Must see attractions in Southeast Asia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi

    Wat Pho

    Wat Pho is our absolute favorite among Bangkok's biggest sights. In fact, the compound incorporates a host of superlatives: the city's largest reclining Buddha, the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand and the country's earliest center for public education. Almost too big for its shelter is Wat Pho's highlight, the genuinely impressive Reclining Buddha, housed in a pavilion on the western edge of the temple complex. You'll even find (slightly) fewer tourists here than at neighboring Wat Phra Kaew. The rambling grounds of Wat Pho cover eight hectares, with the major tourist sites occupying the northern side of Th Chetuphon and the monastic facilities found on the southern side. The temple compound is also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage, a mandate legislated by Rama III when the tradition was in danger of extinction. The famous massage school has two massage pavilions located within the temple area and additional rooms within the training facility outside the temple. A common public ritual at the temple of the Reclining Buddha is to donate coins (representing alms) in a series of metal bowls placed in a long row to the rear of the Buddha statue. If you don't have enough coins on you, an attendant will oblige you with loose change for bigger denominations. History The first iteration of Wat Pho (officially Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihana) was built in the 16th century as a late Ayuthaya-period monastery. Originally known as Wat Phodharam, it was restored in 1788 by King Rama I, who by then had built the Grand Palace next door and established Bangkok as the capital of Thailand. Much of what visitors see today was completed during the reign of King Rama III who extended much of Wat Pho in 1832, particularly the South Vihara and the West Vihara, where the Reclining Buddha is housed. The Reclining Buddha was completed in 1848 and remains the largest in Bangkok. The figure itself is modelled out of plaster around a brick core and is finished in gold leaf. It was King Rama III who also turned Wat Pho into Bangkok’s first public university too. The compound’s array of sculptures and artwork, which include more than 1000 depictions of Buddha, were commissioned to help people learn about history, literature and Buddhism. Between 1831 and 1841, some 1431 stone inscriptions were added by King Rama III and Thai scholars to preserve cultural heritage, including Thai massages, which is why Wat Pho remains the national headquarters for the teaching of traditional Thai medicine. The compound was last restored ahead of the Bangkok Bicentennial Celebration in 1982. Tickets and other practicalities Wat Pho is open daily from 8:30am-6:30pm and entry tickets cost 200B. Your admission includes a complimentary bottle of water (trust us: you'll need it) that can be collected at a stall near the Reclining Buddha temple. Wat Pho dress code Dress in long skirts/trousers and sleeved shirts when you visit. Shoes must be taken off to enter the temple. You'll be given a plastic bag at the entrance, in which you can wrap your shoes and carry them with you during your visit. Once outside, deposit the (reusable) bags in a collection vat. Massages at Wat Pho There aren’t many sacred religious sights in the world where you can get a massage, but Wat Pho is certainly one of them. As the national headquarters for the teaching of traditional Thai medicine, the school has two Thai massage pavilions located within the temple compound and additional rooms within a training facility outside the temple, providing a unique opportunity to combine relaxation with sightseeing. Both Thai massage and foot massages are available onsite (30 or 60 minutes) and need to be booked ahead via the Wat Pho Massage website. You can also learn how to give a Thai massage with one-day courses at the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Massage School. Prices start from 12,000B and the courses are available every day expect Sundays. The school is outside the temple compound in a restored Bangkok shophouse in Soi Phen Phat. Other basic courses offer 30 hours spread over five days and cover either general massage or foot massage. Highlights Reclining Buddha Located in the compound's main wí·hăhn (sanctuary), the genuinely impressive Reclining Buddha, 46m long and 15m high, illustrates the passing of the Buddha into nirvana (i.e. the Buddha's death). Mother-of-pearl inlay ornaments the feet, displaying the 108 different lák·sà·nà (characteristics) of a Buddha. Continuing the numerical theme, behind the statue are 108 bronze monk bowls; for 20B you can buy 108 coins, each of which is dropped in a bowl for good luck and as a gesture of giving alms. Phra Ubosot Though built during the reign of Rama I (reigned 1782–1809) and influenced by the Ayuthaya school of architecture, the bòht (ordination hall) as it stands today is the result of extensive renovations dating back to the reign of Rama III (reigned 1824–51). Inside you'll find impressive murals and a three-tiered pedestal supporting Phra Buddha Deva Patimakorn, the compound's second-most noteworthy Buddha statue, as well as the ashes of Rama I. Other Buddha statues The images on display in the four wí·hăhn surrounding Phra Ubosot are worth investigation. Particularly beautiful are the Phra Chinnarat and Phra Chinnasri Buddhas in the western and southern chapels, both rescued from Sukhothai by relatives of Rama I. The galleries extending between the four structures feature no fewer than 394 gilded Buddha images spanning nearly all schools of traditional Thai craftsmanship, from Lopburi to Ko Ratanakosin. Ancient inscriptions Encircling Phra Ubosot is a low marble wall with 152 bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the Ramakian, the Thai version of the Ramayana. You’ll recognize some of these figures when you exit the temple past the hawkers with mass-produced rubbings for sale: these are made from cement casts based on Wat Pho’s reliefs. Nearby, a small pavilion west of Phra Ubosot has Unesco-awarded inscriptions detailing the tenets of traditional Thai massage. These and as many as 2000 other stone inscriptions covering various aspects of traditional Thai knowledge led to Wat Pho's legacy as Thailand’s first public university. Royal Chedi On the western side of the grounds is a collection of four towering tiled chedi (stupa) commemorating the first four Chakri kings. Note the square bell shape with distinct corners, a signature of Ratanakosin style, and the titles emulating the colors of the Buddhist flag. The middle chedi is dedicated to Rama I and encases Phra Si Sanphet Dayarn, a 16m-high standing Buddha image from Ayuthaya. The compound's 91 smaller chedi include clusters containing the ashes of lesser royal descendants. Phra Mondop Also known as hǒr đrai, and serving as a depository for Buddhist scriptures, the elevated Phra Mondop is guarded by four yaksha (guardian demons). Legend has it that an argument between the four led to the clearing of the area known today as Tha Tien. Just south of the Phra Mondop is the currently reptile-free Crocodile Pond. Sala Kan Parian Located in the southwestern corner of the compound is Sala Kan Parian, one of the few remaining structures that predates Rama III's extensive 19th-century renovation/expansion of then Wat Pho Tharam. Built in the Ayuthaya style, the structure formerly functioned as the wát's primary bòht, and held the temple compound's primary Buddha statue. The grounds Small Chinese-style rock gardens and hill islands interrupt the compound's numerous tiled courtyards providing shade, greenery and quirky decorations depicting daily life. Keep an eye out for the distinctive rockery festooned with figures of the hermit Khao Mor – who is credited with inventing yoga – in various healing positions. Directly south of the main wí·hăhn is a Bodhi tree (đôn po), grown from a clipping of the original under which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, and also the source of the temple's colloquial name, Wat Pho. Granite statues Aside from monks and sightseers, Wat Pho is filled with an altogether stiffer crowd: dozens of giants and figurines carved from granite. The rock giants first arrived in Thailand as ballast aboard Chinese junks and were put to work in Wat Pho (and other wát, including Wat Suthat), guarding the entrances of temple gates and courtyards. Look closely and you’ll see an array of Chinese characters. The giants with bulging eyes and Chinese opera costumes were inspired by warrior noblemen and are called Lan Than. The figure in a straw hat is a farmer, forever interrupted during his day’s work cultivating the fields. And can you recognize the guy in the fedora-like hat with a trimmed beard and moustache? Marco Polo, of course, who introduced such European styles to the Chinese court. Other tips Arrive early to avoid the crowds and to take advantage of the (relatively) cool weather. Don't just gawk at the Reclining Buddha and call it a day: Wat Pho's fantastical, almost maze-like grounds are also part of the experience, and are home to some less hyped but worthwhile treasures. Nearby restaurants You'd be wise to combine your visit to Wat Pho with lunch, specifically lunch at Pa Aew, an open-air stall that serves tasty Bangkok-style curries and stir-fries. Alternatively, Tonkin Annam serves some of the best Vietnamese food in Bangkok. Come for the phó (noodle soup), deliciously tart and peppery banana blossom salad, or dishes you won't find elsewhere, such as bánh bèo (steamed cups of rice flour topped with pork), a specialty of Hue. Nearby hotels The almost fairy-tale-like Chakrabongse Villas compound incorporates three sumptuous rooms and four larger suites and villas, some with great river views, all surrounding a still-functioning royal palace dating back to 1908. There’s a pool, jungle-like gardens and an elevated deck for romantic riverside dining. Else you can walk to Wat Pho from Arun Residence, which is strategically located on the river directly across from Wat Arun. This multilevel wooden house has much more than just great views: The seven rooms here manage to feel both homey and stylish (the best are the top-floor, balcony-equipped suites). There are also inviting communal areas, including a library, rooftop bar and restaurant.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ho Chi Minh City

