YOUR INSIDER'S TRAVEL GUIDE TO 15 DESTINATIONS
IN VIETNAM 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL IN VIETNAM
SAIGON INSPIRATION TRAVEL IN VIETNAM
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL SAPA
Sapa may not be the easiest place to get to in Vietnam, but your efforts will be rewarded with stunning landscapes, a cool (sometimes cold) climate, and the types of hiking opportunities that you simply will not find elsewhere in the country.
Traveling to Sapa takes an overnight train journey or 5-6 hour bus ride from Hanoi, Sapa is a stone’s throw from the Chinese border. Located in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range, anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 people reside in this picturesque town (official and unofficial figures vary), split among six ethnicities (including the Vietnamese). The area includes Vietnam’s highest peak, Fansipan, at 3,142 meters. Sapa weather is moderate and cool in the summer, wet from May to September, and foggy and cold in winter, with occasional snow. From March to May the days are sunny and nights are cool and crisp, with the best photo-op views from September to October.
Sapa is home to five ethnic minorities: the Hmong, Red Dao, Tay, Giay, and a small number of Xa Pho. Most of them live in small villages in modest huts and hamlets scattered throughout the district. In fact, the Vietnamese are not locals here – it’s the minorities that have come from as far back as 800 years, down from Southern China. In the 19th century, Sapa was colonized by the French, but around 200 colonial buildings were destroyed by 1954, leaving Sapa to start over from scratch. Slowly, the Vietnamese began to migrate upwards and in 1993, Sapa opened its doors to international tourism.
Once a sleepy, charming town, Sapa’s city center has been leaning more and more towards tourism and has lost some charm along the way. Fortunately, the town is not the region’s main highlight, and there are certainly more genuine destinations in the Lao Cai province. Some, like Cat Cat Village and Silver Waterfall are tailored for tourists, while further reaches still preserve the beauty and authenticity of terraced rice fields and peaceful hill tribes.
If you’re in the market for ethnic minority handicrafts, the villagers will be more than willing to oblige. Especially popular are the traditional quilts and clothing. Be wary that when near touristic areas, a “maybe” for their wares might warrant the minority saleswomen or children to follow you, lightly haggling you to buy something until you do. Give them a more firm “no” if you don’t want anything. This can get bothersome if you simply want to experience the town, so either be prepared to stand your ground or move out to further accommodation such as the Topas Ecolodge, which is surrounded by natural beauty.
One of Vietnam’s best-hiking destinations, it is easy to hire a local guide for both day hikes and longer trekking adventures. Many are of course attracted by Fansipan. The trek up the intimidating mountain can be done in a day, but it is recommended that hikers go overnight as you don’t want to run down a muddy trail to beat the sunset. For those preferring the unbeaten path, Topas Travel conducts tours that specifically avoid kitschy points of interest, and instead opt for little-known destinations and villages not yet overrun with tourists or hagglers.
Those looking to sample local (ethnic minority) cuisine have three options: try the Hill Station restaurant in Sapa town, the restaurant at Topas Ecolodge, or if you have/make a Hmong or Red Dao friend, have them invite you over for a family meal. No ethnic minorities have opened up restaurants in the area as of yet, so the above options are your best bets. Otherwise, there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants, the best of which are more “local” spots around the lake.
There are daytime and overnight sleeper trains between Hanoi and Lao Cai. Sleeper trains leave Hanoi at 9:50 p.m. and arrive in Lao Cai at 6:15 a.m. Private cabins are available at livitrans.com.
How to Get to Sapa
Located northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is the best-known mountain town in Lao Cai province on the border of China’s Yunnan province. At present there’s no airport in Sapa, so the only options are to take the train or arrive by road.
From central Hanoi, the drive takes about 5 and a half hours, and around an hour less if you opt to head straight to the mountains from the airport. Alternatively, you can take the sleeper train from Hanoi which takes around 8 hours to reach Lao Cai train station. After the train, you will need to drive the final 30kms to Sapa.
However you choose to get to Sapa, the final approach offers beautiful views over deep valleys and steep paddy fields as you slowly but surely wind your way through the ‘Tonkinese Alps’.
What to See and Do in Sapa
Hiking and enjoying the stunning natural scenery are by far the most common reasons for visiting Sapa. There are enough hikes to keep hikers of all fitness levels entertained for a few days at least. Novice hikers can enjoy the leisurely strolls to nearby villages, Cat Cat and Ta Phin, whilst more experienced, energetic hikers may wish to tackle Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina.
Although some hikers ascend and descend Fansipan on the same day, this hike can be turned into an overnight trek with the option to camp on the mountain if you wish. If all of that sounds like too much hard work, you can always take the recently installed cable car.
As you walk around Sapa you will undoubtedly encounter people from the hill tribes that live in the region. Their brightly colored, traditional clothes and accessories are handcrafted by members of the ethnic groups who use techniques that have been handed down through generations.
If you are interested in buying some of the local products, be sure to visit Sapa Market where women from the tribes will be happy to answer any questions you may have about their products.
What to Eat in Sapa
For a small town, Sapa offers a good variety of restaurants, including a handful of international fine dining options courtesy of the most exclusive hotels in town. However, if you are looking to sample more local specialties, look for cap nach pork, the local take on a hog roast, or thit trau gac bep a local snack, similar to jerky but made using buffalo meat.
When considering where to stay in Sapa, there should only be one real consideration – the view from your room. After taking the time to travel to this stunning location, make sure you take the time to drink in the spectacular views that can be shrouded in mist one moment and revealed for all to see the next.
Luckily, there is no shortage of options that are conveniently located in the center of town and suitable for all budgets.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL SAPA
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI
Hanoi, the second largest city in Vietnam – and also the country’s capital – is in many ways different from its big-city cousin, Ho Chi Minh City.
More clean, consistent, and picturesque than the rough architectural hodge-podge that is Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi’s classical appearance is composed of colorful colonial buildings, lakes, abundant flora (fig trees grace the streets), and a more suburban air throughout.
The biggest testament to Hanoi’s persona is The Old Quarter, a colorful district with narrow, twining streets that wind in all directions, packed back-to-back with commercial activity, an enormous variety of restaurants and cafes of all price levels, colonial architecture, and all shades of bars, bakeries, and boutique shops. It is here that you will also find Hoan Kiem Lake, which many associates with the symbol of Hanoi.
Motorbikes still swarm in chaotic droves and every corner of more popular districts is packed with interesting regional cuisine. Do not expect a foreigner-friendly experience just because the city is relatively modernized and the streets are cleaner than in Saigon – this is through and through an old-school Vietnamese city with conservative ideals and few English speakers. Locals are kind, as they are in much of Vietnam, and petty crime is less prevalent than in the South, but still exists.
Hanoi’s appeal lies in its charming presentation, great street food, beautiful surroundings, and a classic appeal that comes from 1,000+ years of existence. The cuisine is a big indicator of the Northern city’s different style of life: food is exotic and many dishes are surprisingly new experiences even for those who have traveled extensively throughout central and southern Vietnam. Like much of Saigon and Dalat, Hanoi retains trace roots from the colonial era, employing French architecture and food and merging these with Northern Vietnam’s age-old customs and traditions.
How to Get to Hanoi
Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport is about a 45-minute drive from the city. Hanoi Railway Station, on the western edge of Hoan Kiem District, includes air-conditioned trips to and from HCMC
A Short History of Hanoi
Around the year 1010, the first ruler of the Ly dynasty chose Hanoi as his capital. It remained so for nearly 1000 years until the Nguyen Dynasty transferred the title to Hue in 1802.
Hanoi finally regained its status as the capital of French Indochina, and eventually North Vietnam in 1902. This status was extended to include the entire country (both North and South) after the fall of Saigon and the reunification of the country in 1975.
What to See and Do in Hanoi
Start with a visit to the Old Quarter (Hoan Kiem District). Here, 13th century architecture stands guard over narrow streets crowded with local craft boutiques, cafes, and street stalls.
