There is something for everyone in Southeast Asia. Partygoers head to Thailand for the full moon parties, while the more cosmopolitan travellers hit Singapore, braving the humidity for the 5 star hotels and epic skyline. Eco-tourists frequent Borneo, visiting ancient rainforests and orang-utan sanctuaries, while Bali’s idyllic beaches are a magnet for hipsters, surfers and luxury holidaymakers alike.
Vietnam, on the other hand, seems to lack a stereotypical type of visitor, attracting all of the above. Its unique culture and history, approachable people and dramatic, but starkly contrasting scenery make it the most intriguing country on the Southeast Asian tourist trail. While many see Vietnam as a gap year destination, it is truly worth a visit for any traveller.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – For the Cosmopolitan
Famous for its French colonial architecture, Saigon offers a charming mix of East and West. Top architectural picks include the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the Saigon Central Post Office and the Bitexco Financial Tower – the city’s tallest building. Saigon’s Independence Palace – or Reunification Palace – is also worth a visit. The palace was stormed by the North Vietnamese army in 1975 and has come to be seen as a symbol of the end of the war. The War Remnants Museum is another must see for those interested in the Vietnam’s history.
Saigon also boasts a number of rooftop bars, offering the perfect way to unwind after a busy day of exploring the city.
- Mekong Delta – For the Intrepid Explorer
The Mekong Delta, nicknamed the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, is a deeply rural region of rivers, swamps and islands in southern Vietnam, where boats are the main means of transport between the river markets, villages and pagodas. Take a relaxing canoe through beautiful swamps or cycle to local homes and witness families make rice paper and noodles. Or for a truly unforgettable experience of this unique landscape, take a Mekong River Cruise with Mango Cruises. There are a number of companies offering similar services, but Mango (rated 5 stars on TripAdvisor) offers the most memorable experience. Their knowledgeable tour guides will take you on a private excursion to local coconut and brick-making farms, offering you exotic fruits and drinks to keep you feeling refreshed throughout your journey.
- Nha Trang- For the Adventurous
Home to a golden coastline, rocky mountain trails, and hidden countryside gems, Nha Trang is the perfect destination for the more active traveller. To get the most from Nha Trang, cycle along the coastline past fishing villages on your way up to the mountains. Then hike and rock climb, ending up by the waterfalls where you can swim in the blue pools beneath.
For a quieter day, relax on the beach with a cocktail, perhaps spending an afternoon snorkelling or scuba diving around Nha Trang’s offshore islands.
- Hoi An – For the Romantic
Hoi An is a coastal city in central Vietnam known for its romantic Ancient Town cut with twisting canals like an East Asian Venice. Wander along the canals exploring the shops, restaurants and bars, and don’t forget to check out Hoi An’s famous tailors. It is worth getting something made for yourself here, although there are many tailors to choose from so shopping around for the best price is a must. Or for something a little different, go buffalo riding or take a motorcycle tour through the stunning Vietnamese countryside.
Alternatively visit the beautiful Cham Island (and bring the bikini you’ve had tailored in the Ancient Town). Cham Island is a popular spot for snorkelling and scuba diving, with its crystal clear waters and private beaches providing the perfect setting.
- Halong Bay – For Everyone
Halong Bay is – rightly so – one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations for travellers. Situated in the north of the country, Halong Bay is famous for its towering rainforest-topped islands and clear blue seas. Spend a couple of days on a relaxing Halong Bay boat tour to make the most of the stunning scenery. Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, try scuba diving, kayaking, rock climbing, or hiking as you cruise around the islands.