It’s easy to fall for this corner of South East Asia
Looking to explore somewhere bursting with culture, infused with flavour and packed full of experiences? We’ve found your place. Vietnam is an incredible and energetic country you’re bound to love – and here are 15 reasons why.
Vietnam’s signature dish – these days almost as ubiquitous outside of Vietnam as in it. The delicious rice noodles in broth with meat and a variety of garnishes can be found on practically every street corner in Vietnam. Hanoi is said to be the home of phở, but in Ho Chi Minh City a southern variation is competing with the flavours of the north – with more herbs and plum sauce.
Did you know Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer (after Brazil)? Coffee is taken seriously in Vietnam, and is often nerve-tinglingly sweet and strong. A favourite is a rich, sweet iced coffee, filtered slowly to bring out the flavours and essential oils, served with sweetened condensed milk and a hot jasmine tea chaser. Yum!
The word ‘Halong’ translates as ‘Where the dragon descends into the sea’, which evokes the mystical atmosphere that shrouds Halong Bay. The Bay is dotted with thousands of islands, hidden grottos, caves and a few sandy coves. Most travellers opt to spend the night on a traditional junk boat – one for the bucket list, without a doubt.
4. The energy
There are few places on earth with the lively energy of Vietnam’s cities. In Hanoi you’ll be dodging the scooters that swarm through the streets, exploring markets bursting with trinkets and weaving between locals sipping coffee and bia hoi (beer).
Vietnam has over 2,400kms of coastline but Nha Trang is where the action happens. A beautiful beach framed by looming mountains and a gateway to the small surrounding islands, Nha Trang is the go-to beach for travellers. With its pumping nightlife, there’s no doubt Nha Trang is a party town at heart.
Street food stalls are everywhere you look – offering everything from beef noodles (phở bò), broken rice (cơm tấm), sticky rice (xôi), rice noodles (bún) and rice roll cakes (bánh cuốn). And of course, the unmissable Banh mi, a baguette grilled over coals, filled with meat, pickled vegetable sand herbs. Add a bit of soy sauce and chilli and you’re in heaven.
A visit to the tailor is an essential item on any South East Asian itinerary, with the opportunity to pick up one-of-a-kind suits, shirts and dresses in most cities. But what about trainers? Those too. Pick your design, material, colours and own a pair of individual shoes.
Often agreed by travellers to be one of the most affordable destinations in the world, the cheap prices of Vietnam allow you to spend longer there. Some say you can get by on £5 a day for food and drink. More money for tailored suits, we say.
Each year in Vietnam is packed full of cultural festivals – most according to the lunar calendar. There’s the Full Moon Festival, Perfume Pagoda Festival (when pilgrims travel to the country’s most sacred Buddhist site), Vietnamese New Year and festivals of the more modern variety – such as the Da Nang International Firework Competition, the ‘Cannes’ of fireworks festivals.
Head to the remote northwest mountains for some of the most spectacular scenery you’re likely to see in Asia. The strategically-placed town of Sapa overlooks cascading rice paddies, with mountains rising on all sides. The view is jaw-dropping when the mist lifts, but, when it doesn’t, there are kilometres of trekking paths to explore.
11. Historic Hoi An
Travellers’ favourite, historic Hoi An is graceful and atmospheric. Meander down Hoi Han’s heritage streets and you’ll feel as if you stepped into a place that time forgot. But its old-town character is punctuated with some of the coolest bars and lounges to be found.
Described as ‘Vietnam’s rice bowl’, the Mekong Delta is where rice is grown in abundance (enough to feed the country, with leftovers!). Visitors taking boat rides down the canals that weave through the rice paddies will travel alongside fisherman in conical fisherman hats, stopping at riverside towns, floating markets and pagodas.
The Mekong Delta is famous for its floating markets, the largest if which are the markets of Can Tho, where a bulk of the local trade takes place. Pineapples, mangoes, jackfruit are passed from one sampan to another while tourists pass by. The markets of Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh are also worth a visit – where you can buy snake wine, coffee, pho, shoes, jewellery, clothes, souvenirs – anything you can think of, really!
Hue, pronounced ‘hway’ was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty and today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A complex of monuments and citadels – palaces, pagodas and temples – located on the Perfume River. The most famous of which is perhaps the Forbidden City - only the Emperor and a selected few were allowed within the walls of this part of the citadel.
Between Nha Trang’s late night scene and the cosmopolitan bars of Hoi An, not to mention Ho Chi Minh’s hip nightclubs, there’s plenty to keep you occupied after hours in Vietnam. Watch the sunrise over the South China Sea and then do it all again!