Vietnam stretches down the eastern coast of Indochina paper-thin, but its history and landscapes are anything but. There's vivid rice terraces in the north and pulsating cities in the south, interspersed with refined towns adorned with Japanese bridges and tailors creating exquisite clothing, and Old Towns that simply buzz with life. Combine this with serene beaches, floating villages and exquisite dining, from street food to high end eateries, and Vietnam's possibilities are boundless.
Hanoi, the country's capital, is chaotic and buzzing, with an Old Quarter filled with narrow streets and endless markets. It's all done alongside pretty lakes and bridges, ancient architecture and a bustling restaurant scene where you can find anything from street food to rooftop eateries. Temples such as Bach Ma, a tribute to a legendary horse and lakeside Tran Quoc pagoda, add to the charm. By contrast, Hoi An is reminiscent of a bygone area, with a wonderfully preserved Ancient Town that heaves with lantern displays, tailors lining the streets, and small markets sliced with canals trickling under delicate bridges, like the iconic Japanese bridge and its intimately lit pagoda. Further south still you'll find modern Ho Chi Minh, where French colonial architecture and food markets create a cosmopolitan vibe. There's more sobering experiences, too – Vietnam's long and harrowing history is detailed in countless museums in most cities, such as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh.
Some of the world's most spectacular caves lie in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, reached via motorbike but worth the journey as you kayak and trek through the ethereal grottoes. Further north, emblematic rice terraces dominate in Sapa, but recent commercialisation and tourism means it's no longer the tranquil beauty it once was. Pu Luong is a more serene, and emptier, choice, all tumbling rice terraces, picturesque unspoilt landscapes, waterfalls and charming mountain villages. Head far south and you'll find Dak Lak, vaunting stunning lakes, pine forests and waterfalls.
Vietnam has beaches to rival that of the Seychelles, but at a far lower price tag. Ha Long Bay is well known for its exquisite beauty, but its popularity can sometimes mean it's overrun with visitors. If you'd rather avoid crowds, its emptier little sister of Lan Ha Bay is a better bet, where rainforests and rice fields wind in the shadow of high mountains. Its pristine azure waters are perfect for kayaking and swimming, and the Ba Ham Lake area is surrounded by limestone caves and verdant, steep cliffs. Just minutes from Hoi An city lies the stunning An Bang Beach, offering excellent paddle-boarding and surfing. For pure beaches, Nha Trang is a coastal resort city in southern Vietnam, lined with beach bars and many scuba diving sites. For further exploration still, head to the often-overlooked Lang Co Beach, situated in a serene bay off Hue.