Vietnam is always one of our most popular destinations, and it holds a very special place in our hearts. Packed with headliner highlights and lesser-known gems, the perfect journey through Vietnam will be different for everyone.
Perhaps start in the north, dodging motorbikes in Hanoi before leaving the city far behind to cruise the beguiling scenery of the eastern bays of Bai Tu Long or Lan Ha. Just a short flight away you can find yourself in the historic heartland of Hue or the eclectic ambience of Hoi An. Moving south again, the vibrant metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City has a strikingly different feel to Hanoi, and is a great place to discover the country’s distinctive southern street food scene. It makes the perfect end, or indeed start, to your trip - this route works just as well in reverse. And how to round off your tailored tour of the country’s tastes and culture? We’d suggest a few lazy days on one of Vietnam’s superbly laid-back beaches.
Like many of the best things in life, deciding which route through Vietnam’s languid length suits you is not something to be rushed. It can depend on the time of year, how far you’re keen to travel, and whether you imagine resting your head in luxurious hideaways, back-to-nature eco resorts, or family friendly Selective Asia picks… Whatever your priorities and preferences for your Vietnam trip, we’ll make sure you find the perfect fit.
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a Selective Asia favourite and arguably one of the most characterful cities in the world. It’s a true city of contrasts that well merits a two- night stay, and really rewards those who can stay longer. Given that this is a city where even getting across the street can feel challenging at first, due to the (in)famous traffic, it’s the perfect place to consider a Selective Asia ‘kick start’ to help you settle in; chat with our Destination Specialists about how best to make that work.
Once you’re in tune with Hanoi’s rhythms, head for the central serenity of Hoan Kiem Lake, mingle in the bustle of the Old Quarter’s maze of narrow alleys, and wander between the grandiose buildings of the French Quarter. Discover the historic sites of the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the One Pillar Pagoda, or relax amidst the relative peace and quiet of West Lake. Wherever you find yourself in Hanoi, there are few better things in life than balancing (somewhat precariously) on a small plastic stool by the side of the road, tucking into a bowl of fresh pho noodle soup and a locally-brewed beer.
The Halong Bay region, a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Hanoi, is one of those places that presents us with a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s one of Asia’s most famous natural wonders; a hugely evocative landscape of jagged karst limestone towers rising from the sea. On the other hand, the Bay’s starring role brings visitors in their thousands, and the negative effects can clearly be seen. Hundreds of boats ply the waters, which are looking far less pristine than in the past. We’re always keen to challenge ourselves to revisit, revise and refresh what we recommend, and luckily it’s not necessary to look far for the perfect alternative.
Just to Halong’s east and south are the unparalleled Bai Tu Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay, both with a decidedly untouched and pristine feel. Although there are fewer boats currently cruising these bays, we’re confident we can find the right fit for you. Start your day with a tai chi class as the sun rises, marvel at the changing scenery from the sundeck, and look up at the towering karsts from a kayak. Venture into hidden caves, pause at floating fishing villages, and feast on the freshest seafood.
Home to the Imperial City - residence of the emperors of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty - and to the elaborate complexes of courtyards, pavilions and lotus-filled lakes that make up their tombs, stately Hue has plenty to offer history buffs. Add in the city’s distinctive, chilli-infused cuisine, and you can see why it’s just as much of a draw for foodies. Walk or cycle along the banks of the romantically-named Perfume River (perhaps slightly less picturesque than the name suggests!) and over the Truong Tien Bridge to the Citadel and the seven-story Thien Mu Pagoda, or take part in some hectic haggling at the Dong Ba Market before settling down to tuck into your chosen feast.
Those with a keen interest in military history can explore the DMZ (demilitarised zone), an area full of names evocative of some of the bloodiest battles of the American-Vietnamese war. Whilst many of the marks of this history have faded, our knowledgeable guides are adept at ensuring the histories of Quang Tri, the Rockpile and Khe Sanh are kept alive.
Take a scenic drive from Hue, up and over the Hai Van pass, and you’ll soon find yourself enjoying Hoi An’s bustling streets, traditional architecture and thriving restaurant scene. Its Ancient Town is now on Vietnam’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and, like Halong Bay, has begun to see unprecedented numbers of visitors. However, it still manages to maintain its singular character and slightly eclectic ambience.
We’d always recommend adding a few extra days in Hoi An, if you can. Try a cooking class with a local chef and take a table at one of our favourite eateries; traverse the ancient Japanese Covered Bridge and explore former merchants’ homes. Buy silks, handicrafts, antiques, and immaculately tailored suits (with an astonishing 24hr turnaround), find your favourite stop for a Vietnamese cà phê, and eat as many variations of the city’s signature cao lau noodles as you can. If you’re keen to explore further afield, let our Selective Asia guides arrange a few adventures in the surrounding countryside on foot, by bicycle, boat, or even jeep. In Hoi An, free time is never wasted, and you really can’t go wrong!
At Selective Asia, there’s no doubt that we love beaches, but we’re very choosy when it comes to which ones we head for. Coastal relaxation is an essential part of many holidays; a chance to fully relax and decompress from life’s pressures, to savour experiences a bit more slowly, and to indulge in delicious food, the odd tipple, and a few spa treatments. Thankfully, central and southern Vietnam boast a number of excellent beaches and islands.
Which you opt for will depend on the time of year, the other places you’re visiting, and the kind of stay you’re looking for. Choose between the beaches close to vibrant Hoi An, sweeping stretches of sand further south in Danang, peaceful and underdeveloped Quy Nhon, lively Nha Trang, or the southern beaches of Ho Tram, Phan Thiet and Mui Ne. Then, there are the islands, too: the pristine sands and turquoise waters of Con Dao, or the tear-drop shaped island of Phu Quoc. Whether you’re after a deserted stretch of sand, an island haven, or somewhere with a little bit of culture on tap, we’ll help you select your perfect slice of Vietnam beach bliss.
Arguably, there’s no other place in Vietnam that exemplifies the country’s past, present and future quite like the eclectic metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. On the surface it might appear to lack Hanoi’s traditional character, but we’d recommend delving a little deeper. Beyond the wide, elegant boulevards, with their neoclassical French architecture, and the high-rise towers and skyscraper skyline that mark out Vietnam’s modern economic hub, you’ll discover the narrow, densely populated alleyways of District 1, bustling with small businesses and atmospheric markets. These are places that fewer visitors know about, and our guides are always keen to show you the full spectrum of their city, both old and new.
Wander past a former secret Viet Cong weapons store, the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Basilica, and the pink neoclassic confection that is Saigon Central Post Office (designed by Gustave Eiffel). Head to Cho Lon (the city’s Chinatown), or gaze up at the achingly modern Bitexco Tower. Ho Chi Minh City comes alive after dark, and is a great place to ‘go local’ and explore with one of our resident friends, or ride pillion on a Vespa for a snapshot tour of the flourishing restaurant and nightlife scene.
The guide price of £2,590US$2,890 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 2 nights in Hanoi, 2 nights on Bai Tu Long Bay, 2 nights in Hue and 2 in Hoi An, 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City before spending your final 3 nights on the beaches of Phu Quoc; all in our favourite mid-range hotels.
How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Embark on a journey through Vietnam’s less-visited north - lush rolling hills, remote villages and friendly locals, with a side of morning noodles in Hanoi.