    War Remnants Museum

    To understand the US invasion of Vietnam, and contextualize its devastating impact on the country's civilians, this remarkable and deeply moving museum is an essential visit. Many of the atrocities documented here are already well publicized, but it's rare to visit a museum such as this, where the victims of US military action are given the space to tell their side of the story. While most of the displays are written from a Vietnamese perspective, much of the disturbing photography of war atrocities come from US sources, including the images of the My Lai massacre, where more than 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians were brutally killed by US soldiers. Even travellers with little interest in the war should not leave the city without visiting. Its absorbing exhibits give visitors an invaluable insight into a defining chapter in the country’s history – and a deeper understanding of present-day Vietnam as a result. Allow at least a couple of hours for your visit. The museum, which was formerly known as the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, primarily deals with the American War, but the French-colonial period and conflicts with China are also documented. US armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are on display outside. One corner of the grounds is devoted to the notorious French and South Vietnamese prisons on Phu Quoc and Con Son islands. Artefacts include that most iconic of French appliances, the guillotine, and the notoriously inhumane ‘tiger cages’ used to house war prisoners. The ground floor of the museum is devoted to a collection of posters and photographs showing support for the antiwar movement internationally. This somewhat upbeat display provides a counterbalance to the horrors upstairs. Some of the images on show are very upsetting, in particular photos of widespread destruction from US napalm bombs and the horrific toxic effects of Agent Orange on Vietnamese citizens. Many visitors may need to take a break between exhibits. The museum also offers the rare chance to see some of the experimental weapons used in the war, which were at one time military secrets, such as the flechette, an artillery shell filled with thousands of tiny darts. Upstairs, look out for the Requiem Exhibition. Compiled by legendary war photographer Tim Page, this striking collection documents the work of photographers killed during the course of the conflict, on both sides, and includes works by Larry Burrows and Robert Capa. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets to enter the museum are 40,000d for adults, and 20,000d for children aged 6-16. Children under 6 enter free. The War Remnants Museum is in the former US Information Service building. Captions are in Vietnamese and English.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi

