Good morning Vietnam: an expert’s guide

By Kara Caradas,

Whether you’re a resort-lover, an overland backpacker, or a family adventurer, Vietnam is full of experiences perfect for any kind of traveller. There are many appealing locations to choose from in this charming country but no matter which part of Vietnam you decide to visit, you can rest assured you will experience amazing food, lovely people, gorgeous scenery, and great value-for-money. So let’s get down to it, here’s the low-down on where to go in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City | Mekong Delta – Can Tho | Nha Trang | Hoi An | Hanoi | Ha Long Bay

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, can initially be a bit of a culture shock with its bustling traffic, neon-lit streets, tall buildings, and jumble of wires connecting them. It’s a lot to take in. But once you’ve acclimatised to the chaotic nature of this crazy city, you’ll soon see that it’s brimming with awesome things to do.

A great way to see everything is by doing a day tour of the city sights. This will normally include everything from Thien Hau Pagoda and Renumeration Palace, to Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office, which is famous for its pretty architecture. You’ll also have a chance to visit the War Remnants Museum, which is an interesting but sometimes distressing account of the Vietnam War.

Ho Chi Minh city fotolia

If you’re interested in learning more about the Vietnam War, there’s also the Cu Chi Tunnels which the Vietnamese soldiers used to travel through undetected. You can visit these in another excursion and learn a little more about the Vietnamese side of the war. You also have the opportunity to shoot a rifle if that’s your jam. The place is rather interesting but the tunnels can be really claustrophobic so they’re not for everyone!

If you’re looking for something a bit more exciting than museums and post offices, as enjoyable as they are, head to Dam Sen water park for a fun-filled day of water slides and lazy river rides through overhanging palm trees – what a treat! Although be prepared to cover up a bit, bikinis don’t go down too well with the local clientele at this spot! In the evening, head to the Pham Ngu Lao area for dinner.

Kim Cafe is a popular haunt with deliciously authentic Vietnamese food, despite its pretty basic appearance. You could also try Baba’s Kitchen if you’re after yummy Indian food! Then go for one of the many rooftop bars overlooking the city for drinks – The View is a really lovely one I’d recommend. There’s nothing nicer than a bottle of Bia Saigon, good company and the bustling background of Ho Chi Minh City at night, I’m telling you!

The Alcove Library

Alcove hotel lobby

Ho Chi Min City can get a little crazy now and then. So for a chance to unwind and appreciate comforting attention to detail, a stay at The Alcove Library should be penciled in your itinerary. The upscale hotel has different room types which come with ensuite bathrooms featuring rain showers, flat-screen TVs, and bedding resplendent in quality linens.

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TOP TIP: If you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City by bus, try to get your bearings before taking a taxi. There are a lot of scams where taxis will charge you a fortune and drive you around the whole city before getting to your hotel, which may be opposite the bus stop!

Mekong Delta – Can Tho

While you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, you have the option of taking a trip down to the Mekong Delta, which can either be a day trip or an excursion across two or three days depending on how much time you want to spend there.

The Mekong Delta is a rural area of Vietnam known for being a hub of agriculture with many paddy fields, rivers and swamps. Here you can experience a total contrast to urban Ho Chi Minh City, with floating markets, lush greenery and a close-up view of how the people here produce everything from honey tea to coconut candy. It’s really quite interesting to be immersed in this side of Vietnam’s culture. A boat ride along the river is a particular highlight, complete with a traditional straw hat of course!

Victoria Can Tho Resort Hotel

Victoria Can Tho Swimming Pool

For a comfy night in, try the Victoria Can Tho Resort Hotel. This luxury hotel combines colonial architecture with Vietnamese décor to create a super-glam experience for any type of traveller. Each of the 92 rooms have stellar views of either the river, internal garden, or swimming pool, and free Wi-Fi is provided throughout.

