Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Vietnam will show you sides of Asia that you’ve dreamed of. Few countries are blessed with landscapes as captivating as those of Vietnam. For many, the country’s awe-inspiring limestone scenery, perfect beaches, islands, mountain ranges, rice fields and lakes are its greatest treasures.
Hanoi is of course the summit of Asian city life. It’s an incredible myriad of ancient traditions, old and modern architecture, sounds, smells, bustling commerce and famously crazy traffic. Spend a day or two in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, the country’s largest city.
Nowhere are contrasts between old and new more ubiquitous and alive than here, where you’ll find ancient pagodas and traditional street life at the feet of giant skyscrapers.
+ More information > Wikipedia • Wikivoyage • UNESCO
Lush rice fields at the bottom of stunningly gorgeous highlands, colourful water markets on the streams of the Mekong Delta and the endless bustling city life of Hanoi, where anything from school children to fridges and huge piles of vegetables are transported on the back of countless motorcycles.
The combined length of the country’s land boundaries is 4,639 km (2,883 mi), and its coastline is 3,444 km (2,140 mi) long. At its narrowest point, the country is as little as 50 kilometres (31 mi) across, though it widens to around 600 kilometres (370 mi) in the north.
*Ho Chi Minh City – commonly known as Saigon (Vietnamese: Sài Gòn) or by the abbreviations HCMC or HCM, is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
*Hoi An (map) – formerly known as Fai-Fo or Faifoo, noted since 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old Town Hội An, the city’s historic district, is recognized as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, its buildings and street plan reflecting a blend of indigenous and foreign influences.
*Dalat (map) — hub of the highlands. Dalat looks somewhat like a cross between Vietnam and rural France. Many of its hotels and houses are built in a European/French style.
*Sa Pa (map) – District is in Lào Cai Province, northwest Vietnam, 380 km northwest of *Hanoi close to the border with China. Sa Pa is a quiet mountain town and home to a great diversity of ethnic minority peoples. The scenery of the Sa Pa region in large part reflects the relationship between the minority people and nature. This is seen especially in the paddy fields carpeting the rolling lower slopes of the Hoàng Liên Mountains.
*Ha Long Bay (map) — The bay is famous for its scenic ocean karst topography and is often included on lists of natural wonders of the world, including the UNESCO World Heritage list.
*Kon Tum / Kontum (map) – What nevertheless puts it on the map of interesting places in Vietnam are the surrounding minority villages, including settlements of the Sedang, Bahnar, Jarai, Gieh Trieng and Rengao ethnic groups.
*Phu Quoc island (map), off of the southwestern coast, is accessible to tourists from all countries without a visa for stays up to 30 days. Phu Quoc International Airport.
Some best picks in terms of natural wonders can be found in the country’s national parks. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (wikivoyage, map), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its natural caves and grottos, with underground rivers and cave beaches as well as stunning stalagmites and stalactites. For wildlife, try Cuc Phuong National Park (wikivoyage, map).
Hotels can be noisy, particularly when local families are staying. Vietnamese is one of the world’s more vocal languages, and local tourists are happy to give full vent to it from 6AM onward with scant regard for fellow guests.
Regions & Cities
Northern Vietnam (+wikivoyage) – Harbors some of the most magnificent views of Vietnam as well as the capital city and the chance to visit indigenous hill peoples.
Central Coast (+wikivoyage) – The ancient city of *Hue was the home of the Vietnamese emperors until 1945, and Hoi An is one of the nicest old seacoast towns in Vietnam.
Central Highlands (+wikivoyage) – Lush forest-covered hills featuring indigenous peoples and the occasional elephant.
Southern Vietnam (+wikivoyage) – The economic engine of Vietnam, built around Ho Chi Minh City but also covering the lush and little-visited Mekong Delta, the rice basket of Vietnam.
+ Transport of Vietnam (vietnam.travel)
BUS > Every major city will have a centralised bus station, and most of the major companies will have ticket offices at the stations. Some reputable companies include Mai Linh Express and Sinh Tourist.
RAIL > Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the *Reunification Express runs. HCMC to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. + seat61.com
Buying your ticket electronically from a booking site such as baolau.com is also safe and reliable.
AIRPORTS > Flights are the fastest way to traverse this long country. The flight from Hanoi to HCMC is only about 2 hours. >> vietnamairport.vn
WATERWAYS > Northern Vietnam
Bicycles can be rented cheaply in many cities and are often a great way of covering larger distances. Good spots for cycling are Dalat, Hoi An, Hue and Ninh Binh.