    Grand Palace

    The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maharatchawang) is a former royal residence in Bangkok that was consecrated in 1782. Today, it’s only used on ceremonial occasions, but it remains the city's biggest tourist attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists. As part of the greater complex that also encompasses the hallowed Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the 94.5-hectare grounds encompass more than 100 buildings that represent 200 years of royal history and architectural experimentation. Most of the architecture, royal or sacred, is classified as Ratanakosin (old-Bangkok style). Visitors are allowed to survey the Grand Palace grounds and four of the remaining palace buildings, which are interesting for their royal bombast. Give yourself between two-to-three hours to explore the sight completely, or an hour longer if you take a guided tour. Highlights The largest palace building open to the public is the triple-winged Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall). Completed in 1882 following a plan by Singapore-based British architect John Clunish, the exterior shows a peculiar blend of Italian Renaissance and traditional Thai architecture. It's a style often referred to as fa·ràng sài chá-dah (Westerner wearing a Thai classical dancer’s headdress), because each wing is topped by a mon·dòp (a layered, heavily ornamented spire). It is believed the original plan called for the palace to be topped with a dome, but Rama V (King Chulalongkorn; r 1868–1910) was persuaded to go for a Thai-style roof instead. That decision has been interpreted as a subversive thumbing of the nose to the foreign colonialists in Asia at the time. Many believe the king was literally showing Thai dominance over European culture by crowing his Western-inspired palace hall with a Thai-style roof. The tallest of the mon·dòp, in the centre, contains the ashes of Chakri dynasty kings; the flanking mon·dòp enshrine the ashes of the many Chakri princes who failed to inherit the throne. The last building to the west is the Ratanakosin-style Dusit Hall, which initially served as a venue for royal audiences and later as a royal funerary hall. At the eastern end of the palace complex, Borombhiman Hall is a French-inspired structure that served as a residence for Rama VI (King Vajiravudh; r 1910–25). Today it can only be viewed through its iron gates. Amarindra Hall, to the west, was originally a hall of justice but is used (very rarely indeed) for coronation ceremonies. Until Rama VI decided one wife was enough for any man, even a king, Thai kings housed their huge harems in the inner palace area (not open to the public), which was guarded by combat-trained female sentries. The intrigue and rituals that occurred within the walls of this cloistered community live on in the fictionalised epic Four Reigns, by Kukrit Pramoj, which follows a young girl named Phloi growing up within the Royal City. History The Grand Palace complex was established in 1782 after King Rama I ascended to the throne. It is believed that he moved the royal court from Thonburi on the west bank of Chao Phraya River to Bangkok on the east for protection. The river would then act as a moat for the northern, southern and western perimeters, whilst eastern edge of the city – a muddy delta at the time – would be difficult for attackers to cross without being seen or hampered. The royal residences were moved out of the Grand Palace during the reign of King Vajiravudh, leaving Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall) to fall into disrepair. In 1932, Rama VII (King Prajadhipok; r 1925-1935) called for a major renovation of the hall, but the project ran out of money, and the back section of the building had to be demolished. The Grand Palace was also where Rama VIII (King Ananda Mahidol; r 1935–46) was mysteriously killed in 1946. He was found dead in his bed with a gunshot wound to his head. In April 1981, the deputy commander of the Thai army, General San Chitpatima, used the palace as his headquarters for an attempted coup against the Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanond. The coup was unsuccessful. In October of 2017, the Grand Palace complex and adjacent Sanam Luang served as the setting for the funeral of King Rama IX – possibly one of the most ornate funerals in modern history. The ceremony took a year to plan, saw the construction of a nearly 50m-high gilded pyre, cost a total of US$90 million, and was attended by tens of thousands of mourners dressed in black. The current king, Rama X, had his coronation held in the large Amarindra Hall in 2019. Following the ceremony, the king carried on the Budtan Thong royal palanquin from the the hall’s throne room to the Wat Phra Kaew. Does the Grand Palace have a dress code? As with many of Bangkok’s sights, you will need culturally appropriate attire to enter the Grand Palace. This means being well covered. Visitors should wear long skirts/trousers and sleeved shirts—basically anything that covers more than the lower arms and head. Sleeveless shirts, vests, short or see-through tops are all prohibited, as are shorts and three-quarter length pants/skirts. Visitors won’t be able to enter if they’re wearing torn or skinny trousers, cycling shorts or miniskirts either. Those who aren’t dressed appropriately at the entrance can expect to be shown into a dressing room and issued with a sarong before being allowed in – this adds to queuing and unnecessary delays. There are no restrictions as to what footwear you wear in the palace, but do note that you will be asked to remove your shoes to enter some of the buildings. Tickets and other practicalities The Grand Palace is open daily from 8.30am-3.30pm. Enter the Grand Palace complex through the clearly marked third gate from the river pier. Tickets are purchased inside the complex and cost 500B. They also give you access to Wat Phra Kaew and Queen Sirikit Museum, which are both part of the complex. Thai people get in free. Tickets can also be bought in advance via the Royal Grand Palace website. Guides can be hired at the ticket kiosk and audio guides can be rented for 200B. The grounds and gardens are wheelchair accessible and there are accessible toilets onsite too. Grand Palace tips Arrive early in the morning for the cooler weather and to avoid the crowds. Ignore any strangers close to the entrance who claim that any of the sights are shut. Carry drinking water. It gets hot on the bare courtyard during the day the only cafeteria within the complex was shut when we visited. Nearby hotels Travel a century back in time by booking one of the nine rooms in Asadang, a beautiful antique shophouse located in Chinatown. Rooms not particularly huge, but are big on atmosphere and come equipped with both antique furnishings and modern amenities. Located in a former school, the 42 rooms at Feung Nakorn Balcony surround an inviting garden courtyard and are generally large, bright and cheery. The charming hotel has a quiet and secluded location away from the main road. Right in the heart of the hipster Tien village area, the rooms at Arom D are united by a cutesy design theme and a host of inviting communal areas, including a rooftop deck, computers and a ground-floor cafe. Nearby restaurants Cap off your visit to the Grand Palace with lunch at Ming Lee, a charmingly old-school Thai restaurant located virtually across the street from the complex's main entrance. Navy Club is the restaurant of the Royal Navy Association and it has one of the few coveted riverfront locations along this stretch of the Chao Phraya River. Locals come for the combination of views and cheap and tasty seafood-based eats – not for the cafeteria-like atmosphere. Alternatively, enjoy a Thai-themed cocktail and a spicy drinking snack at Err.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi

