Your Best-Value Insider Guide to Discovering Vietnam, from Experiences to Accommodation

Dream to travel and travel to dream. Even though Covid-19 put international travel into hibernation for most of 2020, our inner travelers still itch to get on a plane and explore exotic lands. While we patiently wait for all borders to open, let’s embark on a virtual journey to Vietnam, recently placed 13th out of 21 destinations in Condé Nast Traveller’s The Best Holiday Destinations For 2021.

Immersing in Nature and History in the North

Explore Hanoi, the Heart of the Nation

Hanoi – where thousand-year-old culture blends with the modern age. Before Covid-19, direct flights to Hanoi had become more frequent than ever thanks to the tourism boom. Visitors often want to check out the charming Old Quarter, situated in the city center. But you can enjoy this exciting way to discover the city’s iconic backstreets – from the back of a Minsk.

Backstreet adventure by Minsk
Backstreet adventure by Minsk; photo credit: hanoibackstreettours.com

How about a little wake-me-up with creamy egg coffee or ca phe sua da (milk coffee)? Hanoians love sipping coffee and catching up throughout the day! There are hundreds of coffee shops in the Old Quarter so make sure to stop by for some.

Small Coffee Shop
Small Coffee Shop; Photo by Hieu Tran on Unsplash

And, let’s not forget about Hanoi’s street food scene. Hearty, flavorful, and easy on the wallet, you will agree with us that the town has more to offer than Banh Mi. Our recommendation? Walking around the Old Quarter after dark and having a bite (or more) for dinner!

Where to Stay in Hanoi:

Finding a place to spend the night in Hanoi is easy these days. A click away on booking.com or Agoda and you’ll be drowned in thousands of hotels. The question is, where to look? Below are our top picks: 

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

Constructed under French colonial rule in 1901, Sofitel Hanoi is among the most important historical landmarks of the city. Beyond staying in a 5-star hotel, you will feel like you’re taking a trip back in time to the Hanoi of the early 20th century.

Sofitel Legend Metropole
Sofitel Legend Metropole; Photo credit https://www.cybevasion.fr/

Hanoi La Siesta Trendy Hotel

A 4-star boutique hotel situated in the Old Quarter. The hotel’s design is contemporary, giving you such a cosmopolitan vibe.

Hanoi La Siesta Trendy Hotel
Hanoi La Siesta Trendy Hotel; Photo credit: lasiestahotels.vn

Beguiled by Mountains and Valleys

It’s time to head north to the mountains. With ranges stretching as far as the eye can see and lovely valleys tucked between, the region is perfect for adventure. Sa Pa may be the most popular but the lesser-known spots are equally remarkable. Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Thanh Hoa province (southwest of Hanoi) is such a place. Well-preserved nature and lush valleys will take your breath away. Also, local communities offer valuable insights into the minority diversity of the region.

Beguiled by Mountains and Valleys
Beguiled by Mountains and Valleys; Photo credit: indochinatravelblog.com

Where to Stay in Pu Luong:

It is the best of both worlds when you can enjoy modern facilities yet respect the wonderful nature and ethnic culture. Luckily, more and more vacation homes take on this sustainable approach. When in Pu Luong, check out Pu Luong Retreat – a 3-star cozy holiday home focusing on up-cycling and recognizing the local heritage.

Pu Luong Retreat
Pu Luong Retreat; Photo credit: Pu Luong Retreat

Reminiscing the Bygone Days in the Center

Discover Hue, the Slumbering Old Capital

The days of monarchy are long gone but the legacy remains vivid in Hue. Only an hour’s flight south from Hanoi, this “slumbering” town glows with something charming yet mysterious. Maybe it’s from the well-preserved Citadel, whose hallways and palaces linger in the past.

Step back in time at The Citadel
Step back in time at The Citadel. Photo by Kha Vo on Unsplash

Maybe it’s the slow pace of life, looking from your rickshaw trip around historic streets. What’s more, the food. Hue’s cuisine is something to remember. Strangely, you can almost taste the city’s charm in its bun bo Hue (beef noodles), or crispy Banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake).

Street food aside, you can learn a lot about Hue’s renowned “royal cuisine” from a cooking class. How about joining a cooking session at Hue Inn Side Out to meet people and savor what you have prepared? The venue is also a beautiful restaurant, nestled in a lush garden setting by Huong river.