Enjoy a moment of calm overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake, the jewel of the city center. Cross Huc Bridge or the charming Rising Sun Bridge to get to the center of Jade Island where you’ll find Ngoc Son Temple.
If after your walking tour through the Old Quarter you feel like you need a pause to cool down, catch a taxi to the French Quarter where you’ll find modern shopping malls and 5-star hotels.
Hanoi is a city of museums, landmarks, and heritage architecture. It would take at least a week to see everything. If you’re short on time but keen to see the most important sites, don’t miss:
- The Temple of Literature is an 11th-century historical site and functioning national university dedicated to Confucian learning.
- Hanoi Opera House, the neoclassical gem of the French Quarter.
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is the somber final resting place of Vietnam’s national hero.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is a fascinating way to learn about traditional Vietnamese folk tales for kids and adults alike.
- St. Joseph Cathedral, Hanoi’s oldest church.
- Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2010.
- Our favorite museums include the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, the Women’s Museum, and the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts.
What to Eat in Hanoi
Hanoi is famous for bun cha, a dish made with grilled pork, rice noodles, fresh herbs, and veggies. Also, don’t miss out on trying Hanoi’s famous egg coffee. While the name might sound off-putting, this delicious concoction of espresso, sugar, condensed milk, and egg yolk is creamy and dessert worthy.
You’ll also find plenty of options for alcoholic beverages from cheap bia hoi (local beer) to top-notch cocktails and wines in the many upscale hotels and restaurants throughout the city.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HANOI
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HA LONG BAY
Ha Long Bay
One of the most recognizable destinations in Vietnam, Halong Bay is an area of incredible natural beauty and offers ample opportunity to explore and relax at the same time. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the turquoise waters and movie-set scenery of Halong bay is northern Vietnam’s most popular tourist destination.
Halong Bay Vietnam, or Descending Dragon Bay, is a popular travel destination along the coast 170km east of Hanoi. The Bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles dotted with caves and grottoes. Halong Bay is 1,553km2 and includes 1,960 islets, most made of limestone. Nearly 500 years ago, it was called the ‘rock wonder in the sky by poet Nguyen Trai in his verse Lo Nhap Van Don.
The geo-diversity of the environment has created an incredible range of biology spread over tropical evergreen, oceanic, and sea shore ecosystems. While tourism and industry have taken a toll on the ecology, constant efforts to practice sustainable bio-tourism ensure that we will continue to enjoy this natural wonder in a responsible manner. After enjoying the above-ground wonders, step into another world through the expansive caves dotted throughout the islets. Each cavern contains jagged stalactites and stalagmites in a vast spectrum of shapes, all open to interpretation.
A fine example of aging with grace, the bay has been in geological transformation for 500 million years. Be respectful and it just might last 500 million more. Apart from natural beauty, Halong Bay has also been the setting of two James Bond films. Though it may be difficult to imagine a speedboat chase through such serenity, how can you blame them for taking advantage of the cinematic scenery?
How to Get to Halong
Easily reached by bus, minivan or taxi from Hanoi city centre, Hanoi Airport or Van Don Airport, you can take time to visit this beautiful region even if you only have one day to spare. The trip will typically take you 2.5 to 4 hours from Hanoi.
What to See and Do in Halong
Undoubtedly, the best way to experience Halong Bay is from the water. Countless cruise operators offer the choice of a day trip or one to two-night cruises, which will give you the opportunity to experience the highlights of the bay.
Relax on the deck in the sunshine as you sail gently through the thousands of limestone karsts that rise majestically from the water. Explore the naturally formed caves and grottoes before taking a refreshing swim in the crystal clear water.
If time permits, kayak around the coves and inlets that are too small for other boats to reach. However you spend your day, your time in Halong is bound to create wonderful memories.
If you stay overnight in the bay, you can expect to enjoy a peaceful night under the stars, being rocked to sleep by the gently lapping waves. Luxury cruise operators offer accommodation on par with 5-star hotels on shore, and evening entertainment often includes squid fishing, cooking demonstrations, live music, or sipping cocktails on the deck.
For visitors who have more time on their hands, it’s possible to spend time on one of the habitable islands in the bay. Cat Ba is the largest and best-known island in the archipelago and offers both lush green jungle and golden sandy beaches to enjoy.
Lan Ha bay, which is an area less frequently visited by tour groups and cruises, is also easily accessible from Cat Ba if you wish to see more of the famous landscape. Finally, if you’re feeling energetic after a few days of rest and relaxation, Cat Ba is a great spot to enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, and rock climbing.
Back on dry land, Halong offers a handful of 5-star accommodation options from which you can explore the surrounding area. Bai Chay is a lively area with a wide man-made beach that is popular with visitors and locals alike.
However, it is the sprawling Sun World Halong Complex that captures the attention of guests who stay in Halong after ending their cruise. The Sunworld amusement park offers a water park, a 2km long cable car, roller coasters, and a 215-meter-tall Ferris wheel!
What to Eat in Halong
Of course, being located right on the coast, the must try dishes from the region are primarily seafood based. Cha muc (grilled chopped squid) is a famous dish from the Quang Ninh province and horseshoe crab (sam) are plentiful in Halong Bay. Enjoy a fresh crab salad or sauteed sam with lemongrass and pepper for a real treat.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HA LONG BAY
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HUE
Picturesque and steeped in history, Hue is a delightful destination where North meets South and tradition mixes with the modern. In the lively area around Chu Van Anh street, you’ll find groups of young Vietnamese drinking beer and coffee until the early hours, whilst within the walls of the ancient city, ladies in non la conical hats serve tasty street treats and life seems the same as it was centuries ago.
Hue on the Central Coast of Vietnam is a city with an astonishing history. From its early days during the Nguyen Dynasty right through to today, it has lived in interesting times. Originally called Phu Xuan it was named the nation’s capital by Emperor Gia Long in 1802. It remained the national capital until 1945. Following Emperor Bao Dai’s abdication, the communist government was established in Hanoi, whilst the French colonists established a state capital for the South in Saigon.
During the war, the city suffered terrible damage especially in the 1968 Tet Offensive, due to its proximity to the border between North and South Vietnam. Sadly some of the City’s greatest treasures were terribly damaged; and what treasures it has. The Citadel of Ancient Monuments is one of Vietnam’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Imperial City was the seat of the Nguyen emperors. It covers a large, walled area to the north of the delightful Perfume River, so called because in the Autumn blossoms from fruit trees drop into the water upstream and float down.
This creates an aroma that pervades the city. Sadly most of the Forbidden City was destroyed by American bombs, though efforts are now being made to restore it. The attractions don’t end there; along the Perfume River other famous and important monuments are found. The tombs of the Emperors Minh Mang, Kai Dinh and Tu Duc are popular tourist attractions. Also, the Thien Mu Pagoda is here, the largest in the city and its official symbol.
Hue now receives in excess of two and a half million visitors per year, providing a useful economic boost to the town. This is of course a difficult balancing act, to maintain the level of tourism without having a negative impact on the environment. The authorities are, thus far, managing it. Hue is a great city to visit and one that is steeped in the history and culture of Vietnam. It has good transport links, with its railway station and Phu Bai International Airport.
How to Get to Hue
Hue is located in the centre of Vietnam and is easily accessible by either the airport or train station which are both located within easy reach of the city centre. With a population of around half a million people, Hue manages to avoid the chaos of big cities like Saigon and Hanoi, whilst maintaining a continuous buzz of activity.
What to See and Do in Hue
For many visitors, the main reason for visiting Hue is the Imperial City. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the walled city was built over a 30-year period when Hue was Vietnam’s capital city. For 143 years the Nguyen dynasty ruled from Hue and the impressive and extensive complex of palaces and royal buildings is of great importance to Vietnamese history.