    Wat Arun

    Wat Arun is the missile-shaped temple that rises from the Chao Phraya River's banks. Known as Temple of Dawn, it was named after the Indian god of dawn, Arun. It was here that, after the destruction of Ayuthaya, King Taksin stumbled upon a small local shrine and interpreted the discovery as an auspicious sign that this should be the site of the new capital of Siam. Today the temple is one of Bangkok's most iconic structures – not to mention one of the few Buddhist temples you are encouraged to climb on. It wasn't until the capital and the Emerald Buddha were moved to Bangkok that Wat Arun received its most prominent characteristic: the 82m-high þrahng (Khmer-style tower). The tower's construction was started during the first half of the 19th century by Rama II (King Phraphutthaloetla Naphalai; r 1809–24) and later completed by Rama III (King Phranangklao; r 1824–51). Steep stairs lead to the top, from where there are amazing views of the Chao Phraya River. Not apparent from a distance are the fabulously ornate floral mosaics made from broken, multihued Chinese porcelain, a common temple ornamentation in the early Ratanakosin period, when Chinese ships calling at the port of Bangkok discarded tons of old porcelain as ballast. The main Buddha image at the temple is said to have been designed by Rama II himself. The murals date from the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn; r 1868–1910); particularly impressive is one that depicts Prince Siddhartha encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death outside his palace walls, an experience that led him to abandon the worldly life. The ashes of Rama II are interred in the base of the presiding Buddha image. History There has been a temple on the site of Wat Arun from at least the late 16th century. Historians believe Wat Makok, as it was originally known, was founded on the bank of Khlong Lat, but it wasn't until 1767, when King Taksin came across the temple, that it took on any real historical significance. King Taksin, who came across the site at sunrise whilst fleeing Burmese invaders, made the site his palace temple and renamed it Wat Chaeng. The temple was then chosen to house the Emerald Buddha, a scared palladium of Thailand, when it was brought across from Vientiane, the capital city of what is now Laos. It now resides across the river in Wat Phra Kaew. When Bangkok became the Thailand's new capital city, the temple was renamed again by Rama II, this time as Wat Arun. Rama II also began enlarging the central þrahng, which was then completed in 1842 under the reign of Rama III. Apart from some restoration work on the þrahng, which was completed in 2017, little else has changed at Wat Arun. Tickets and other practicalities Wat Arun is open daily from 8am-6pm and tickets cost 50B. The entrance is just off Th Arun Amarin and it’s located across the river from Wat Pho. Many people visit Wat Arun on long-tail boat tours, but it’s dead easy to just use the Chao Phraya Express Boat, or jump on the cross-river ferry from Tien Pier (from 5am to 9pm). What to see The Spire The central feature of Wat Arun is the 82m-high Khmer-style þrahng (tower), constructed during the first half of the 19th century by Rama II (King Phraphutthaloetla Naphalai; r 1809–24). From the river it is not apparent that this corn-cob-shaped steeple is adorned with colorful floral murals made of glazed porcelain, a common temple ornamentation in the early Ratanakosin period, when Chinese ships calling at Bangkok used the stuff as ballast. The Ordination Hall The compound's primary bòht (ordination hall) contains a Buddha image that is said to have been designed by Rama II himself, as well as beautiful murals that depict Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha) encountering examples of birth, old age, sickness and death outside his palace walls, experiences that led him to abandon the worldly life. The Grounds In addition to the central spire and ordination hall, the Wat Arun compound includes two wí·hăhn (sanctuaries) and a hǒr đrai (depository for Buddhist scriptures), among other structures. Adjacent to the river are six săh·lah (often spelt as sala), open-air pavilions traditionally meant for relaxing or study, but increasingly used these days as docks for tourist boats. Dress code As Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple, visitors must wear culturally appropriate clothing to visit. This means trousers or long skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. It also means nothing see-through. If you are flashing too much flesh, you'll have to rent a sarong from the shop at the entrance for 20B (and a 100B refundable deposit). Shoes will also need to be removed before entering some parts of the temple. Wat Arun at sunset For our money, it's best to visit Wat Arun in the late afternoon, when the sun shines from the west, lighting up the spire and river behind it. For sunset photos, however, some of the best views can be caught from across the river at the warehouses that line Th Maha Rat – although be forewarned that locals may ask for a 20B “fee”. The magic hour for snaps is when the temple lights are switched on at night (usually around 7pm), even as the sky retains some of the afterglow. Nearby restaurants and bars If you're visiting the temple during the day, consider a lunch break at Tonkin Annam, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant just across the river. The Rooftop or Amorosa, rooftop bars located directly across from the temple, boast some wonderful views of Wat Aurn, which are great at sunset. Nearby hotels Strategically located on the river directly across from Wat Arun, Arun Residence is a multilevel wooden house with much more than just great views. The seven rooms here manage to feel both homey and stylish (the best are the top-floor, balcony-equipped suites). There are also inviting communal areas, including a library, rooftop bar and restaurant. Else head to sleek, modernist Sala Ratanakosin. Its rooms have open-plan bathrooms and big windows looking out on the river and Wat Arun. They can't be described as vast, but will satisfy the fashion-conscious.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi

