Commonly referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest city and undisputed commerce capital. It is a dynamic city that is currently enjoying the fruits of Vietnam’s economic boom – lavish hotels, decadent restaurants and trendy nightspots are continually added to the cityscape. The younger residents may seem status oriented and eager to flaunt their new-found wealth, a significant change from the war-savaged population barely one generation ago.
Yet against the backdrop of new-found confidence, frenetic development and urban bustle, the boutique charm of HCMC still lives on amongst the tree-lined boulevards, quaint wooden shops, old temples and colonial architecture. The city is quickly making a name for itself in Vietnamese crafts shopping, an emerging art scene and a wide range of dining pleasures (with almost every imaginable cuisine available).
One of the world’s most fertile areas, the Mekong Delta is home to countless rice fields and tributaries across thousands of square miles of flat land. An overnight cruise in the Mekong Delta is definitely worthwhile, for the experience of awakening in the early morning to find floating markets and villages floating around you is incredible. The small sizes of the Song Xanh Sampans and Cai Be Princess are perfect for glimpses into the local ways of life while relaxing in the comfort of a floating boutique hotel. The restored colonial vessels of Pandaw and Bassac are great for Mekong Delta cruises between Saigon and Phnom Penh.
Lying in the heart of the Red River Delta, the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi blends the old world charm with the dynamism of a rising Asian city. Its legacy as a former French colonial city is still evident from the French-inspired features - lakes and parks, colonial architecture and broad tree-lined boulevards - that still dot the present cityscapes.
The city has undergone dramatic transformation over the last thirty years and is now seeing a burgeoning population paralleled by rising motorbike ownership, a rapidly expanding retail sector and a flourishing art scene. Yet when compared with Ho Chi Minh City, the economic powerhouse in the south, Hanoi still retains a romantic and elegant atmosphere.
The perfect way to see the UNESCO World Heritage area of Halong Bay is to spend a night aboard a charming boat. The mystical scenery of Halong Bay where thousands of limestone islands jut out of the emerald sea, sculpted into bizarre shapes and surrounded by colourful floating villages is a truly a breathtaking destination. Be transported back to the nostalgic charm of yesteryear aboard the Emeraude, a luxurious replica of a grand colonial steamer. Other charming vessels in Halong Bay include Indochina Sails and Bhaya Cruise. Make a stop at a local village to enjoy the captivating performance of traditional water puppetry, a distinctive art form of the Red River Delta.
Vietnam’s northern mountain ranges are breathtakingly beautiful with fresh air and cool temperatures. To visit these remote mountains, take advantage of the elegantly restored Victoria Train with its plush seating and wood-paneled Pullman carriages. Home to a diverse group of ethnic minorities such as Tay, Red Dao, Black and Flower H’mong, Sapa boasts of ample hill tribe trekking and home stay opportunities. Beyond Sapa, Mount Fansipan (Indochina’s highest peak) is great for trekking and exploration.
An imperial city during the Nguyen dynasty, Hue still retains much of its royal heritage and laidback atmosphere. Straddling the banks of Song Huong River (Perfume River) in Central Vietnam, it is best known for its historic monuments and architecture and has been appointed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated along the south central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is an outstanding example of a well-preserved ancient town that has been designated a World Heritage Site. Known as Faifo in the past, it was a major port town that boasted multi-cultural influences from the 16th – 18th centuries. Today, it is a quaint and picturesque town that can be easily explored on foot.