Within the walls of the Imperial City is the Imperial Enclosure, in which the Emperor’s Residence is situated. Recent renovations have made the Imperial Enclosure a particularly enjoyable place to explore at your leisure with beautiful gardens and well-preserved buildings to explore. Tickets to enter the Imperial Enclosure are 150,000 VND, however, entrance to the Imperial City, in general, is free.
Once you’ve explored as much or as little of the ancient city as you like, make sure you take advantage of Hue’s location on the banks of the Perfume River (Sông Hương). It is said that a trip to Hue is not complete without a leisurely trip down the gently flowing river.
Whether you choose to sail in the daytime and make the most of the refreshing breeze or wait until the evening and enjoy the twinkling lights and floating lanterns that illuminate the water, you’ll return to your hotel with a sense of serenity and calm.
What to Eat in Hue
Like most regions in Vietnam, Hue has a selection of delicious dishes that originate from the city. Of course, bun bo Hue ( a thick beef noodle soup) is the best known, but make sure you try other local specialties whilst you are here. Com hen (clam rice) and banh loc gai (tapioca dumplings) are widely available, cheap and very tasty.
If you’re looking for somewhere more luxurious to dine, there are a number of exceptional restaurants located within imperial-style buildings that provide a unique dining experience. There are many conveniently located hotels within walking reach of Hue’s main attractions, however, if you’re looking to make the most of your time in this wonderful city, why not consider a boutique resort and spa on the outskirts of town? Here the world turns at a slower pace, and you can really relax and enjoy your time in Hue.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HUE
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL DA NANG
No trip to Central Vietnam is complete without a stop in Danang. One of Vietnam’s largest ports and the fifth most populated city in the country, Danang is also an enclave of luxury hotels, beautiful beaches, and opportunities for cultural excursions. Midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Danang used to be a simple stop-over for travelers on their way to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Hoi An. However, Danang has come into its own over the last few years with a combination of new development and local life.
With a developing population, Danang Vietnam is fast becoming a modern world-class city, but it has managed to retain its cultural charm. Highrise buildings stand adjacent to local markets and cyclos are still present in traffic despite the growing emergence of cars. Established by the Champa Kingdom in the 2nd Century, the name Danang derives from the Cham word for ‘opening of a large river.’ Recognizing its value as a major port, French imperialists began their Vietnamese campaign in Danang Vietnam and the city rose in prominence. Now, it is the fifth most populated city in the country.
As Vietnam’s leading center of urbanization and industrial production, Danang’s economy is growing and diversifying to include everything from textiles to aviation technology. For a look at Danang’s historical commercial hub, browse Han Market for an extensive array of consumer goods and souvenirs. The surrounding area is known for its natural wonders, most notably the stretch of beaches offering pristine sand and gentle waters. In the mountains, head to Bana Hill, a former French hill station converted into a vacation hub. With hotels, restaurants, historical sights, and a children’s Fantasy Park and arcade, this idyllic jungle hideaway is perfect for the whole family.
Take a closer look at the area’s Champa past at the Museum of Cham sculpture. The architecture of the museum itself is an intriguing fusion of French colonial and facets of the classic Cham style. The museum houses over 300 artifacts that cover the main period of Champa power, from around 500AD to the empire’s demise in the 15th Century. During the American War, many US and Australian servicemen relaxed on the pure sand of the beach they called ‘China Beach’. The beach was the focus of the quirky American TV drama series, also called China Beach. With its beachside hotels and seafood restaurants, it’s still a great place to hang out.
Talking of beaches, hotels, resorts, and restaurants springing up Danang Beach is rapidly being transformed into the next big beach resort. Danang city itself has a 4-kilometer sweep glistening sandy beach where travelers can draw breath and soak up the sun. Hotels, resorts, and restaurants are springing up along the beach, as Danang is transformed into the next big resort town to rival Nha Trang.
Not to be missed while in Danang, about 8 kilometers south of the city, is the alluring cluster of 5 mountains known as the Marble Mountains or Ngu Hanh Son in Vietnamese. Each of the mountains was named for one of the five elements: metal (Kim Son), wood (Moc Son), fire (Hoa Son), earth (Tha Son), and the highest and most beautiful mountain, water (Thuy Son). The mountains are riddled with easily explored caves and tunnels. Some of the caves are ancient places of worship, some for Buddhists and others, reflecting the Cham heritage, to Hindu deities.
How to Get to Da nang
The Da Nang International Airport connects daily to Ho Chi Minh City. Once you’re in town, it’s easy to hail a taxi to get around. For longer trips to Marble Mountain or Hoi An, check with your hotel for a pre-paid car service.
A Short History of Da nang
Danang was established in the 2nd century by the Cham people as part of the Kingdom of Champa. In the late 19th century, French imperialists took control of the area because of its strategic port placement. You can learn more about the city’s storied history in the Museum of Cham Sculpture.
What to See and Do in Da nang
Start your visit by wandering around the city center, where you’ll find well-preserved examples of French colonial architecture and ancient religious sites such as Phap Lam Temple and Da Nang Cathedral. As you walk around the city, you might notice a white marble lady looking down on you from a nearby mountain. This is Lady Buddha perched in her home on Monkey Mountain. She’s the tallest buddha in Vietnam at nearly twice the size of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer.
To see her up close, drive 14km to the Linh Ung Bai Pagoda complex located on the southern side of the Son Tra peninsula. Evenings should be reserved for Danang’s Dragon Bridge. Designed to look like the serpentine swirls of a dragon’s back, it sparkles with colorful lights each night. If you have time and wish to explore further afield, a short drive of 15 Km will bring you into the cool shadow of the Marble Mountains. You can walk up stone steps to visit ancient shrines and explore hidden caves.
BEACHES AND SCENIC BEAUTY
A trip to Danang isn’t complete without a day lounging on the city’s coastline. Lang Co beach is dotted with palm trees and white sand. My Khe Beach, sometimes known as China Beach, was a popular R & R location for American G.I.s during the Vietnam-US conflict. The beach can get crowded on weekends but if you arrive early it’s a great place to see local fishermen casting out in basket boats. If you’re traveling with kids, head up to Bana Hill. This former French military station was converted into an arcade and theme park complete with hotels and restaurants.
WHAT TO EAT IN DA NANG
Anyone who loves good food will happily feast in the one of the eateries that line the seafront or, for the more adventurous, try local cuisine in one of the numerous street food stalls. We recommend mi quang, a regional speciality, made up of pork, shrimp, quail eggs and rice noodles. For high-end cuisine, head to any of Danang’s newest 5-star resorts where you’ll find an array of restaurants featuring international and local fare.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL DA NANG
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HOI AN
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, Hoi An is one of the most charming destinations in Vietnam. This 2000-year-old port town is filled with lovely architecture, excellent cuisine, and nearby beaches – definitely a must-see for anyone traveling through Central Vietnam.
Historically, Hoi An has been one of Southeast Asia’s chief trading ports, a place where people and culture converge. As such, it is not surprising that this quaint town has remained a paradise for buyers and sellers. Hoi An is a commercial center, a market, and a melting pot, all rolled into one tastefully attractive cornucopia of commercial products.
Hoi An is both an interesting city and a great beach location. There is so much to see and do here. The Ancient Town is of historical interest and is of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beaches are lovely, with great restaurants lining the shore and the Cham Islands providing a picturesque backdrop.
The increased flow of tourists has created a new market for traditional handicrafts and artistic creations in Hoi An. With new demands and desires, the combination of ancient customs and contemporary creativity pushes new boundaries and results in dazzling products. Don’t miss the signature lanterns or original jewelry designs crafted with silver and a variety of precious gems.
The lantern-making industry, for which Hoi An is famous, sees thousands of brightly colored lanterns lit in the evenings. The restaurants down by the waterfront provide picturesque views. The local cuisine is generally accepted to be among the best in Vietnam, and visitors will never struggle to find good food.
Beyond the souvenirs, there are high-quality crafts and elegant clothes. If you have a design in mind, bring in your ideas and see them come to life. Otherwise, peruse the selection and pluck the perfect piece. Of course, the main shopping attraction in Hoi An is the large number of custom tailors waiting to make you the perfect outfit. Whether you’re in the market for a Western-style suit, a traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai, or anything in between, there is a boutique with the fabric and expertise necessary to bring your ideas to life.