    Wat Phra Kaew

    Architecturally fantastic, the Wat Phra Kaew temple complex is also the spiritual core of Thai Buddhism and the monarchy, symbolically united in what is the country’s most holy image, the Emerald Buddha. Attached to the temple complex is the Grand Palace, the former royal residence, once a sealed city of intricate ritual and social stratification. The ground was consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule, and is today Bangkok’s biggest tourist attraction and a pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists. Emerald Buddha Upon entering Wat Phra Kaew you’ll meet the yaksha, brawny guardian giants from the Ramakian (the Thai version of the Indian epic, Ramayana). Beyond them is a courtyard where the central bòht (ordination hall) houses the Emerald Buddha. The spectacular ornamentation inside and out does an excellent job of distracting first-time visitors from paying their respects to the image. Here’s why: the Emerald Buddha is only 66cm tall and sits so high above worshippers in the main temple building that the gilded shrine is more striking than the small figure it cradles. No one knows exactly where it comes from or who sculpted it, but it first appeared on record in 15th-century Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. Stylistically it seems to belong to Thai artistic periods of the 13th to 14th centuries. Because of its royal status, the Emerald Buddha is ceremoniously draped in monastic robes. There are now three royal robes: for the hot, rainy and cool seasons. The three robes are still solemnly changed by the king at the beginning of each season. Ramakian Murals Outside the main bòht is a stone statue of the Chinese goddess of mercy, Kuan Im, and nearby are two cow figures, representing the year of Rama I’s birth. In the 2km-long cloister that defines the perimeter of the complex are 178 murals depicting the Ramakian in its entirety, beginning at the north gate and moving clockwise around the compound. The story begins with the hero, Rama (the green-faced character), and his bride, Sita (the beautiful topless maiden). The young couple is banished to the forest, along with Rama’s brother. In this pastoral setting, the evil king Ravana (the character with many arms and faces) disguises himself as a hermit in order to kidnap Sita. Rama joins forces with Hanuman, the monkey king (depicted as the white monkey), to attack Ravana and rescue Sita. Although Rama has the pedigree, Hanuman is the unsung hero. He is loyal, fierce and clever. En route to the final fairy-tale ending, great battles and schemes of trickery ensue until Ravana is finally killed. After withstanding a loyalty test of fire, Sita and Rama are triumphantly reunited. If the temple grounds seem overrun by tourists, the mural area is usually mercifully quiet and shady. Phra Mondop Commissioned by Rama I, this structure was built for the storage of sacred Buddhist manuscripts. The seven-tiered roof, floor woven from strands of silver, and intricate mother-of-pearl door panels make it among the world's most decadent libraries. The interior of Phra Mondop is closed to the public. Phra Mondop, along with the neighbouring Khmer-style peak of the Prasat Phra Thep Bidon and the gilded Phra Si Ratana chedi (stupa), are the tallest structures in the compound. History Established in 1782 by King Rama I, Wat Phra Kaew was built specifically to house the Emerald Buddha, which he had brought back to Thailand after he captured Vientiane (now in Laos). The Emerald Buddha was placed in the completed temple in 1784. Phra Ubosot (The Chapel of the Emerald Buddha) which was commissioned by King Rama I is styled in Ayudhaya-period Thai architecture, with a decorative, multi-tiered Lamyong roof structure and double sacred boundary stones. Top tips Tickets are purchased inside the complex; anyone telling you it's closed is likely a gem tout or a con artist. Carry drinking water. It gets hot on the bare courtyard during the day and the only cafeteria within the complex isn't always open. Dress code As one of Bangkok’s most sacred places, visitors should dress appropriately when visiting both Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. You won’t be allowed to enter unless you’re well covered. Shorts, sleeveless shirts, spaghetti-strap tops, cropped pants – basically anything that reveals more than your lower arms and head – are not allowed. Those who don't meed the dress code can expect to be shown into a dressing room and issued with a sarong before being allowed in – this adds to queuing and unnecessary delays. Tickets and other practicalities Located along Th Na Phra Lan, in the historic Phra Nakhon District of Bangkok, the entrance to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace complex is through the clearly marked third gate from Tha Chang river pier. Open daily 8;30am-3:30pm, admission is free for Thais and costs 500B for everyone else. Admission the Grand Palace is included in the ticket price.

