With its wild jungles, fantastic street food and white sandy beaches, Vietnam deserves to be on every traveller’s hitlist. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, there are a number of sights and sounds that draw the crowds.
But it’s not just all about the star turns. In a country where exotic Asia fuses with Parisien chic, there are many surprising sights and fascinating places to explore. Our girl on the traveller’s trail, Catherine McGloin, shares seven of her favourite places in Vietnam.
For culture vultures, there is no shortage of temples, tombs, pagodas and crumbling palaces to admire and explore. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Huế is home to the Citadel, once the emperor’s private residence, and the Forbidden Purple City, where he housed his many mistresses. When your feet are weary, grab some bún bò buế (beef noodle soup) and watch swan pedalos cruise the Perfume River as the sun sets.
2. Hoi An
Foodies can feast on street food in Vietnam’s culinary capital. If you fancy trying your hand at Vietnamese cuisine, many restaurants offer half-day cooking courses. Sounds too much like hard work? Hit An Bang Beach instead for a day lounging on the deserted sand, sipping on ice-cold cocktails at the bar.
Go trekking in the hills of Sapa for amazing views across the jungle and mountain ranges of north-west Vietnam. Equipment is cheap and easy to come by so don’t worry if you’re not a natural mountain goat, you’ll soon be up there, gazing at the views as the mist rolls in across the peaks.
4. Halong Bay
Sail among the jagged rocks of over 2000 islands in the Gulf of Tonkin at Halong, which translates as ‘where the dragon descends in to the sea’. If you want to get a closer view, hire kayaks and explore the caves or find your own deserted bay.
The hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s capital can at first seem intimidating, but don’t let the weaving motorbikes and screaming street hawkers put you off. Behind the hustle and bustle you’ll find tranquility in the Temple of Literature, peace at One Pillar Pagoda, and more charming French patisseries then you could wish for.
6. Ben Tre
A little off the beaten track, head to Ben Tre to experience life on the banks of the Mekong without the tourist crowds of spots like My Tho. Cruise along the river, stopping at a coconut candy factory to sample the sweet treat the area is famous for. For a touch of romance, set sail at dusk to catch fireflies and watch the sunset.
7. Ho Chi Minh City
Former Saigon is now Vietnam’s international business hub. Get your gladrags on and head up to one of the many skybars, found on the top floor of the city’s sleek skyscrapers. Cocktail in hand, admire the best view of Ho Chi Minh City by night.
More: See Cat’s photos in glorious full size in this slideshow.