Prices are extremely competitive and the quality is excellent. Most hotels will recommend a certain shop with which they have a connection, but truth be told most of the garments are made at the same centralized location. It doesn’t matter which shop you choose the quality and price will be similar. Hoi An is one of the best locations in Vietnam, it has just about everything necessary for an interesting holiday.
How to Get to Hoi An
For such a popular destination, it might seem strange that Hoi An doesn’t have an airport nor a train station. To visit you’ll have to go the old fashioned way – by road. The best option is to fly into Da Nang and then hire a taxi but the short transfer is absolutely worth it.
A Short History of Hoi An
Hoi An’s old town is considered to be one of the best preserved examples of a 16th-century trade station in Vietnam. Hoi An became a major trade route around 1595 when Central Vietnam fell under the rule of the Nguyen Lords. However, in the 1700s, Da Nang replaced Hoi An as the primary port and Hoi An was virtually abandoned by both the foreign and local import and export market. This exodus allowed Hoi An to remain frozen in time.
What to See and Do in Hoi An
If you’re an early riser, your first stop should be the Central Market. Here you’ll find dozens of merchants selling everything from tableware to fresh fish.
If the market doesn’t satisfy your shopping needs, Hoi An is a paradise for anyone who loves the word “bespoke.” You can have almost anything you want to be tailored to your design in one of nearly 400 shops that line the winding alleyways in the old town.
However, be aware that not everything can be done in a short period of time. Make sure you are clear about your timeline so that the tailor can tell you what’s possible.
Also in the center of the old town, you’ll find several historical attractions. You can buy tickets to visit each one individually or purchase a pack to all five locations. All sites close at 5 pm, so start early. The architectural influences from Japanese to French show the town’s mixed heritage.
Begin with the 2000-year-old Tan Ky house. The house features beautifully carved pillars and a large open courtyard. If you’re interested in Hoi An’s trade history, visit Phu Kien, an assembly hall and place of worship built by Chinese merchants. Next, head to the Japanese Covered Bridge. It’s worth the small fee that you’ll have to pay to cross this beautifully carved wonder.
For a deeper sense of Vietnam’s cultural identity head to the Precious Heritage Museum. The museum, created in 2017 by the French photographer Réhahn, includes the portraits, stories, and artifacts of the country’s 54 ethnic groups. The free museum is in the French Quarter.
As darkness falls, stay in the town center so that you don’t miss the beauty of hundreds of lanterns and twinkling lights reflected in the waterways that wind through the town. An Bang beach, located 5km from the old town, is the best place to go if you’re looking for a place to relax in the sand.
WHAT TO EAT IN HOI AN
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL HOI AN
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL QUY NHON
Relatively undiscovered, Quy Nhon is often overlooked by visitors who favor the popular beach resorts of Nha Trang and Da Nang. Whilst a visit to one of these more developed destinations may come with various benefits, they can also lack the charm and authenticity that a hidden gem can provide. Without crowds of tourists and endless rows of international hotel chains, Quy Nhon gives visitors a delicious taste of small-town Vietnam without skimping on comfort and interest.
How to Get To Quy Nhon
The easiest way to get to Quy Nhon is to fly from Saigon and take a car to your resort. As the airport is located 40km away from the city, it is worth checking if your accommodation provides a shuttle service. However, taxis are easy to arrange at the airport.
What to See and Do in Quy Nhon
Once you’ve arrived in Quy Nhon, you’ll find the city easy to navigate and its broad promenades comfortable to stroll around. The sweeping municipal beach is clean and spacious and in the evening is a gathering point for locals to relax, drink coffee or even do t’ai chi. However, if you are willing to venture a little further afield, beautiful, secluded beaches can be found at Quy Ha and Ky Co.
In addition to fantastic beaches, Quy Nhon also offers a handful of attractions that provide insight into local life and history. The well-preserved Leper Hospital at Queen’s Beach is an interesting and surprisingly enjoyable place to explore, as is the Bing Dinh museum which features exhibitions of natural history and the tribal culture of the region.
What to Eat and Drink in Quy Nhon
After a leisurely day exploring and relaxing on the beach, you should take the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine. Without the pressure of mass tourism, Quy Nhon cuisine maintains high levels of authenticity and simplicity. Fresh, flavourful dishes are served on every street corner, and as you would expect from a coastal town, seafood is a speciality of many restaurants.
Banh xeo thom nhay (a Vietnamese style pancake with shrimp) is a local speciality that differs from the banh xeo of other regions. Elsewhere you’ll see banh xeo prepared in a wok or large frying pan and folded in two. However, in Quy Nhon the pancakes are cooked in a small frying pan and left open, so that the appearance is similar to a pizza with a crispier texture. Once served, you can add sliced, fresh mango and fresh herbs for a zingy, crunchy dish that always leaves you wanting more!
In terms of nightlife, Quy Nhon is relatively limited. However there are one or two bars that offer live music and local craft beers and cocktails. Despite having a small selection of places to enjoy a night cap, Quy Nhon town centre is easily navigated by taxi so nowhere is off limits.
One thing that Quy Nhon is not short of, however, is exceptional accommodation options. Choose from modern and convenient apartments, luxurious beach front villas, or a premium resort with top-quality facilities on site and enjoy your time in charming Quy Nhon.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL QUY NHON
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL NHA TRANG
If you like your beach resorts to be energetic and lively, Nha Trang is the destination for you. Just a short drive from the sedate, luxurious beach resorts of Cam Ranh, Nha Trang offers a much more cosmopolitan option for those looking to let loose and relax.
Big enough to provide variety but small enough to not overwhelm, the city is situated on a 6km stretch of golden sand, which is gently lapped by beautiful blue waves and lined with palm trees. With a group of small islands to explore a short boat ride away and the beautiful Hon Ba Nature Reserve within easy reach, Nha Trang is the perfect location to sample everything Vietnam has to offer. There really is something for everyone.
Located on the south-central coast of Vietnam known for its beaches and scuba diving sites. It is a popular destination for both local and international tourists looking for a spot of relaxation or a splash of adventure. Historically, the city was known as Kauthara under the Champa. Visitors can still see the famous Po Nagar Tower perched on a hilltop at the mouth of the river. The ancient Champa temple was restored by a local king in 784 AD after being ransacked by invaders who made off with its treasure.
While Nha Trang is a center for marine science based at the Nha Trang Oceanography Institute, it is now more known for its fun-in-the-sun mentality. If you prefer your marine life served on a plate, it is also the best place in Vietnam to order a couple of lobsters. One of Vietnam’s most scenic drives, Tran Phu Street runs along the ocean and is referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway of Vietnam. If you don’t have time to take a drive, fear not, for your taxi will take this road to the airport.
From the beach, you will be able to see Hon Tre Island (Bamboo Island). The motorized cable car system is the world’s longest, linking the mainland to the five-star resort and theme park. The myriad of other islands in the bay, from Hon Tam, the setting of an extensive eco-resort, to Hon Lao, the home to troops of wild monkeys, will ensure that your stay is anything but ordinary.
How to Get to Nha Trang
Nha Trang city is just a one-hour flight and a 45-minute taxi ride from HCMC. You can also consider a night train or an 8h bus ride.
What to See and Do In Nha Trang
The beach is the main attraction for visitors to Nha Trang. Sweeping around the gentle curve of the bay, the beach provides everything from elegant and stylish beach clubs serving cocktails and gourmet food to adrenaline-stirring kite surfing and scuba diving.
After the sun goes down, the promenade is an enjoyable place to walk and enjoy the breeze, or even stop off and partake in a nightcap with a view. It is also where you will find many of the city’s more luxurious accommodation options.
