Crazy and calm, exciting and relaxing, Vietnam is among the rare destinations where your experience can be stretched to its limits. When it comes to tourism, Vietnam is a reverberating symphony of culture, history, landscape and at its heart, the people. Traveling to Vietnam, you will find that these categories are not rigid but rather diverse and dynamic. Every landscape you tread, every architecture you see, every dish you taste and every person you meet has a story to tell you. Therefore, no matter what preferences you have, Vietnam can offer you your best travel experience.
In 2016, Vietnam is forecasted be an even more ideal destination. Major international and regional events, especially Hue’s Festival 2016 and Asian Beach Games 2016, will be held at various tourist destinations. Another reason why Vietnam should be on your list in 2016 is about affordability. Although tourism has witnessed giant leap for the last decade, in Vietnam, prices are low compare to other countries. Take for instance, while having a decent vacation in Bali will cost you no less than $100 per person per day, a lovely two-day cruise tour in Halong Bay is only around $140. The deal gets even better if you are a backpacker: it only costs you around $20 a day to discover and enjoy the most “expensive” metropolises of Vietnam.
Below is a must-go list for you to start with:
Hanoi is a unique city where seemingly contradictory characteristics happen to exist in harmony. It is where the people embrace rich cultural legacy while thriving to modernity and affluence. It is where you can easily find thousand-year-old pagodas, colonial French-style buildings, and modern skyscrapers all located on the same street. And it is where you can find hip-hop dancers showcasing their skills with daring moves in the same park where old grandfathers are doing Taichi with a calm and relaxing demeanor.
When it comes to tourism, there are endless choices for a thrilling and satisfying excursion in Hanoi. In this city of more than one thousand year of historical continuity, you can virtually walk through time as you visit various tourist attractions and historical sites. Some of them date back to as far as the 1000s C.E., such as One Pillared Pagoda, Temple of Literature and National University. The Old Quarter or the Ancient Streets, which is regarded as Base Camp for many foreign tourists, is also a historical landmark as it was actually conveyed many centuries ago, encompassing streets that made and sold all sorts of commodities. The sights of modernity such as high-rise buildings with shopping, dinning and entertainment complexes, are, of course, visible everywhere in the city.
Bai Tu Long Bay & Cat Ba Island
Bai Tu Long Bay is one of the most beautiful seascapes in Vietnam. Located within the Gulf of Tonkin, they bay is capable of leaving you in awe with its emerald waters and thousands of titanic islands and islets. Adjacent to Halong Bay at its southwest side, Bai Tu Long Bay is even more mesmerizing than its counterpart because of the absence of mass commercialization. Here, you will have the chance to visit Bai Tu Long National Park, which is the habitat of hundreds of flora and fauna. Aside from these natural scenery, the bay is home to about 30,000 people. Most of them live by fishing on Van Don, Quan Lan, Ban Sen, Ngoc Vung islands. A day tour to their offshore fishing villages will offer you a glimpse into their simple yet back-to-nature lifestyle.
To the southwest of Bai Tu Long Bay is Cat Ba Archipelago which belongs to Hai Phong City. With green islands and giant limestone islets, Cat Ba’s waters are consistent with the magnificent scenery of the surrounding seascapes. The main island of the archipelago is Cat Ba Island, also the largest island in the Gulf of Tonkin. With an area of 354 square kilometers and a population of more than 8000 people, the island is a resort town with more than enough infrastructure and facilities to support the influx of tourists and vacationing locals every summer. In spite of these manmade development, a major area of Cat Ba is zoned as national park where diverse ecosystem, dense forests and large limestone grottos are preserved.
Trang An Eco-complex
Located 100 km from Hanoi, Trang An Eco-complex is a part of Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, a 2000-square-kilometer area that hosts various tourist attractions, ranging from natural scenery to religious architecture. Boasting the nickname of Inland Halong Bay, Trang An Eco-complex is packed with limestone mountains, jungle, caves and river. The most popular way to travel through this area is on small rowing boats. Cruising on serpentine river of sparkling emerald water, tourists will feel immersed in the refreshing atmosphere and enthralled by the spectacular scenery.