  • Top ChoiceSights in North-Central Vietnam

    Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

    Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003, the remarkable Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. Riddled with hundreds of cave systems – many of extraordinary scale and length – and spectacular underground rivers, Phong Nha is a speleologists’ heaven on earth, and a real treat for anyone who appreciates the sight of nature at its most raw. The caves are the region's absolute highlights, but the above-ground attractions of forest trekking, the area's war history, and rural mountain biking means the park has enough going on to warrant stays of up to three days. Documented exploration of the caves parks only began in the 1990s, led by the British Cave Research Association and Hanoi University. Cavers first penetrated deep into Phong Nha Cave, one of the world’s longest systems. In 2005 Paradise Cave was discovered, and in 2009 a team found what is considered the world’s largest cave – Son Doong. In 2015 public access to two more cave systems was approved. Above the ground, most of the mountainous 885 sq km of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is near-pristine tropical evergreen jungle, more than 90% of which is primary forest. It borders the biodiverse Hin Namno reserve in Laos to form an impressive, continuous slab of protected habitat. More than 100 types of mammal (including 10 species of primate, tigers, elephants and the saola, a rare Asian antelope), 81 types of reptile and amphibian, and more than 300 varieties of bird have been logged in Phong Nha. Touring the park In the past, access to the national park was limited and strictly controlled by the Vietnamese military. Access is still quite tightly controlled, for good reason (the park is still riddled with unexploded ordnance). Officially you are not allowed to hike here without a licensed tour operator. Trekking tours can be organised at hotels and tour operators in Son Trach village (note this is sometimes known as Phong Nha town). Good options include Hai's Eco Tours and Jungle Boss Trekking. Most cave visits require an organised tour, notably trips into Hang En and Tu Lan, as well as the famed four-day expedition into gargantuan Son Doong (though it's worth noting the latter will set you back a cool $3000 per person). All of these trips can be booked directly with Oxalis Adventure, who are the only provider allowed to run trips into Son Doong. The Son Doong expedition in particular should be booked a long way in advance. Other caves are more accessible. The eponymous Phong Nha Cave can be visited easily on a short boat trip from the jetty at Son Trach village, while Paradise Cave, at least the first kilometre of it, can be visited independently (if you have your own transport). You can travel independently (on a motorbike or car) on the Ho Chi Minh Hwy or Hwy 20, which cut through the park. There is no entrance fee when entering the park. A few guesthouses in Son Trach also rent out bicycles, allowing you to explore the countryside surrounding the town at your leisure. Nearby accommodation The Phong Nha region is changing fast. Son Trach village (also known as Phong Nha town) is the main centre, with an ATM, a rapidly mushrooming choice of accommodation and eating options, and improving transport links with other parts of central Vietnam. This is the easiest place to base yourself for exploring the park, though their are eco-farms and homestays in the back and beyond if you like your solitude. Good accommodation options in Son Trach village include Victory Road Villas, Central Backpackers Hostel and Jungle Boss Homestay.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

    Hang Son Doong

    Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave), located in the heart of Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, is known as the world's largest cave, and is one of the most spectacular sights in Southeast Asia. It is also one of the most exclusive. Access to the cave was only approved by the government in 2013, and the sole specialist operator permitted to lead tours is Son Trach–based Oxalis Adventure – commanding a US$3000 per person fee for the four-day/three-night expedition. Numbers are limited to 10 trekkers per trip, who are accompanied by a small fleet of porters and cooks. History This enormous cave was discovered quite recently. Ho Khanh, a hunter from a jungle settlement close to the Vietnam–Laos border, would often take shelter in the caves that honeycomb his mountain homeland. He stumbled across gargantuan Hang Son Doong in the early 1990s, but the sheer scale and majesty of the principal cavern (more than 5km long, 200m high and, in some places, 150m wide) was only confirmed as the world’s biggest cave when British explorers returned with him in 2009. The expedition team’s biggest obstacle was to find a way over a vast overhanging barrier of muddy calcite they dubbed the ‘Great Wall of Vietnam’, which divided the cave. Once they did, its true scale was revealed – a cave big enough to accommodate a battleship. Sections of it are pierced by skylights that reveal formations of ethereal stalagmites that cavers have called the Cactus Garden. Some stalagmites are up to 80m high. Cavers have also discovered colossal cave pearls measuring 10cm in diameter, which have been formed by millennia of drips, fusing calcite crystals with grains of sand. Magnificent rimstone pools are present throughout the cave, plus rivers that are ideal for swimming. How to visit Hang Son Doong Visits to the cave can only be booked with Oxalis Adventure. Head to their website to check availability and book well in advance. Keep in mind the three-night expedition is a challenging one, with tough trekking, underground river crossings and technical caving included. Anyone who struggles significantly with the climbing elements will be turned back on the first day. Accommodation comes in the form of basic (though spectacular) campsites within the cave itself. The tour runs from January to August. Oxalis Adventure Tours also run shorter, more affordable tours, both to other caves in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, and around the park itself.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Riverside, Silom & Lumphini

    Lumphini Park

    Named after the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal (Lumbini), Lumphini Park is central Bangkok’s largest and most popular park. Its 58 hectares are home to an artificial lake surrounded by broad, well-tended lawns, wooded areas, walking paths and startlingly large resident monitor lizards to complement the shuffling citizens. It’s the best outdoor escape from Bangkok without actually leaving town. The park was originally a royal reserve but in 1925 Rama VI (King Vajiravudh; r 1910–25) declared it a public space. A statue of the founding emperor can be found at the southwestern entrance of the park. One of the best times to visit is early morning (or late evening), when the air is relatively fresh (or pleasantly balmy) and legions of Thai-Chinese are practising t’ai chi, or doing their best to mimic the aerobics instructor, or doing the half-run half-walk version of jogging that makes a lot of sense in oppressive humidity. There are paddleboats for lovers, playgrounds for the kids and ramshackle gym weightlifting areas. This Chinese-style clock tower, located in the southeastern corner of Lumphini, doubles as an interesting photographic subject amidst the park's greenery. It was built for the Siamrath Phipitthapan Trade Fair in 1925 and was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno. Cold drinks are available at the entrances and street-food vendors set up tables outside the park’s northwest corner from about 5pm. Be aware that late at night the borders of the park are a popular spot for sex workers and clientele. Opening hours and other practicalities Bounded by Th Sarasin, Rama IV, Th Witthayu/Wireless Rd and Th Ratchadamri, Lumphini Park is open daily from 4:30am-9pm. Entry is free.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

