There are so many reasons why Vietnam is such a favourite travel destination for Australians. No doubt an intense place to visit, it’s a country of contrasts, teeming with natural beauty, a haunting history, colourful local culture, and a cuisine that’s captured the hearts and taste buds of foodies worldwide.
After the devastating effects of 20 years of war, Vietnam is full of an energy, resilience and buoyancy that’s astonishing to witness. While traces of the war remain wherever you visit, it’s matched with a strength and sense of pride that is deeply moving.
Soak up the coffee culture and wide boulevards left by the French, before immersing yourself in the Indian influences of spicy cuisine and Hindu temples in the south. Over 1000 years of Chinese rule has left its mark on the country and amongst it all a graceful, classic Vietnamese culture beats strongly.
Here are a few of the top places to visit when planning your trip.
Ho Chi Minh City
Perched on the banks of the snaking Saigon River, Ho Chi Minh City is a heaving mass of contrasts and chaos. It’s home to bustling marketplaces and glitzy boutiques, high-end restaurants and tiny food stalls, soaring development and age-old neighbourhoods.
There’s something for every kind of traveller here – whether it’s reflecting in the War Remnants Museum, poking around the French Quarter in District 1, shopping for scorpions in the Ben Thanh Market or walking the abandoned corridors of the Reunification Palace.
Take time out from the frenetic pace with a generous serve of Ho Chi Minh City’s fabulous culinary scene. From dirt-cheap street stalls to fancy French bistros, it’s a feast of regional and world delights.
Symbolic of everything that’s graceful and beautiful about Vietnam, Halong Bay is a serene landscape of emerald green water punctuated with the majestic peaks of thousands of limestone islets. With a smattering of green forest cloaking the formations, it’s not hard to see why Halong Bay was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
Drift along the bay aboard an old fashioned junk boat, and venture off for a bit of kayaking, swimming or cliff jumping, and be at one with the breathtaking ancient landscape.
Hoi An is the Vietnam you’ve been waiting for, a timeless city of swaying lanterns, tottering timber shopfronts and a host of Chinese, Japanese and European architectural gems.
Take in the exquisite Japanese Covered Bridge, one of the most iconic symbols of Hoi An, suit up with a tailor made ensemble from one of the many proprietors in town and indulge in one of the finest culinary cities in the country.
Hanoi is a city with an endless supply of energy. A sea of motorcycles zip along its wide boulevards, sophisticated restaurants and bars are springing up all over the city and there appears to be no end to the new swanky malls, boutiques and warehouses popping up.
Nestled within this modernity lies old-world Hanoi, where street vendors in bamboo hats peddle their wares, crumbling colonial buildings radiate a fading grace and sweeping tree-lined avenues hint at its strong French heritage. Stroll the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake alongside morning t’ai chi participants, dive into the Old Quarter of Hanoi with a visit to Bach Ma temple and try your hand at Vietnamese cuisine with a local cooking class.
What the imperial city of Hue may lack in hopping nightlife it more than makes up for in its impressive monuments, tombs and pagodas. On the banks of the Perfume River, the evocative city of Hue is the former capital of the Nguyen Dynasty and still embodies a reserved, dignified air. History buffs will delight in a stroll along Hue’s 19th century walled citadel, enclosing the Imperial city and a host of delightful city gardens and prominent streets