The boats will take you to the limestone caves along the river. More precisely, you will go under the mountains by boat. There are 9 caves in total and each has its own shape, size and formation. Some caves are so big that once you are inside, everything is surrounded by darkness and you cannot even see their end. Some has its own historical legend such as Wine-brewing cave, which is believed to have some connection with Dinh Tien Hoang, the ancient king who unified Vietnam a millennium ago. At some points of the journey, the water is so calm and clear that you can see the algae and fish floating and swimming below.
Where the nostalgic and poetic ambiance can be felt from the quiet corner of the streets to the mossy walls of imposing citadel, Hue is a city of its own class. Being the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945, Hue hosts an array of old palaces, citadels, tombs, and temples. Magnificent as the impression that these structure may give, Hue, contradictorily, is renowned for its solemnity and quietness. Maybe this can be traced to the history of Hue, the last imperial capital of the last dynasty of Vietnam, and later on a city that suffered unimaginable horror during the bloody Vietnam War. No matter what the reason is, Hue can be aptly compared to a lady that harbors deeply in her heart a sad story that manifests in the poetic atmosphere of the city.
Endless words and phrases of poem have been invented to describe the dazzling charm of Huong River, the most precious treasure of Hue. However, the beauty of the river is beyond word, especially at sunset when you have to see it to believe it. The experience of stepping into a Romantic painting!
Though no longer the capital of Vietnam, Hue can still proudly boast its title of the center of Vietnamese cuisine. Once home to the most extravagant dynasty, Hue’s cuisine has developed into an art, with every dish being perfect from the look to the taste and encompassing the finest of Vietnamese gastronomy.
Danang/ My Khe beach
Voted as the best city to live in Vietnam, Da Nang is a combination of modernity and tranquility. Unlike Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which often face the nightmare of traffic and pollution as well as many hassles regarding urban planning and development, Da Nang is blessed with large area relative to its population. Revamped infrastructure, modernist buildings, surreal bridges (at night), clean boulevards and friendly people have become the widely recognized qualities of the city.
Located in a superb location for developing tourism, Da Nang has been regarded as the most attractive destination by many Vietnamese families and foreign tourists. Natural wonders range from white-sand beaches to tropical forests on Son Tra Peninsula and manmade attractions ranges from Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort to Fantasy Park Indoor Entertainment Zone.
A maritime city, Da Nang is most renowned for its beaches, among which My Khe is the most beautiful. Indeed, this slightly sloped strip of crystal water, white sand and poplar trees was voted by Forbes Magazine as one of the world’s six most attractive beaches in 2005. Before 1975, My Khe was reserved exclusively for U.S. GIs stationed in South Vietnam. Nowadays, My Khe is dotted with hotels catering to all kinds of tourist demand.
Hoi An is an ancient town, located in Quang Nam Province. With mild climate and strategic location, Hoi An used to be one of the busiest port in Asia, attracting merchants’ ships from China, Japan and Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Trade not only brought material prosperity but also cultural values, especially in terms of artifacts and architecture, to Hoi An. However, during the colonization period of 19th, Hoi An lost its position as the primary port of Central Vietnam to Da Nang which was being developed by the French. Since then, Hoi An became a quiet and peaceful old town, unaffected even during the turbulent years of the wars and the following mass-urbanization period. Thus, most of the cultural and architectural values of this city have remained intact.
Hoi An has the unique charm to mesmerize any tourist with its atmospheric and delightful ambiance. Free from the modern curses of traffic and pollution, Hoi An offers its visitors the experience of being immersed in peacefulness, the perquisite for a satisfying and meaningful journey. In this UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand still various constructions of different Asian cultures, among which Japanese Pagoda Bridge and Chinese Phuc Kien Assembly Hall are the most outstanding. Hoi An’s handicrafts and tailorship, renowned for their sublime quality, are representatives of Oriental craft and artistry.
Regarded as the Pearl of the East Sea (aka South China Sea), Nha Trang is a tropical paradise of year-round warm climate and refreshing golden-sand beaches. Gulf of Nha Trang is about 507 sq km, comprising of 19 islands. Every island on this list has something special for you to admire, ranging from empty beaches and unique ecosystem to caves hosting thousands of salangane. In addition to these marine pearls is Nha Trang’s diverse and colorful coral reef, making an ideal destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. Given such a variety of tropical marine ecosystems, Nha Trang has become one of the major marine-life research centers in Vietnam, hosting the National Institute of Oceanography.