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If you only want to spend a day here, Can Tho is a good trip to take, as it lets you experience a little bit of everything. Although be prepared, it entails a lot of travelling to get there and back in one day.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a beachy gem on the coast of Vietnam that many travellers miss out on. It’s not one of those places that has a long list of must-sees and it doesn’t have any standout landmarks to attract visitors, but the appeal of Nha Trang is its relaxed vibe.

Everything feels easy-going in this seaside town and it’s actually more of a destination that Vietnamese families go to for their holidays rather than international tourists. But that’s part of Nha Trang’s low-key charm – the chilled out cafes, restaurants, and cute independent bookshops.

But don’t let the vibe fool you, the nightlife in Nha Trang is awesome. The Sailing Club is a particularly fun spot where you can sit at candle-lit tables on the beach with a cocktail, or head inside and sing your heart out to the sounds of Oasis’s Wonderwall and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

By day, the beach is the jewel of Nha Trang. With idyllic white sands, gorgeous jade waters, and a smattering of straw umbrellas and palm trees, it’s hands-down one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia. You could quite effortlessly lose a few days on this beach.       

But if you’re more of a get-up-and-go kind of traveller rather than a beach bunny, there’s still lots for you to do here. Nha Trang is home to the world’s longest cable car over water, connecting the mainland to the island of Hon Tre at 3320 metres long. I warn you, it’s not for the faint-hearted as the car jerks every time it crosses a pylon. A few times you may be convinced you’re heading for the deep sea below… but it’s an adventure!

The great part is that once you’ve completed this daring exploit across the water, you have arrived in the utopia that is Vinpearl Land (as the large Hollywood-esque letters on the side of the rolling hills will inform you). This is a wonderful resort that will totally satisfy the inner child in you thanks to its amusement park, water park, aquarium, arcades and beach. That’s right, all of those things are combined in VinPearl Land, where you can do everything from riding a rollercoaster to jet-skiing at the beach. A full day here will leave anyone smiling.

Hotel Alana

Alana hotel pool

So after all that activity you’re probably looking for somewhere fabulous to roll into bed. Several accommodation options are available, however, you can’t beat the rooftop infinity pool offered at Hotel Alana. Located on the spectacular foreshore of Nha Trang beach, the hotel offers modern rooms with some pretty fancy bathrooms to get dolled up in!

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Hoi An

If you’re a bit of a shopaholic, be prepared to spend all of your money in Hoi An. With rows upon rows of boutiques and market stalls selling everything from silk scarves and handmade jewellery to paintings and kitchen utensils, it’s a town you could just wander around in all day.

But the main drawcard for fashionista travellers is the tailor-made clothes you can get custom-made in Hoi An for a fraction of the price at home. Whether you’re after a tailored suit or a custom-fitted trench coat, you simply visit one of the many tailors, pick your desired fabrics, and come back for your fitting the next day. Voila, you have tailor-made clothes for a total bargain!

If you’re travelling up from the south of Vietnam you will notice a distinct change in Hoi An’s style with its strong Chinese influences – traditional lanterns line the scenic river and ornate architecture is abundant. Combine this with the town’s cobbled streets and lack of cars and there is a distinct old-world feel, adding to the destination’s appeal.

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for a taxi to get around you’ll be pushed to find a car as most taxis are ‘Moto Taxis’. That’s right, you hop on the back of a motorbike to get around. It’s particularly scary when the driver is also balancing your suitcase on the bike… But if that’s not your thing, you can easily get anywhere by foot, just make sure you bring comfortable shoes!

If you fancy getting out of town, there is a gorgeously scenic route to the beach that can be navigated by bicycle. The beach is not quite as impressive as Nha Trang’s but it’s a lovely route, and a great chance to get some fresh air away from the main town.

