"Vietnam is a country, not a war,” goes the popular saying. Though memories may still lie below the surface for those who survived past conflict, hopefully the healing power of time is no more apparent than in Vietnam today. An increasingly vibrant tourist destination, this country will continue to break barriers and dispel preconceptions. From lush jungle terrain to beautiful coastline, cosmopolitan cities to friendly hamlets, Vietnam offers travelers quite the assortment of diversions. We suggest trying to spend a week.
Hanoi is a delightful city featuring a grand collection of colonial-era European architecture. In the time that you spend with us here, much of the downtown area will be explored via cyclo and on foot in order to enhance the local experience. As you’ll notice, all of the streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter were historically dedicated to a different business or trade, like the Street of Hemp or the Street of Fans. There are many shopping opportunties, as well as restaurants and galleries, all around your accommodations. You can even attend an evening performance of the famous "water puppets" at the Thang Long Theater.
Outside of Hanoi proper, we encourage a visit to Halong Bay, where it is said that the Great Dragon himself plunged into the sea, the slashing of his mighty tail creating the Bay’s beautiful islands. Whether you spend a day aboard one of our junk boats or stay overnight, this 3-hr drive from the capital is a popular trip. There are also local craft villages surrounding Hanoi that your host can escort you to, selling everything from porcelain to firecrackers.
For those with extended time to spare, consider an overnight train ride from Hanoi to the most northern part of Vietnam - Lao Cai! Within walking distance of the Chinese border, Lao Cai contains one of the most colorful markets in the country. We’ll arrange for transport into the hills where villagers from various ethnic communities gather to sell their products and livestock every Sunday. This is a genuine experience, including everything from traditional blacksmiths, to open-air tobacco, to colorful Hmong women donning beautiful costumes. Then there is also the nearby town of Sapa, situated at 5,250 feet above sea level, which is a wonderful hotspot for trekking opportunities.
In the middle of the country, the great imperial city of Hue offers many undiscovered gems, such as a village on the outskirts of town where traditional artisans produce embroidery, ceramics, wood-carvings, and a mix of central-Vietnamese handicrafts. Depending on how much time you have, perhaps you’d like to visit Hue’s imperial tombs, cruise the Perfume River, cycle to an orphanage run by Buddhist nuns, or take a day trip into the former DMZ. Driving south to Danang and Hoi An will allow you to climb from sea level to over 5,000 feet near Bach Ma National Park. The ancient trading port of Hoi An is a bike-friendly UNESCO World Heritage town just south of modern Danang. Nearby sites include former R&R hotspot China Beach, the Marble Mountains, the Cham ruins at My Son, and lots of restaurants, galleries, and even custom tailors and sandal-makers. Consider visiting during the lantern festival!
The transparent turquoise water, the abundance of offshore islands, and the old-world charm of colonial-era hotels and villas that line Nha Trang Bay make this one of Vietnam’s nicest beach destinations. During your stay, snorkeling, fishing, and other activities can all be arranged locally. Further inland lies one of the most popular honeymoon spots in Vietnam. Dalat is a 2.5 hour drive from sea level to over 4,000 feet into the cool Annamite Mountains. At points along this splendid road, views of the plains as far as the blue Pacific can be had. Also known as “Le Petit Paris” and “The City of Love,” Dalat lies in a uniquely temperate zone compared to coastal Vietnam - a higher altitude area filled with forests, lakes, and waterfalls.
If you only had a day, a short walking tour would take you past some of Old Saigon’s most notable landmarks, including the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Central Post Office, the Reunification Conference Hall, and the former Republic of South Vietnam palace. At night, when Old Saigon really comes alive, we suggest an entertaining Vespa ride, dining at one of the great restaurants along historic Rue Catinat, or perhaps taking in a drink at the rooftop bar of The Rex, wartime gathering place, and a taste of Graham Greene’s Vietnam. With more time, you can visit Cholon, the old Chinese district of the city, or leave Saigon altogether to visit the famed Cu Chi Tunnels or the delta town of Tay Ninh, with its famous Temple of the Cao Dai sect. Deeper in the delta, you can experience southern towns like My Tho and Can Tho, where fresh produce is sold from boats along the Mekong. Or for the truly adventurous, try a speedboat up to Chau Doc and then into Cambodia.
Regions in Vietnam