In addition to these bountiful gifts of Nature, Nha Trang has also been invested to become one of the most lively tourism hubs in Vietnam. Hon Tre, the largest island in the gulf, has been developed to become a resort town. That is Vinpearl Land, a luxurious hotel and amusement complex, connected to mainland by the longest cable car system crossing over the sea. Not so far from the city is Pon Nagar Holy Temple, a Champa Kingdom’s complex of ancient temple towers built in the eighth century. Or your knack is something simple yet authentic, some biking tours will lead you to the pastoral countryside of Khanh Hoa Province.
Ho Chi Minh City
One of the two epic centers of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is an energetic city that has never stopped its pulsating progress. Founded in the 17th century as a result of the Southward migration wave during Nguyen Dynasty, Saigon soon became the capital of Indochinese Federation under French colonial period. Boasting the titles of Paris of the Orient or Pearl of the Far East, the city has a history to be proud of.
Sharing some resemblance with its counterpart, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City is also a city of contrasts: the old and the new, the modern and the traditional. However, compared to the one-thousand-year-old Hanoi, this three-hundred-year-old city is more towards the new and the modern. As the most populous metropolis of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is filled with energy and vibrancy. From the pavement stalls of plastic stools and cheap street food to sleek skyscrapers of ostentatious shopping malls and extravagant boutiques, you can always feel and live the buoyancy of this city. Historical and cultural heritages such as Independence Palace, Museum of Vietnamese History and China Town are awaiting to show you the deeper dimensions of the city. And for those who would love to have some romantic moment, take a dinner cruise on Saigon River to enjoy the mesmerizing night view of Saigon lights.
Put it simply, the color of the Mekong Delta is beyond description. From the various landscapes: lush greenery and extensive waterways, to the multifaceted everyday lives of the people: vendors bargaining on floating markets and Buddhist monks walking mindfully on the streets, this deeply pastoral region is a real-life story of diversity and vibrancy. The so called ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam is an extensive flatland that encompasses 12 provinces, each has something unique to be discovered. Just to name a few, My Tho and Vinh Long are famous for boat-trip and floating markets, Sa Dec for stunning river scenery and enchanting flower plantation, and Ca Mau for lush mangroves and swamplands.
In 2014, the Mekong Delta has been listed by Rough Guides as one of the world’s top 10 best-value destinations. The priceless experience that this off-the-beaten-track land offer to you won’t break your pockets. You can find some of the very good yet inexpensive hotel in Can Tho, the capital city of the region. Moreover, the fact that it has an extensive waterway and road system means that you can travel around the Mekong Delta swiftly and economically, whether it is on motorbikes or on boats.
And if the Mekong Delta itself has not satisfied your insatiable desire to explore, then its strategic location makes cruising to the offshore island of Phu Quoc or even venturing into Cambodia surprisingly convenient and economical.
Emerging like a pearl in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. Spanning on an area of 590 sq km, Phu Quoc is as large as Singapore in 1960.
Crystal clear water, unspoiled beaches, peaceful rivers, picturesque waterfalls, and tropical forests are the most precious treasures of the island. These natural attractions, combined with the fact that Phu Quoc is a deeply rural island, has made the largest island in Vietnam an ideal destination for tourism. Having fun on the beach with some sport or just relaxing in this paradise’s wind and sun is by no means a cliché since Phu Quoc’s beaches are exceptional. Otherwise, if you are the adventurous type, Phu Quoc is blessed with dense tropical forest and mighty waterfalls, perfectly suitable for your trekking excursion.
You can venture to the nearby islands. Hon Thom archipelago is a one-stop destination for various activities, from snorkeling into the coral reef to seeing the cultured pearl production process. At the end of the day, give yourself a pause from the hectic life and find some romantic moments under the awe-inspiring sunset at the Cape of Dinh Cau.
Nowadays, as Phu Quoc is becoming more and more prospective in terms of tourism, transportation to the island is very convenient. From mainland Vietnam, you can travel to Phu Quoc by airplane, high-speed boat or ferry. Vietnam Airlines operates several flights from key cities of Vietnam – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Can Tho - to the island.