For culture lovers, Nha Trang also provides a variety of attractions. Just 3km north of the city are the Po Nagar Cham Towers; a fascinating complex of religious significance. Built over 900 years ago but still used by Buddhists today, the towers are a popular destination for visitors wishing to learn more about the history of the area.
For a more modern insight into life in the region, Mai Loc Photo Gallery is a short walk from the beach. Housing a selection of award-winning photographs from Vietnamese photographer Mai Loc, this small, but the impressive gallery is the perfect place to purchase a unique memento from your time in Nha Trang.
What to Eat in Nha Trang
In addition to the beach and local history, Nha Trang offers a vast array of culinary experiences for guests to enjoy. Ranging from authentic, local specialities to international fine dining, there are a variety of stylish, vibrant eateries to choose from.
If you’re keen to experience a local delicacy, don’t miss out on nem nướng. These beautifully seasoned, grilled pork rolls are served with fresh herbs and pickled green papaya. They’re a Nha Trang speciality loved by locals and visitors alike.
Having soaked up the sun, brushed up on your history and sampled the best of the local cuisine, the last thing to do before you leave Nha Trang is to enjoy the spectacular, natural scenery. Whether you choose to scramble up the Ba Ho Waterfalls, support animal conservation projects in Yang Bay Eco Park or hike through the lush jungle at Hon Ba Nature Reserve, don’t miss your chance to experience everything this wonderful region has to offer.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL NHA TRANG
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL DA LAT
Dalat is perched 1500 meters above sea level in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring because of its perpetually cool temperatures or “Le Petit Paris”, Da Lat is one of the most scenic locations in Vietnam. Da Lat is a small town in the Central Highlands far from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s metropolises, so you won’t find extensive malls and lots of luxury shopping opportunities here.
Instead, Da Lat is known for its range of delicious food and beautiful handicrafts, which make it an interesting destination for shoppers and foodies. The city reifies the second with a scaled-down version of the Eiffel Tower in the city center overlooking Xuan Huong Lake.
With more than 350,000 residents welcoming tourists inside a mountain city with strict European inflections in its architecture, it’s enjoyed a coveted place among Vietnam’s tourists since the nation’s colonial rulers first used it as their private getaway. During the heyday of French rule, the 1,500-metre-high retreat was the place to be for society’s elite.
A century later, much of that charm lives within the city still, but tourism professionals working within the city argued that Da Lat would benefit from an update to its approach to courting and keeping visitor loyalty in growing this market.
How to Get to Dalat
The best way to travel is by air since there is no direct train route between Ho Chi Minh City and Dalat. Lien Khuong International Airport is the second largest airport in Vietnam and features regular flights from HCMC that will only take about an hour. If you’d rather do ground travel, you can book a private minibus or car service. Depending on the service, the travel time will be between 5 and a half and 8 hours.
A Short History of Dalat
Founded in the 19th-century, Dalat was named for the Cam Ly river, formerly known as the Da. The French developped the area into a mountain resort to escape the torrid summer temperatures in the rest of the country. The French vibe is still strong with colonial-era mansions set amongst the greenery.
What to See and Do in Dalat
Start your day with a visit to the Central Market. You can browse through a selection of traditional specialties and handicrafts from Dalat. In the evenings, the area becomes a boisterous night market with street food and performances.
For a glimpse of some interesting hybrid architecture, head to Domaine de Marie church. It combines Vietnamese elements, such as the roof that was inspired by the country’s communal houses, while the facade of the building includes tiny arched windows that were en vogue in France at the time.
Other must-see buildings include:
The Bao Dai Summer Palace was originally built as a vacation location for King Bao Dai.
The Crazy House is a surreal Dali-esque guest house.
The vibrant yellow Da Lat Station was designed to merge Normand architecture with that of the Vietnamese ethnic groups residing in the area.
Lycée Yersin, now the Pedagogical College of Dalat, was originally designed as a school for upper-class French and Vietnamese children.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda is a Buddhist shrine entirely covered in mosaics made from shards of glass and ceramic.
Nature lovers have their choice of mesmerizing vistas both in Dalat city and the surrounding area. Xuan Huong, a crescent-shaped lake named after a 19th-century Vietnamese poet, was the former homeland of the indigenous people of Lang Biang.
Dalat Flower park is a 7000-meter square botanical garden filled with hundreds of varieties of local and imported blooms. 5 kilometers from the town center is the “Valley of Love”, sometimes called the Venice of Vietnam. The pine tree-filled valley is one of the most picturesque views in the city.
Dalat also has an impressive number of natural waterfalls. Pongour waterfall (45km from Dalat) is one of the largest, stretching 100 meters across. Its cascades have slowed due to an upstream dam but the site is still pretty incredible. A closer option, at only 10 minutes by car from central Dalat, is Datanla Waterfalls.
The falls include fresh water for swimming, an alpine roller coaster ride, and a nearby restaurant. Golfers can take in the natural beauty of Dalat from the peace of the Dalat Palace Golf Club.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL DA LAT
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL PHAN RANG
If you like your beach resorts to be local, energetic, and lively, Phan Rang may the destination for you.
Phan Rang is relatively unknown, unlike its close neighbors Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, and Dalat. Once you travel to Phan Rang, head over to Ninh Chu Bay beach five kilometers from the city. This is where the resorts, guest houses, and hotels are located. This is also a better central location from where to begin your journeys. And speaking of beaches…
How to Get to PHAN RANG
Phan Rang city is less than a one-hour flight from HCMC. You may consider a night train, which arrives very early around 3-4 am, or one of the many daily 6-7h bus rides on offer.
What to See and Do In PHAN RANG
The beach is the main attraction for visitors to Phan Rang. Sweeping around the gentle curve of the bay, the beach provides everything from local and simple beach clubs serving cocktails and seafood to adrenaline-stirring kite surfing and sunbath lover.
Learn to kitesurf. Ninh Chu Bay Beach Club is one of the easiest places to learn because of its shallow waters, small waves, and excellent onshore wind from March through September. Explore the coastline north of Vinh Hy Bay. Vinh Hy Bay is undeniably one of Vietnam’s most amazing scenic locations, but the small fishing village offers little for tourists.
Instead, keep on the main coastal road and stop above Vinh Hy for your photos. But don’t turn around there! The next 20 kilometers of new coastal road rivals the most scenic roads in the world and the coast is relatively undeveloped. Pathways descend to deserted beaches and small dirt roads lead to isolated Cham villages.
Walk across the street from your resort and climb to the top of the Trung Son Co Tu pagoda complex. Sure, if 700-year-old Cham Temples are your thing, then you will want to take the 30-minute drive from the beach to Thap Cham. But in the year 2716, people will be asking “why” when there was a much better temple complex with better views right across the street from the beach.
Climb to the Mui Dinh Lighthouse with a picnic lunch and take in views just as grand. I cheated a bit on this one since you have very little chance of being let through the gate of the Amano’i and disturbing the meals of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. However, it is quite acceptable and even appreciated by the two men at the lighthouse if you bring them a couple of beers.
What to Eat in PHAN RANG
This time you should probably follow what “They” say and try the local street food. Phan Rang’s most famous dish is Banh Xeo, and if you’ve only tried it in nice air-conditioned restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
On Ninh Chu Bay street, the seafood egg pancake dish is made using the traditional method of cooking in clay bowls over a charcoal fire and then served with several delicious sauces.
If you want to get the best bang can or Banh Xeo in Phan Rang, head over to the beach across the street from the Thai Binh Duong resort, and also try the family-run street eatery near Yen Ninh street on the right (facing the beach).
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL PHAN THIET – MUI-NE
PHAN THIET - Mui Ne
Not so long ago the white sands of Mui Ne were mainly reserved for adventurous travelers, and the fishing village was best known for being a safe space for fishermen to take shelter from sudden storms. Nowadays, the coastal road is lined with accommodations to suit every budget, and the range of activities available covers everything from kitesurfing to minigolf.
