Vietnam, a name too long associated with the horrors of war, has finally won its last battle – to capture the imagination of the travelling public. Elegant Hanoi now vies with its dynamic sister, Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by the locals), for the attention of visitors drawn by the eclectic mix of old and new. In both cities the streets are jam-packed with motorbikes and scooters, often carrying whole families, and the markets are chaotically busy.
Elsewhere, the scenes are timeless. Early morning on the Mekong Delta brings the daily floating markets where fruit and vegetables are peddled. Everywhere the green patchwork of rice paddies stretches into the distance, broken only by the silhouette of water buffalo and conical-hatted farm workers bending down to tend the young plants.
The soaring mountains in the north of the country tower over tiny villages where life continues much as it has done for centuries, with traditional costumes still proudly worn. Old French hill stations survive throughout the country offering welcome respite from the heat of the plains below.
The ancient former imperial capital, Hué, takes visitors back to a time of concubines and eunuchs. In every town, young women wearing the simple but feminine national dress, the “ao dai”, weave their way through the traffic at the controls of a motorbike.
This list will help you to find the best things to do in Vietnam as well as how to prepare your adventure.
Start with the capital, Hanoi, which retains an air of French colonial elegance, with pretty yellow stucco buildings lining leafy streets. Wander round the Old Quarter of 36 streets, a fascinating maze of tiny shops, markets and cafes. Pay respects at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and visit his final resting place in a house on stitls.
Sail through Halong Bay and be amazed by the 3,000 limestone islands rising out of the gulf of north Vietnam. The area is strange, eerie and very beautiful. Many of the islands contain bizarre cave formations and grottoes.
Savor the alpine scenery around Sapa, home to several hill tribes whose way of life has changed very little and who still wear colorful traditional costumes. A visit here lets you enjoy the beauty of a village built during the French colonial days. It is a land of complete peace and delight. The village can provide a fulfilling experience even with limited amenities. Sapa is one of those rare places in Vietnam which have the ability to provide a glimpse of the tribal life as it existed a couple of centuries ago.
Discover the architecture of Hué, the former capital of the emperors of Vietnam, and the remains of the Imperial Citadel (largely destroyed during the Tet offensive in 1968). Tour the nearby mausoleums of several of Vietnam’s emperors, including Khai Dinh tomb, Tu Duc tomb and Minh Mang tomb each unique in style.
Hoi An is a small town in Central Vietnam on the coast of South China Sea. Located at the estuary of the Thu Bon river, Hoi An was a busy international commercial port in the 16th and 17th centuries.
To escape the heat of the plains, head for Dalat, a former colonial hill station, reminiscent of a French town, with faded, elegant villas evocative of another era. The romantic lakes and alpine scenery are magnets for Vietnamese honeymooners. The place is usually crowed during the peak travel season of Vietnamese people starting from May untill September.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Savour the hustle and bustle of life on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, with tiny temples and faded French colonial buildings overshadowed by gleaming high rises. Visit the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum to learn about the realities of war.
Cao Dai Temple & Cu Chi Tunnels
Attend the midday service at the unique Cao Dai Temple in Tay Ninh. En route, scramble through the tunnels at Cu Chi, from where the Vietnamese Army successfully launched attacks against US forces.
Mui Ne Beach
Mui Ne is located in the Binh Thuan province. 200kilometers from Saigon, it is on the southern most tip of Central Vietnam. Legend has it that Han Mac Tu, the disfigured poet spent his time in Phan Thiet waiting for the lady of his dreams, Mong Cam.
Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc Island is situated in the Gulf of Thailand. Located off the southern coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, it is the largest island in Vietnam. The 48 kilometers long and 28 kilometers wide island is closer to the Cambodian mainland than Vietnam.
The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southeastern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi). Watch the river markets on the Mekong Delta, where life is dominated by the mighty Mekong and much of Vietnam’s rice crop is grown will give you an unforgettable experience of the Vietnamese local life.