Phu Quoc Island
Fringed with white-sand beaches and with large tracts still cloaked in dense, tropical jungle, Phu Quoc rapidly morphed from a sleepy island backwater to a must-visit beach escape for Western expats and sun-seeking tourists. Beyond the resorts lining Long Beach, it’s still largely undeveloped, so there's ample room for exploration and escaping.
Dalat & Around
Dalat is Vietnam’s alter ego: the weather is spring-like cool instead of tropical hot, the town is dotted with elegant French-colonial villas rather than stark socialist architecture, and the farms around are thick with strawberries and flowers, not rice. The French came first, fleeing the heat of Saigon.
Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa is the one place in the northwest where tourism is booming. It’s now firmly on the European and North American package-tour circuit, and well-equipped trekkers are a common sight around town. The town is orientated to make the most of the spectacular views emerging on clear days.
A popular weekend escape from HCMC, Vung Tau rocks at weekends when beach-starved locals and expats descend in numbers, but it is relatively quiet during the week. The city enjoys a spectacular location on a peninsula, with ocean on three sides, and the light and sea air makes it a refreshing break from sultry Saigon.
The epicentre of the Mekong Delta, Can Tho is the largest city in the region and feels like a metropolis after a few days exploring the backwaters. As the political, economic, cultural and transportation centre of the Mekong Delta, it’s a buzzing town with a lively waterfront lined with sculpted gardens and an appealing blend of narrow backstreets and wide boulevards.
Ninh Binh Province
A short hop south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh Province is blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, intriguing cultural sights and the wonderful Cuc Phuong National Park. That said, Ninh Binh has become a massive destination for domestic travellers, and many of its attractions are heavily commercialised. Expect plenty of hawkers and a degree of hassle at the main sights.
With graceful tree-lined boulevards, an impressive array of colonial-era buildings and an unhurried air, Haiphong is a very approachable city. It’s an important seaport and industrial centre, but few visitors linger. If you do pass through, you’ll find minimal hassles compared to Vietnam’s main tourism centres, with barely a tout to be found.