    Tu Lan Cave

    The Tu Lan cave system comprises of more than 20 wet and dry caves, which are thought to be between three and five million years old. Huge caverns, underground rivers and vast dangling stalactites make the caves a big draw for spelunkers (cave enthusiasts) visiting Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (although the caves technically lie just outside the park), and the otherworldly landscape even captured the imagination of Hollywood, with Tu Lan featuring as a backdrop in blockbuster Kong: Skull Island (2017). History The existence of Tu Lan was first documented by the British Cave Research Association in 1992, but its existence was known locally for much longer. Additional surveys of the caves took place in 2010, which revealed the true scale of the system. The 2010 caving team included consultants to tour operator Oxalis, who are the leading tour operator licensed to take visitors into the caves. Touring the caves The caves can be explored on one-, two-, three- and four-day tours with Oxalis. All trips begin with a countryside hike, past peanut fields and grazing cattle, to the entrance of the cave system, and include a guided tour through at least two caves and a swim in an underground river. Longer tours take in additional caves (both wet and dry) and include nights in campsites nestled in the surrounding countryside, while the four-day iteration offers the chance to abseil inside the cave.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cat Ba Island

    Lan Ha Bay

    Lying to the south of Halong Bay off the north-eastern coast of Vietnam, the 300-or-so karst islands and limestone outcrops of Lan Ha are just as beautiful as those of its superstar neighbour, but feel more isolated and untouched. Lan Ha also has the additional attraction of numerous white-sand beaches, which aren't found at Halong. Geologically, Lan Ha is an extension of Halong Bay but sits in a different province. Around 200 species of fish, 500 species of mollusc, 400 species of arthropod (prawns, crabs) and numerous hard and soft corals live in the waters here, while larger marine animals in the area include seals and three species of dolphin. Like Halong Bay, Lan Ha is best explored on an overnight boat tour, which usually includes a stop at a beach and the chance to get out on the water to kayak. However, tours can also include activities like hiking and rock climbing, as well as homestays on some of the islands. How to book a tour of Lan Ha Bay Tours can be arranged from both nearby Cat Ba Island and Hanoi. Tours generally tend to come as a one day, two days/one night or three days/two nights package and the bay's admission fee is normally incorporated into the price. Locally-owned Cat Ba Ventures on Cat Ba Island is just one outfit running overnight boat trips around the bay (overnight boat tour per person from approx US$136).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Cao Bang

    Ban Gioc Waterfall

    Ban Gioc is one of Vietnam’s best-known waterfalls, and its image adorns the lobby of many a cheap guesthouse. The falls, fed by the Quay Son River that marks the border with China, are an impressive sight in a highly scenic location. Aim to visit around lunchtime when the upstream dam is opened to allow full flow. Boat owners here will punt you on bamboo rafts (50,000d) close enough to the waterfall so you can feel the spray on your face. Rafts on the Vietnamese side have blue canopies; on the Chinese side canopies are green. For a fine overview of the falls and the entire karst valley, head back towards Cao Bang for 1km and climb left to the hillside Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc Pagoda. The police station at the waterfall sometimes requires foreigners to buy a border permit (200,000d for up to 10 people) to visit the falls, though we weren't asked during our recent visit. Bring your passport just in case. How to get to Ban Gioc Waterfall Frequent buses link Cao Bang and the waterfall (70,000d, two hours, hourly from 5.30am to 6pm). Catch them just east of the Bang Giang Bridge in Cao Bang. To reach Ban Gioc Waterfall from Hanoi, catch a bus to Cao Bang (journey time: six hours) and take onward transport from there.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

    Paradise Cave

    Surrounded by forested karst peaks, this staggering cave system in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park extends for 31km, though most people only visit the first kilometre. The scale is breathtaking, as wooden staircases plunge into a cathedral-like space with vast alien-looking stalagmites and stalactites illuminated by large flood lights. Get here early to beat the crowds, as during peak times (early afternoon) tour guides shepherd groups using megaphones. Paradise Cave is about 14km southwest of Son Trach. Electric buggies (per person one way/return 15,000/25,000d) ferry visitors from the car park to the entrance 1km away, or you can simply walk it. From the buggie drop-off, it's a further 600m-plus sweaty climb up to the cave entrance. There's an entry fee of 250,000d (125,000d for children). To explore deep inside the cave beyond the barrier at the end (and with luck see the eyeless cave fish that are part of its ecosystem), book a 7km Paradise Cave tour (2,650,000d, minimum two people), which includes a swim through an underground river (there's a boat if you can't swim) and lunch under a light shaft. Bookings can be made through Phong Nha Farmstay and other accommodation options.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Phu Quoc Island

    Sao Beach

    With picture-perfect white sand, the delightful curve of beautiful Sao Beach bends out alongside a sea of mineral-water clarity just a few kilometres from An Thoi, the main shipping port at the southern tip of Phu Quoc Island. There are a couple of beachfront restaurants where you can settle into a deckchair (50,000d for nonguests), change into bathers (10,000d fee) or partake in water sports. How to get to Sao Beach Sao Beach is located on the south-eastern edge of Phu Quoc island. The easiest way to get around the island is by motorbike, either as a moto taxi or private hire. For short xe om runs, 20,000d should be sufficient. Otherwise figure on around 60,000d for about 5km. Agree on a price before setting off. Motorbikes can be hired from most hotels and bungalows for around 120,000d (semi-automatic) to 150,000d (automatic) per day. Inspect cheaper bikes thoroughly before setting out. Car taxis are also available, as is the Phu Quoc Bus Tour, a hop-on/hop-off shuttle that loops around island hotspots every 40m. Tickets for the latter can be purchased online.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Danang

