a bed although some are a bit cheaper. You could save small money by eating in town, but family style Vietnamese cooking is generally far superior to restaurant fare, and you would not to miss out on the nightly group meals.
Despite this tourist-driven set-up, and the regular influx of visitors, the villages remain a relatively peaceful retreat and its heartening to see how the influx of tourist dollars has not changed the essential character of the locals which we gauge to be as warm and easy-going as you please.
As far as eating is concerned, all guest houses in the villages offer food at the reasonable prices and varying standards. If you do not live up to your expectations there is a little option other than to track back into town to try the local restaurants. Be warned though you will struggle to find anything of outstanding worth there.
Mai Chau is a four hour drive from Hanoi. Although the drive can be strenuous due to the mountainous roads, it does offer a very good view of countryside.