Where to Stay in Hue:

Staying in the city allows you to indulge in that ancient town aura. For that, we recommend Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa, a verdant 5-star resort located in the city center.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDYeCgb-Eyc

Wander Around Hoi An, the Century-Old Port Town 

Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site, needs little introduction. Travel+Leisure magazine named it the best city in the world in 2019, and CNN this year had it on the most romantic places to visit list.
Getting on a bicycle is the best way to admire the town’s cultural mosaic. Also, cycling through green and gold rice fields in the surrounding area is uber relaxing. While meandering between the yellow-painted houses and narrow alleys, don’t forget to try Hoi An’s must-eats: herbal tea and cao lau noodles.

Hoi An City
Hoi An City; Photo credit: Toomas Tartes on Unsplash

In case you get a little fed up with all the sightseeing, there’s kayaking in Hoi An. Although it’s not the adventurous type of kayaking, you still get a nice mix of relaxation with a bit of action. The trip often starts with exploring the old town from Thu Bon river, paddling through coconut mangroves, and back to the starting point.

Where to stay in Hoi An

Accommodation in Hoi An radiates the alluring Indochina flair in design, making it a breeze to find a lovely holiday home. But we recommend staying close to the dreamy Thu Bon river for total relaxation.

Thu Bon river
Thu Bon river; Photo credit: littlehoiangroup.com

Where Metropolis meets Countryside in the South

Visit Ho Chi Minh City, the Nation’s Economic Hub

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), “the pearl of the Far East” in the past, is now Vietnam’s biggest economic hub. The city has everything you’d expect from a metropolis. There are close to 9 million people living, breathing, and coming together in a big melting pot of culture, architecture, and gastronomy. It may feel overwhelming at first, but the city’s hidden beauty unveils itself once you take your time to explore. Let’s start with visiting the century-old quarters in the city’s Chinatown – Cholon, District 5.

Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City; Photo by Simon Nham on Unsplash

The city becomes strangely alluring when night falls. The air is warm and slightly sticky, artificial light fills everywhere, and life doesn’t seem to slow down. So, how to best venture into the streets with style? Our answer – a Jeep!

If you have half a day to spare, take a trip to the Cu Chi tunnel. Only one hour west north of central Saigon, the astonishing landmark is part of a 250-kilometer hand-dug underground system. In the French and American wars, the local resistance force used it for both working and living purposes. However, it is advised that people with claustrophobia do not take part in the activity.

Củ Chi tunnels
Củ Chi tunnels; Photo credit: grayline.com

Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City:

Districts 1, 3, and 5 are top choices for most people and you can easily find a good place to stay in these areas. You can go back in time with a 30s-Esque place like Hotel Des Arts Saigon Mgallery Collection or opt for something modern like Fusion Suites Saigon.

Hotel Des Arts Saigon Mgallery Collection
Hotel Des Arts Saigon Mgallery Collection; Photo credit: hoteldesartssaigon.com

Chasing Cinematic Dreams in the Mekong Delta

If you’re a fan of cinema’s modern classics like The Lover or Indochine, you’ll love the Mekong Delta. Two hours’ drive south from bustling Saigon, you’ll come across places where the country way of living overrules city life. Floating markets, mangroves, footbridges, and livelihood on the river prevail.

Visiting the floating market is one of the region’s specialties so make sure to be up early in the morning for that. Also, cycling in verdant fruit orchards and savor their freshness should be on your list.

Where to stay:

The “Mekong Delta” is quite a generic term since it covers several cities and neighboring provinces. Start your journey in Can Tho city and check out Azerai Can Tho for a memorable time in its 5-star, traditional yet modern facility.

Azerai Can Tho
Azerai Can Tho; Photo credit: azerai.com

For another option, Can Tho Ecolodge offers 4-star amenity in a homely, rustic style.

Drift Away with Sea and Sand

Blessed with a long coast line, Vietnam offers some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. And what’s a better way to end your journey than sitting by pristine water and white sand? While Phu Quoc island may be first to come to mind, under-the-radar destinations are what experienced travelers yearn for.

Unwind in Con Dao

A little paradise for unwinding and watching extraordinary sunsets. In 2019, Vogue Paris named Con Dao among nine “dreamy islands” perfect for a winter escape. Once a prison during French rule, the archipelago now entices visitors with breathtaking views of azure water, white sand, and lush forest.

Con Dao
Con Dao; Photo credit vnexpress.net

Where to stay in Con Dao:

A secluded 4-star resort called Poulo Condor Resort & Spa is our choice of the day. Embracing 20th-century French architecture, the place sits amidst lush plants and offers an incredible private beach.

Poulo Condor Resort & Spa
Poulo Condor Resort & Spa; Photo credit www.poulocondorresort.com

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