Mui Ne is a town located 180 kilometers east of Ho Chi Minh City (220 kilometers using highway 1A). A ward of Phan Thiet located northeast of the city center, Mui means cape in Vietnamese and Ne means shelter. The local people call Mui Ne the shelter cape because they use it to shelter their fishing boats from the heavy wind.
From downtown Phan Thiet, the coastal road climbs over the slope of a hill in Phu Hai Ward and descends onto the long, sandy crescent of Mui Ne Bay in Ham Tien Ward. The formerly little-inhabited beach has seen some serious development in the last 20 years. Now it is a 10-kilometers-long strip of resorts that line up along the beach road.
Mui Ne Ward itself has two beaches: Ganh Beach and Suoi Nuoc Beach, both with an increasing number of resorts, shops, and restaurants. Strong sea breezes make the beaches of Mui Ne very popular for kitesurfing and windsurfing.
You can find many resorts and hotels to choose from, ranging from US$4 per night for a tent at Longson Resort to suites in the Pandanus Resort or villas in Full Moon Village for over US$250 per night. Also, there are dozens of small guest houses in the town averaging around VND 200,000 or less than US$10 per night.
How To Get to Mui Ne
Mui Ne is located 180km from Saigon and can only be reached by road or by train. If you opt to take the train, be aware that the train station is located some 25km from the majority of beach resorts in Phan Thiet. However, it is quite easy to hire a taxi at the train station to finish your trip to your hotel. Private cars and buses that will take you directly to your resort can be easily arranged from HCMC. You can expect the journey to take between 3-4 hours.
What to See and Do in Mui Ne
Aside from the wide, white sand beaches that are scattered along the coastline near Mui Ne, the main purpose for visiting the area are the soaring sand dunes that are found just on the edge of town. There are two sets of dunes for you to scramble up, slide down, and explore. The red dunes (doi hong) are conveniently located just to the north of the ‘town center’.
Here you’ll find locals who will rent you sandboards for a dollar or two to slide up and down the dunes to your heart’s content. Alternatively, you can make the 24km trip to the more impressive white dunes (doi cat trang), where quad biking is a popular option as these dunes certainly require more climbing!
For those who prefer to keep the sand out of their shoes, Mui Ne offers a number of other attractions all within easy reach of each other. The Red Canyon and Fairy Stream offer a colorful setting for a gentle hike up the river. Walk through the stream barefoot for a refreshing change, making sure that you stop for a cafe sua da or fresh juice along the way.
Alternatively, the RD Wine Castle is a recent addition to the list of Mui Ne attractions. The Instagram-friendly atmosphere may lack the authenticity of a real European castle, but with 20,000 bottles of wine in the cellar, and wine tastings available, you’ll soon forget about authenticity. Enjoy an hour or two enjoying wines imported from Napa Valley and elsewhere in the cool shade of the castle grounds.
Kitesurfing is offered by many outfitters and hotels. Kitesurfing instruction is available, starting at US$50 per hour, or a beginner’s package of five lessons starting at US$250. The peak season is from November through March, with strong winds often occurring on a daily basis from 10-11 a.m. until the late evening.
There are several kitesurfing schools along both Ganh Beach and Suoi Nuoc Beach in Mui Ne. All employ beach boys who will help you to start and launch the kite and it is common to tip the beach boys just under US$1 or VND 20,000 per day.
The most professional schools in Mui Ne are Source Kiteboarding, which runs lessons and rents equipment at Nam Chau Boutique Resort – Mui Ne Passion on Ganh Beach, and Jibes 2, which runs lessons and hires equipment on Suoi Nuoc Beach.
Sailing is still new in Mui Ne. This water sport has been gaining popularity since Mui Ne is considered one of the best places in the world to sail. Classes are available and offered by Manta Sail Training Centre at 108 Huynh Thuc Khang for US$50/hour per person, taught by certified international and local instructors. This foreign-owned center is the only sailing school in Vietnam. The sailing area around Mui Ne harbor is safe and quiet, with no swimmers and only a few kitesurfers.
The sea is warm but can be quite rough during the windy season, with large waves and a strong rip tide. Since large waves normally emerge after 11 a.m., you might prefer to swim in the early morning hours, when the water is free of kitesurfers.
Full Moon Village Resort on Suoi Nuoc Beach and Nam Chau Boutique Resort – Mui Ne Passion on Ganh Beach in Mui Ne offers a host of watersports activities during the windy season from November to April, including kitesurfing, windsurfing, paddle surfing, and jet ski rentals. Nam Chau also offers other activities, such as volleyball and pool disco parties.
What to Eat in Mui Ne
As you would expect from a coastal fishing village, seafood is the star of the show. Oc huong or sweet snails are a delicacy enjoyed by both locals and visitors alike. Often steamed with ginger and onion or roasted with garlic, the sweet flavor of these unusual sea snails is a favorite in Mui Ne.
Along the Mui Ne Seawall (Bo Ke), you can purchase fresh seafood or steamed crabs and shellfish in the late afternoon and evening to eat on the spot at the restaurants. If you want to learn to cook Vietnamese food, check out the cooking classes at the Pandanus Resort.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL PHAN THIET – MUI-NE
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL VUNG TAU
With its broad boulevards and colonial architecture, Vung Tau is a popular destination for Saigonese looking to escape the heat of the city. Located on a beautiful stretch of coastline that provides refreshing breezes all day round, Vung Tau makes a great short break from Saigon or a starting point for a longer trip up the coast.
Take the 130km excursion to the popular beachside getaway of Vung Tau Vietnam during the week if possible, when it’s a whole lot quieter. The two beaches, Bai Truoc and Bai Sau offer an array of hotels, bars, and restaurants and unforgettable views can be found at the ‘Big Mountain’, Nui Lon, and the Vung Tau Lighthouse.
As expected, the seafood here is top-class and centered on fish, crab, and lobster. Enjoy it with jazz music in the open air with fruit trees and orchids in the restaurant next door to Mercure resort (2 Tran Hung Dao). Fancy a round of golf? Play 27 holes on the challenging ocean view Paradise Golf course. It is luxuriously quiet so even if your swing is wayward you probably won’t need to shout ‘Fore’.
Vung Tau Vietnam has long been a popular tourist destination, for both local and international travelers alike. Its name translates to ‘anchorage,’ derived from a time when European traders stopped here in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Portuguese called it Saint Jacques, then the French invaded and renamed it, Cap Saint Jacques. It was here that cannons were first used by Vietnamese forces as they attacked French ships.
During the American War, the peninsula at Vung Tau was populated by American soldiers on leave from duty. After, it was the prime spot for ‘boat people to flee Vietnam and set sail in search of a new life overseas.
How to Get To Vung Tau
From HCMC, Vung Tau is easily accessible by road or river. Both take around two hours but the river offers a much more picturesque journey. Departing from downtown Saigon you can enjoy wonderful views of the city from the water. Then leave the skyscrapers behind as you travel in comfort down the Sông Dứa (Pineapple River), through lush mangrove forests and eventually out into Gành Rái Bay.
What to Eat in Vung Tau
For many, the primary appeal of Vung Tau is its proximity to HCMC and the exceptional quality of Vung Tau seafood. Ask any Vietnamese and they will undoubtedly have a number of recommendations to offer you.
There are casual restaurants serving up sting ray hot pots and street side BBQs selling bánh khọt Vietnamese pancakes, in addition to fine dining restaurants with sumptuous dishes featuring freshly caught lobster and crab. No matter your dining style, there’s seafood for everyone to enjoy in Vung Tau.
Of course, seafood is not the only thing on the menu. Thanks to a thriving expatriate community and popularity with foreign visitors, Vung Tau also offers a variety of international dining options, many of which also offer sea views and refreshing breezes.
What to See and Do in Vung Tau
Vung Tau’s beaches are another reason that many people return to time and time again. Although they may not have the powder white sand and crystal clear water of Con Dao or Phu Quoc, beaches in Vung Tau are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and getting away from it all.
