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Incense Market in North Vietnam

Top 10 Places to Visit in Vietnam

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7 September 2016 by Daniel Wright

Vietnam is full of dramatic destinations and delivers visual fireworks, sensory overloads and unique experiences wherever you travel; look out for intriguing urban adventures, striking landscapes and history at every turn. The challenge is trying to fit in everything that you might want to do. Use our Best of guide to Vietnam's Top Ten destinations to start to plan your perfect itinerary.

Vietnam is enjoying something of a renaissance and the youthful, enthusiastic population are engaging with the wider world. Although still nominally communist and socially conservative, Vietnam is much more accessible. Stable, secure, with a decent infrastructure and a large number of boutique or stylish places to stay, the country, whose cuisine has already gone global, is set to announce itself on the world stage.

So when will you go? And where will you head?

Hanoi

Immerse yourself in Hanoi. Explore the Old Quarter, marvel at mist-covered lakes and fading colonial facades and catch a glimpse of the city's centuries old traditions and heritage.

Walk the warren of streets dedicated to a single trade; explore the Temple of Literature, see the Presidential Palace and pay your respects to Ho Chi Minh at his monolithic mausoleum. Make sure you stop to snack on delicious street food and sip crisp bia hoi, fresh beer brewed daily, at shabby street corner bars as well.

Bicycles and mopeds in Hanoi
Bicycles and mopeds are by far and away the most common form of transport in Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh City

Hotter, brasher and more in your face than Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is the sort of place you have to hurl yourself into; embrace the swarming motorbikes, chaotic street scenes and jostling crowds at Ben Thanh Market to discover a wealth of history, some superb food and a pulsating nightlife that is unmistakably Vietnamese.

For an insight into the war that ravaged the country, variously known as the Vietnam or American War depending on who you talk to, visit the War Remnants Museum and take a trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels at the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

City Hall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
City Hall in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Halong Bay

Halong Bay's outrageous landscape of karst limestone peaks and aquamarine seas is one of Vietnam's top tourist draws, and rightfully so. With more than 2,000 different islands here though, there's plenty of scenery to go round; book an overnight cruise and make the most of a misty early morning kayak paddle and explore hidden grottos and lagoons before sailing back.

Otherwise, weigh anchor at Cat Ba Island and explore the national park here. For a quieter and less-developed alternative, head north to Bai Tu Long Bay.

Traditional junk ships cruising Halong Bay
Exploring Halong Bay on a traditional junk ship is undoubtedly one of the highlights of any luxury Vietnam holiday

Sapa

Ride the rails from Hanoi into the hills and ascend the Tonkinese Alps to Sapa in order to escape the hurly burly of the capital and discover tranquil hill stations, sinuous ridges, rice paddies and colourful ethnic minority villages.

Whilst here, climb Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak and the Roof of Indochina, and peer through the wreaths of cloud towards the Chinese border.

Sapa rice paddies
Sapa's bucolic landscape stretches for miles, filled with rice paddies that shimmer in the evening glow

Mai Chau

Relaxing and remote, Mai Chau is a tranquil valley that's the perfect antidote to the bustle of Vietnam's urban centres and the ideal place to experience northern Vietnam's rich rural culture.

Stay in traditional stilt houses, set out on foot to trek the countryside, cycle through rice paddies and fields or explore the traditional markets before learning how to cook like a local.

Rural life in the Mai Chau valley
Mai Chau's rural life is a marked difference to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Dalat

Escape the lowland heat by climbing to Dalat, a French-era mountain retreat surrounded by lakes and tea plantations in the central highlands. Stay in grand colonial villas, cycle roller-coaster roads, try abseiling or canyoning, visit waterfalls or simply slow down for a while.

Farm in the Highlands, Dalat, Vietnam
Farming landscape in the Dalat Highlands

Hoi An

Once Vietnam's most cosmopolitan port, Hoi An is considered the country's most attractive town. It still has a medieval air but now boasts a wealth of cosmopolitan restaurants, hip eateries, quirky boutiques and the country's best tailors too.

Wander the labyrinthine old streets, tour the temples, dine well, get measured for a suit and then retreat to An Bang Beach.

Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
Hoi An's famous Japanese Bridge

Hué

Once the imperial capital of the country, Hué still has a charming character and atmospheric vibe that can be soaked up as you relax on the banks of the Perfume River.

Explore the impressive Hué Citadel, its temples, walled defences and residential areas, to get a sense of the city's grandeur and place in history, it was the cradle of Buddhism in Vietnam, before visiting some of the country's finest pagodas and royal tombs on the outskirts.

Imperial Palace architecture in Hue
Hue's imperial grounds are as imposing as they are impressive

Vietnam's Beaches

Mui Ne

15 miles of beach close to Mui Ne stretch elegantly along this swathe of the coast. Kick back here with spa treatments and sundowners or get your pulse racing with adrenaline activities such as kite surfing and sandboarding.

Nha Trang

Popular and boisterous, Nha Trang is Vietnam's party place. With a good beach, large crowds and plenty to see and do, it's justifiably popular, whether you come for an adventure cruise, a visit to the local mud baths or a chance to see some ancient Cham towers.

Phu Quoc

For the ultimate in escapism and laid-back chic though, travel to the outlying island of Phu Quoc. Pause on the brilliant beaches backed by coconut palms, soak in the Gulf of Thailand, snorkel from unspoiled islets or set off on a motorbike to explore the quieter corners.

Jetty over the sea in Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is unspoiled and is home to laid-back beaches, quiet rides around the island and splendid snorkelling

Mekong Delta

Board a river cruise and take to the watery avenues and canals of the Mekong Delta to intimately discover the heart of the country and the traditional lives of its inhabitants; explore the marketplace at Can Tho, the Delta's largest city for a great insight into daily routines.

Readily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City, it makes a great excursion and offers you an alternative perspective as you wind through verdant jungle, fruit plantations and fishermen's shacks.

Woman at the market in Can Tho
The Mekong River underpins Vietnamese living, culture and transport

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