Balancing modern buzz with rural charm and fantastic beaches, a holiday in Vietnam is your chance for a versatile trip that could take you trekking to mountain villages or padding across the sand on glorious tropical islands, darting between Saigon's streetfood stalls on the back of a moped, or slipping into the Mekong Delta on a private sampan.
Or why not all of it?! Easy to get around and equipped with a remarkable range of high quality accommodation, Vietnam is a true all-rounder.
Vietnam's coast and islands strike a comfortable balance between idyllic and practical, with plenty of undeveloped stretches amidst good infrastructure and excellent hotels, which range from unusual little boutiques to sumptuous spa resorts.
Although the beaches are all weather-dependent, the climate is such that you’ll usually find sunshine somewhere in the country. The palm-lined shores of Nha Trang are a particular favourite, while the seven mile sands of the Mui Ne Peninsula offer some of the finest beaches and coastal resorts in Vietnam, along with excellent wind-surfing.
Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands whose sea-turtles are protected by marine national park status, and its Six Senses hotel is rated amongst the finest resorts in Asia. The island of Phu Quoc, with its lovely beaches and excellent seafood, is also largely protected by national park status, and is home to macaques and hornbills. Up the coast to the north, the low-key shoreline around Quy Nhon also offers some of Vietnam’s best beaches.
Hoi An - or rather, nearby Cua Dai - also used to be a beach destination, but the sand has been so heavily eroded that the beach has vanished, so we don’t recommend it. Hoi An itself has a reputation for being incredibly picturesque. It certainly has an antique charm but this is somewhat squashed by the crowds of visitors, many of whom stay at the highly developed town of Danang just up the road. Nevertheless, the historic town is still electricity-free after dark, and we can tell you where to find a quiet candlelit spot to enjoy some of the finest food in the country.
The Mekong Delta offers an alternative place for R&R. Although its famous floating markets have become tourist-focused, you need only head into the backwaters to find the slow pace and rural lifestyles that make this region so attractive. Take a private sampan to witness the Delta residents’ extraordinary ease on the water as they leap from boat to boat, and cycle amongst the paddy fields for a glimpse of Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’ in action.
To really immerse yourself in the Delta rhythm, we recommend a couple of nights in a local homestay. However, the region can also be reached from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Here a gleaming modern skyline has risen amongst the ornate colonial buildings, yet down every back alley you’ll find the homely bustle of streetfood stalls and daily life. Whether you sip a cocktail in a sky bar or zip between streetfood markets on the back of a Vespa, you’ll get a scintillating taste of contemporary Vietnamese city life.
Just outside HCMC, you can visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels, the site of claustrophobic combat during the Vietnam War. They are quite touristy, and we find the Vinh Moc tunnels more interesting. These sheltered an entire village of people, and are situated just north of the old Imperial city, Hue. Although the city was heavily damaged during the war, its fortified citadel is still a highlight, along with several historic highlights. Outside town, you’ll find lovely rural scenery with great caving in a complex of limestone caverns. Incidentally, if caves are your thing, we recommend a trip inland to hidden gem Phong Nha, a tremendous cave system with underground rivers and kayaking.
Fantastic food is one of Vietnam’s major highlights, and we love to wander the pavements of Hanoi to sniff out the most fragrant pho from a streetside vendor. The chaotic capital is also a great place to immerse yourself in a Vietnamese cookery class, so you can recreate your favourite dishes when you get home. Find calm with the early morning tai chi community around Hoan Kiem Lake, and shop in chic little boutiques in the old quarter.
Several scenic areas lie close to Hanoi. The famously ‘iconic’ Halong Bay, with its stunning jungle-topped limestone karsts and traditional junk boats, is awash with visitors. We recommend taking a private boat into the backwaters where the tourist cruises cannot follow, or heading along the coast to find equally stunning scenery without the crowds.
Just inland, the evocative scenery of Ninh Binh is known as ‘Halong on land’ thanks to its huge limestone crags and dramatic rural vistas. We like to join a local family homestay to learn some age-old farming techniques and cookery skills. For wildlife enthusiasts, the Ninh Binh province is also home to Cuc Phuong National Park, a gorgeous area that is home to primates, turtles and colourful birds. Mountainous Mai Chau is another stunning place to experience rural life within easy reach of Hanoi. Home to many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, its hilltop eco-lodges and picturesque scenery are ideal for trekking and cycling.
If that doesn’t seem remote enough for your tastes, head far to the mountainous northern borderlands, which are famous for their hilltribes and community markets. The best known market town is Sapa, but this has become so touristy that we don’t recommend it unless you plan to visit an eco-lodge out of town. Instead we prefer Ha Giang, where rice terraces stretch for miles along misty mountainsides, and you can trek through ancient rural landscapes that have endured for centuries.
Things to love in Vietnam
What to do in Vietnam: Discover more with our hand-picked experiences & highlights
This is an after hours adventure that will take you to Ho Chi Minh’s hidden street food hotspots. Zipping past bright neon lights and lively sidewalk scenes on the back of a vintage vespa, weaving through hectic traffic and stopping to sample local treats, you’ll feel truly Saigonese for a few thrilling hours.
A homestay in the centuries-old village of Ky Son offers a wonderful chance to experience Vietnam's older ways of life first hand. You’ll find yourself making friends with the warmly welcoming villagers, whose livelihoods of agriculture and craftsmanship have remained comparatively steady for millennia.
Its said that the Mekong Delta feeds a good half of Vietnam, its fertile waterways rich with nutrients that travel hundreds of miles ending up in fisheries and rice fields. Stilt-houses line the quiet backwaters, and floating markets bob and jostle as farmers trade produce and hot breakfasts in the early morning. We suggest exploring the Delta by boat, particularly if it’s your own private sampan - the traditional Delta houseboat.
Discover your Vietnam
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The Selective difference
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Explore Vietnam's highlights
Mai Chau Valley is located within the picturesque region of Hoa Binh Province, southwest of Hanoi. A number of Vietnam's 54 indigenous ethnic minority groups live in the region, ensuring that the frequent markets are a colourful place to be. The region provides an excellent base for light trekking or cycling thanks to the picturesque valleys, staggered rice paddy terraces and the many small villages you'll encounter along the way.
Although it’s just a couple of hours by boat or car from Ho Chi Minh City, life in the Mekong Delta often seems a thousand miles from that bustling modern metropolis. Things here tend to move at a more sedate pace, and the Delta's friendly residents usually lead a far more traditional existence than their high flying city neighbours.
'Can do' attitude
Vietnamese presence of mind and focus on 'now' underpins its rapidly developing economy and refusal to dwell on the past.
From mouthwatering streetfood to cookery classes that share the secrets of its flavour philosophy, Vietnam's cuisine always satisfies our tastebuds.
Ca Phe Da
Vietnam runs on this sweet iced coffee, made with condensed milk & served everywhere from streetside shacks to trendy cafes in Hanoi & HCMC. Or try ca phe trung – topped off with an egg.
Vietnam is the world's largest producer of cashews, boasting a one third market share. In 2013 the country pumped out 1.1 million tons of the mineral-rich seeds.
Hanoi has more motorcycles than households. You can ride on the back of one in our HCMC 'after dark' experience.
40% of the population share the surname: Nguyen.
Nothing says ‘I’m in Vietnam’ more than sitting in a Bia Hoi bar on a Hanoi street, sipping a freshly brewed beer. Bia Hoi means ‘beer for all’.
Vietnamese uses six tones, so each word can have up to six meanings. In poetry, though, only two tones are used.