Bãi Sau, or Back Beach, is by far the most popular stretch in the city and is a short distance from many of the city’s top hotels. If hitting the beach is not high on your list of priorities, there are still plenty of ways to spend your time in Vung Tau.
Beautiful views across the bay and across the city can be enjoyed from a number of vantage points that also provide the opportunity to enjoy a gentle hike through the surrounding greenery. Vung Tau LightHouse built in 1862 by the French is a popular destination for sightseers as it offers 360-degree views of the area.
Alternatively, climb Mount Nho to reach the statue of Christ the King, which is not only the tallest statue of Jesus in Asia but also provides stunning views across the water at sunrise. Vung Tau offers a variety of superb accommodation choices. As the city is easy and affordable to get around using taxis and ride-hailing apps, the exact location for your accommodation need not be too much of a concern.
Boutique apartments and private dwellings can often be found a short distance from the city center with the added bonus of offering private pools and beautiful ocean views that many of the city center hotels cannot.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL VUNG TAU
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL CON DAO
Con Dao is a rather unexpected vacation destination considering its history as a former prison camp. However, the archipelago of mountainous islands located in the South East sea has managed, with a facelift and some good marketing, to transform itself into an off-the-beaten-path vacation sanctuary.
In truth, the destination, with its cliff-lined coastline and turquoise waters, didn’t need much work to entice travelers interested in swimming, snorkeling, and relaxed beach vibes. Expect your visit to Con Dao to be equal parts history, Robinson Crusoe-style adventure, and chilled-out luxury.
Con Dao islands, an archipelago of islands situated in the South East Sea. The French used the main island to keep anti-colonial prisoners and the South Vietnamese continued the practice, sending political dissenters to the 11 prisons during the American War.
The main island, Con Son, is home to a coastline of steep, rocky hills and long sweeping coves, boasting some excellent spots for swimming and snorkeling. Con Son is largely mountainous and covered in forest with ample opportunities for jungle hiking. If you’re looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right place.
Most of the archipelago is now a National Park with some good beaches, clear water, lush tropical forest, and coconut groves. The national park is characterized by a diverse ecosystem: many species of coral and sea turtles are found here. Focusing on the preservation of natural wonders, the park management works with the WWF to develop sustainable usage for locals and tourists alike.
Con Dao is located at a point where cool and warm ocean currents converge and create a localized climate. This weather pattern allows swimming, snorkeling, and diving all year round and Con Dao has arguably the best underwater seascapes to explore in Vietnam. For a touch of luxury, Six Senses have opened the first five-star resort in the archipelago. Their 50 villas sit on a mile of sandy beach, sheltered by the green forested hills behind, with stunning vistas of the deep blue sea and the curve of the bay.
How to Get to Con Dao
If you’re flying from Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll arrive in less than an hour on these peaceful islands. For a more authentic experience (and if you have several hours to kill), take one of the ferries that depart from the port city of Vung Tau.
A Short History of Con Dao
Taking a tour of Con Dao’s 11 infamous prisons is not for the faint of heart. For more than a century, the islands were used by the French and then the Americans to imprison political activists and criminals.
The Bao Tang Con Dao Museum showcases more than 2000 items, photographs, rare documents, and dioramas related to the history of the area. You can also purchase tickets to visit the prisons themselves, including the harrowing tiger cages where some prisoners were kept in shocking conditions.
What to See and Do in Con Dao
Take heart, there’s much more to do in Con Dao than sludging through the most difficult periods in Vietnam’s past.
Diving and Marine Life
The archipelago is filled with some of the country’s best diving locations. Natural coral reefs are easily accessible to divers and there are a few ancient shipwrecks to explore underwater. You can also see plenty of colorful marine life under the waves. The conditions for diving are best between January and June.
Con Dao is also the most important breeding ground in Vietnam for sea turtles. Visit the National Park between June and September to see them hatch and learn about the difficulties that these little creatures face through illegal poaching.
In between beach days and history lessons, you can take some time to hike through the beautiful rainforests that cover the islands. Most of the archipelago has been given the status of National Park due to its rare ecosystem. The National Park management office is located at 29 Vo Thi Sau, Con Son. You can stop by to find out which trails are open for hiking and to get a free permit to enter the park.
What to Eat in Con Dao
There are plenty of places to pause for a bite to eat in between adventures and relaxation. What do we recommend? Seafood, of course! If you’re interested in tasting some local cuisine, try the island specialties of savory oyster porridge or a serving of Vu Nang sea snails.
For those with a penchant for fine dining, call the ultra-luxurious Six Senses Con Dao resort to see if they’re taking reservations. Their options range from a wine bar to beachfront dining to an upscale take on traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL CAN THO
There’s an old saying about Can Tho City. “White rice, clear waters, all who come to wish never to leave”. Certainly, if you are looking for simplicity and tradition, Can Tho will enchant you.
Even though it is the economic, cultural, and transportation center of the Mekong Delta, there is a wonderfully laid-back feel to this mini-metropolis. Strolling around the wide streets is far less hazardous in HCMC, allowing you time to take in the sights, sounds, and scents of this lively waterfront city. The streets are scrollable, the locals are friendly and there are enough attractions to fill a couple of leisurely days sightseeing.
Locals are laid back and straightforward, with the fervor of life, mainly revolving around the Ninh Kieu pier, a great place to stroll around at night. Can Tho has a sizable Khmer community, because of its location in the delta, and thus many Khmer temples are an integrated part of Can Tho’s best attractions.
The city recently began adopting a modern facelift with large investments from companies like Vincom and other high-profile investors, who have put down money for up-to-date facilities and entertainment facilities – one can expect few hiccups in terms of practicalities. The city is also well situated in the Delta, so travelers may easily radiate throughout Vietnam’s deep South.
Early risers will enjoy Can Tho – the best time to get out is 5 a.m., head down to the pier, watch the sunset, try one of the local dishes, and head down to one of the many cafes or markets. The floating markets are a large attraction, but due to modernization and dwindling business, they may cease to exist in the near future – it’s a good time now than ever to see the authentic Can Tho floating markets, Cai Rang, Phong Dien, and Phung Hiep.
With around 1.3 million residents, and growing numbers of tourists, Can Tho surprisingly avoids the packed feeling of larger cities, leaving visitors and locals with a feeling of space and ease.
How to Get to Can Tho
The easiest way to get to Can Tho from HCMC is to hop in a private minibus or car where the journey will take around 3.5 hours. There is an airport that serves Can Tho but there are no direct flights from Saigon, so if flying is your preferred transport method, check out other destinations that can fit into your travels first.
What to See and Do in Can Tho
As you would expect, many of the attractions in Can Tho are based around the river. For many guests, a visit to the famous floating markets is the main reason for their visit. Cai Rang is the largest market of its kind in the Mekong region and offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience traditional river life. However, to beat the rush, buy the freshest products and avoid the heat, you will need to set your alarm for an early start.
The best time to arrive is generally considered to be between 6 am and 7 am, but if you can bring yourself to arrive even earlier, you may be rewarded with a spectacular sunrise as the market comes to life. If an early start leaves you craving a leisurely day, Can Tho is the perfect place to take your foot off the gas.
Make a visit to one of the city’s colorful pagodas, cycle through the surrounding countryside or simply sit with an ice-cold cafe sua da and watch the world go by. In Can Tho, the pace of life is slower than in many other cities in Vietnam, take the opportunity to enjoy it!
In the evening, Ninh Kieu Quay is the place to be. A bustling night market attracts a fascinating mix of locals and visitors, all browsing the variety of goods and delicious food on offer. The Quay also offers an opportunity for a waterside stroll.
Watch as the beautifully lit boats glide peacefully up and down the river. Or visit the attractively illuminated Ninh Kieu Bridge, a popular destination for its photographic opportunities and delightfully cool breeze.
What to Eat in Can Tho
Being a small city, Can Tho does not have the variety of luxury dining that you will find in HCMC and Hanoi. However, there are still a number of excellent options, particularly if you are interested in sampling the local cuisine. Many of the top choices are located along, or close to Hai Ba Trung Street, which provides the added bonus of offering riverside views and cooling breezes.