Golden Sand Resort & Spa

Golden sands resort beach

With your newly found savings from some well-priced tailored clothing, why not splash out a little for your night’s stay in Hoi An? For something truly luxurious, try Golden Sand Resort & Spa. Rooms come with flat-screen TVs and balconies overlooking either the sea or interior garden. For something truly indulgent, go for a suite and you might score yourself a private pool!

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Hanoi

As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is buzzing with energy – or maybe that’s just the thousands of erratic scooters. If you thought the traffic was bad at home, try crossing the road in Hanoi… The trick is to walk slowly across in front of oncoming vehicles, no, seriously. It’s pretty terrifying at first and it definitely takes some getting used to!

Hanoi unsplash 2

To kick off your exploration of Hanoi, the Old Quarter is a solid starting point with its labyrinth of lanes filled with several cute little shops. More importantly, this is where you will find the mouth-watering flavours of the city’s street food. Sample Vietnamese delicacies to your heart’s content whilst trifling through trinkets and treasures. What more could you want?

The city is based around a large lake in the middle of the city, Hoan Kiem Lake, which is an attraction in its own right. It even has a temple slap bang in the middle of it, Ngoc Son. Come to the lake at 6am and you will find many locals gathered to practice Tai Chi, or alternatively visit in the evening and attend the famous Water Puppet Theatre to witness this ancient Vietnamese art form.

Hanoi

If experiencing the Vietnamese nightlife is more your thing, Hair Of The Dog is a backpacker favourite for dancing the night away. Or alternatively, go to The Rooftop for a more upmarket option with fabulous cocktails and a drop-dead gorgeous view.

Maison d’Hanoi

Maison d'hanoi restaurant

For a characteristic night’s stay in the Old Quarter, spend a night at Maison d’Hanoi. This boutique hotel offers a total of 38 rooms, which blend luxury amenities and sophisticated design. Rooms offer air-conditioning, quality linen, and an indulgent bathroom with bath and shower.

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 TOP TIP: Situated in the North of Vietnam, Hanoi’s climate can be a little cooler than the South. So be sure to pack a cardigan for this city stop!

Ha Long Bay

You physically can’t look at photos of Ha Long Bay without being overcome with wanderlust. Hundreds of limestone islands with rainforests and picturesque junk boats floating by are probably why you wanted to visit Vietnam in the first place! But much like how the Mekong Delta is an excursion from Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay is best seen as a trip from Hanoi, as it’s only a two-hour bus ride away. But don’t let the journey put you off. Trust me, this UNESCO World Heritage site is well-worth seeing. 
Fotolia_Ha Long Bay 2 edited

The various Ha Long Bay trips you can book tend to differ slightly but all will include an exploration of Ha Long Bay by boat. Most will also stop off at a cave, either Dragon Cave or Surprising Cave, which are full of stalagmites and stalactites showcased in colourful lights. However if you choose a longer tour, rather than a day trip, other elements are also thrown in such as Cat Ba National Park, kayaking experiences, and stops at photogenic beaches.

Hotel Novotel

Novotel Ha Long Bay pool

When in Ha Long Bay, the obvious accommodation choice is something which overlooks the scenic bay. Hotel Novotel promises this, along with a whole lot of other great facilities. Rooms are adorned in exquisite Asian textures and offer air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, and a relaxing tub to unwind in after a big day.

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Whichever option you go for, you can’t deny how beautiful this part of the country is and Ha Long Bay will likely be a highlight of any trip to Vietnam.

TOP TIP: Make sure you check out reviews of Ha Long Bay tours before booking as they can really vary in both quality and price.

Overall, Vietnam provides so many different experiences for travellers. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the Vietnamese culture of the Mekong Delta, learn about Vietnam’s history in Ho Chi Minh City, party with backpackers in Hanoi, relax on the beach in Nha Trang or shop-’til-you-drop in Hoi An, options are endless. There’s no denying there’s something for everyone in this completely diverse and beautiful country. So pack your bags!

Looking for more stunning hotels in Vietnam? Take a look at our specialised hotels guide here.