Luxury and boutique accommodation options are also less common in Can Tho. There are a small number of 5-star hotels in the city centre, but if you are looking for a more intimate or stylish option, maybe consider a resort on the edge of the city where style and serenity are a priority.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL CAN THO
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL MEKONG DELTA
The Mekong Delta makes up the greater part of the area southwest of HCMC. It offers the visitor a fabulous yet easily accessible destination with diverse attractions from cruises and river tours to boat trips through maze-like waterways connecting small farms, forests and mangroves. Cycle tours with guides introduce the visitor to the welcoming communities and farms, and accommodations can be found to suit all budgets from basic overnight stays to luxury resorts.
The gateway to the Mekong Delta area lies within easy reach of HCMC with the nearest major river crossing of the Mekong river distributaries at My Tho, is easily reached along a good highway, only 75 km from HCMC airport, and approximately 1 hr 35 mins by car, providing safe highway travel to the edge of the delta. The region maintains its small-community charm, catering to diverse tourism sectors from mass tourism for large tour groups, to ex-pat families seeking weekend breaks.
How to Get to THE MEKONG DELTA
The gateway to the Mekong Delta area lies within easy reach of HCMC with the nearest major river crossing of the Mekong River distributaries at My Tho, is easily reached along a good highway, only 75 km from HCMC airport, and approximately 1 hr 35 mins by car, providing safe highway travel to the edge of the delta. The region maintains its small-community charm, catering to diverse tourism sectors from mass tourism for large tour groups, to ex-pat families seeking weekend breaks.
While currently lacking a direct flight to HCMC, the regional capital of Can Tho (a fairly long drive of around three hours), has an international airport, with regional flights to Hanoi, Phu Quoc, and Da Nang, allowing for the air traveler to explore the Delta waterways, or even to continue upriver into Cambodia on the many available river cruises.
What to See and Do In THE MEKONG DELTA
The principal attraction has to be a natural beauty, water is everywhere you go, from small arroyo [creeks filled by the near-surface water table] to large navigable canals constructed in the French period to ease river navigation, to innumerable small canals to irrigate plantations,” orchards and rice fields.
Many of these can be explored by boat, by foot, or by widely available guided cycle tours where you can encounter local communities of farmers and fishermen. The Mekong Delta is a big garden, ”like a dream”, where “people from cities need to go back to nature”. The Mekong offers a broad choice of accommodation, from the highest quality resorts and boutique hotels to overnight budget hotels and B&Bs.
Packaged tours can easily be found through numerous travel agencies and tour groups, commonly varying from two to eight days in length suitable for an array of activities, such as cycle or boat tours. Water tours are booming. These range from mass-tourism scenic tour boats and party boats, to more relaxed cruise boats offering cruise-based accommodation and dining.
Some visitors may enjoy the foods principally, other groups may prefer the packaged and busy guided tours, while others may prefer a relaxed pace, or perhaps a mix of relaxation with activity locations such as a visit to a floating market, a cycle through a fruit orchard, enjoying a wonderful meal prepared on a farm stay, or a shorter smaller craft excursion, all planned on a day or multi-day cruise.
What to Eat THE MEKONG DELTA
Dining throughout the Mekong will surprise you with the abundance of locally farmed produce, fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course fresh seafood. Cuisines can be found with strong influences from many local and nearby Asian cultures, to more Western and some IndoChine and French influences.
One of the more attractive aspects to the mass tourism groups, especially for Vietnamese tour groups, is the large choice of dining, with local and seafood restaurants meeting the needs in large numbers.
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL MEKONG DELTA
HCMC INSPIRATION TRAVEL PHU QUOC
With sun-kissed beaches, lush green forests, and a number of world-class, luxury resorts, Phu Quoc is a popular destination for local and international tourists alike. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, the teardrop-shaped island offers a temperate climate year-round.
Even in the rainy season (June to October) rain clouds often move on quickly, leaving the sun to shine. However, if you’re looking to top up your tan, the best time to visit is between November and April when skies are bright blue and cloud-free.
Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam is the Pearl Island of Southeast Asia. Whether you want to relax on the beach, have a stroll through the primeval Phu Quoc National Park, or explore the area on motorbike, Phu Quoc Island has a lot to offer. Phu Quoc Island has a long and turbulent history. The newest challenge is turning the tropical dream island into Vietnam’s prime tourist destination. While this results in increased building activity and scams, it also improves the standards for both tourists and locals.
The temperature on the beautiful tropical island rarely dips below 25°C, but since we have a rainy season and a dry season, the weather experiences are different, depending on the time of your visit. The climate charts for Southern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City released recently in the article “Best time to visit Vietnam” apply to Phu Quoc Island as well.
The dry season between November and May comes with clear skies and blue sea, and excellent diving weather. The wind comes mostly from the east, so the western beaches like Long Beach, Dai Beach, Ong Lang Beach, and Vung Bau Beach are nice and the water is clean. However, the temperatures from March to May are exceptionally high.
The wet season from the end of May to October comes with more balanced temperatures and the occasional to regular downpours. The streams like the Fairy Stream and Painting Stream have more water and the environment is generally more lush and green. Also mind that during winter, most tourists on Phu Quoc Island are Europeans and North Americans, while during summer school holidays, most visitors are Vietnamese.
How to Get to Phu Quoc
The easiest way to get to Phu Quoc from HCMC is to hop on a plane. Around an hour after departing Tan Son Nhat you’ll be touching down at Phu Quoc International airport which is conveniently located a 10 minute drive from the resorts on the popular Long Beach.
However, if you want to experience more of Vietnam en route to the island, it is also possible to drive from HCMC to Rach Gia and take a ferry. Expect a total journey time of around 7.5 hours.
What to See and Do In Phu Quoc
However you choose to travel to Phu Quoc, when you arrive, it is likely that you will want to head to the beach. Many visitors head to the north of Long Beach (Bãi Trường) as this is where many of the top resorts are located.
However, if you are looking for something a little less developed, white sand beaches can be found at Sao Beach (Bãi Sao) in the southeast, and Ganh Dau Beach (Bãi Gành Dầu) in the northwest. Smaller, undeveloped bays and beaches can be discovered all over the coast if you are willing to head off the beaten track.
If beach hopping is not at the top of your to-do list, Phu Quoc National park offers visitors a chance to explore the island’s unique flora and fauna. On the grounds of a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, visitors can spend the day seeking out rare, local wildlife including long-tailed macaques, silver langurs, slow lorises, otters, and hornbills.
Alternatively, you can while away a day or two experiencing the excitement of the huge Vinpearl Phu Quoc United Centre, an amusement park and entertainment complex in the northwest of the island.
The major produce of Phu Quoc Island is pepper, pearls, and fish sauce. Many farms and factories are open to visitors and included in most tour packages. Besides bumming around on the beautiful beaches and the resort pools, you can visit the streams, take a stroll through the jungle and enjoy the amazing nature, go snorkeling, or even scuba diving.
If you like to wrap your brain around this stunning holiday destination, visit Ham Ninh village at sunrise, take a look at Phu Quoc Prison, check out Coi Nguon Museum, and stop by Dinh Cau Temple at sunset before you have dinner at the night market.
What to Eat in Phu Quoc
As Phu Quoc has developed into a truly international standard destination, the number of excellent dining options on the island has also increased. Of course, if you prefer to eat like a local, the bustling night market offers no end of fresh seafood, bbq, and snacks at an affordable price.
However, if you are looking to dine in style, most of the 5-star resorts offer exceptional cuisine with stunning views over the ocean. The perfect place to enjoy the famous Phu Quoc sunsets.
The vast majority of luxury and boutique accommodation is located on the west of the island. If you are looking for rest and relaxation, the whole island is your oyster. Otherwise, consider distances to and from the areas you wish to explore, as repetitive transfers can become tedious.