    Dragon Bridge

    This wonderfully wacky bridge takes the form of a ginormous, colour-changing dragon, weaving its way across the Han River. If that wasn't attention-grabbing enough, the sculpture, which cost a reported VND1.5 trillion (US$88 million) to build, spouts fire and water from its mouth every Saturday and Sunday night at 9pm, much to the delight of onlookers. The best observation spots are the cafes lining the eastern bank to the north of the bridge; boat trips taking in the action also depart from Ð Bach Dang on the river's western bank.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Rach Gia

    Hon Son Island

    Hon Son, also known after its main village of Lai Son, is a solitary and beautiful mountain island about 50km southwest of Rach Gia on the southern shores of Vietnam. It is very undeveloped and has some pretty coastline, with a single road circling the island and connecting a handful of communities and remote beaches. The island is ringed by some large rock formations that make popular photo opportunities for Vietnamese selfie fans. In the north, Bai Bac and Bai Bo are the best beaches, but Bai Bang, in the east, is also popular thanks to a horizontal coconut palm and lots of strategically placed swings. Aside from swimming and beach lounging, other activities on offer here include hill trekking and visiting the island's popular night market. Getting to Hon Son Island Boats to Hon Son (150,000d, 1½ hours) depart Rach Gia at 7.30am (continuing to Nam Du for 100,000d around 9am) and returning to the mainland at noon. Hotels on Hon Son Island Accommodation in the 250,000d-to-500,000d range is available in Lai Son and dotted about the island. Options include Sake Hostel and Sao Biển Homestay. Most hotels rent out scooters for exploring the island.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ho Chi Minh City

    Jade Emperor Pagoda

    Built in 1909 in honour of the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), this is one of the most atmospheric temples in Ho Chi Minh City, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes. The pungent smoke of incense (huong) fills the air, obscuring the exquisite woodcarvings. Its roof is encrusted with elaborate tile work, and the temple's statues, depicting characters from both Buddhist and Taoist lore, are made from reinforced papier mâché. The multifaith nature of the temple is echoed in the shrine's alternative name Phuoc Hai Tu (福海寺; Sea of Blessing Temple), whose message is clearly Buddhist. Similarly, the Chinese characters (佛光普照; Phat Quang Pho Chieu) in the main temple hall mean 'The light of Buddha shines on all'. Touring the temple Inside the main building are two especially fierce and menacing Taoist figures. On the right (as you face the altar) is a 4m-high statue of the general who defeated the Green Dragon (depicted underfoot). On the left is the general who defeated the White Tiger, which is also being stepped on. Worshippers mass before the ineffable Jade Emperor, who presides – draped in luxurious robes and shrouded in a dense fug of incense smoke – over the main sanctuary. He is flanked by his guardians, the Four Big Diamonds (Tu Dai Kim Cuong), so named because they are said to be as hard as diamonds. Out the door on the left-hand side of the Jade Emperor’s chamber is another room. The semi-enclosed area to the right (as you enter) is presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell; to the left is his red horse. Other figures here represent the gods who dispense punishments for evil acts and rewards for good deeds. The room also contains the famous Hall of the Ten Hells, carved wooden panels illustrating the varied torments awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell. Women queue up at the seated effigy of the City God, who wears a hat inscribed with Chinese characters that announce 'At one glance, money is given'. In a mesmerising ritual, worshippers first put money into a box, then rub a piece of red paper against his hand before circling it around a candle flame. On the other side of the wall is a fascinating little room in which the ceramic figures of 12 women, overrun with children and wearing colourful clothes, sit in two rows of six. Each of the women exemplifies a human characteristic, either good or bad (as in the case of the woman drinking alcohol from a jug). Each figure represents a year in the 12-year Chinese astrological calendar. Presiding over the room is Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Chief of All Women. Upstairs is a hall to Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, opposite a portrait of Dat Ma, the bearded Indian founder of Zen Buddhism. Outside, a small pond seethes with turtles, some of which have shells marked with auspicious inscriptions. Tickets and other practicalities The temple is free to visit, but a number of donation boxes are dotted around the sight. There is no strict dress code, but, to be respectful, opt for clothing that covers the shoulders and drops below the knee. The temple tends to get busy most days, so arrive early to avoid the worst of the crowds.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hue

    Thien Mu Pagoda

    Built on a small hill overlooking the Song Huong (Perfume River), 4km southwest of the Citadel, this seven-storey pagoda is an icon of Vietnam and as potent a symbol of Hue as the Citadel. The 21m-high octagonal tower, Thap Phuoc Duyen, was constructed under the reign of Emperor Thieu Tri in 1844. Each of its storeys is dedicated to a manushi-buddha (a Buddha that appeared in human form). Thien Mu Pagoda was originally founded in 1601 by Nguyen Hoang, governor of Thuan Hoa province. Over the centuries its buildings have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Since the 1960s it has been a flashpoint of political demonstrations, with a notable moment coming in 1993, when a man arrived at the pagoda and, after leaving offerings, set himself alight chanting the word ‘Buddha’. Touring the pagoda To the right of the brick pagoda tower is a pavilion containing a stele (a stone tablet) dating from 1715. It’s set on the back of a massive marble turtle, a symbol of longevity. To the left of the tower is another six-sided pavilion, this one sheltering an enormous bell (1710), weighing 2052kg and audible from 10km away. Beyond the pagoda tower is a gateway, on the upper floor of which sits an effigy of the Celestial Lady (Thien Mu) that the pagoda is named after. Above the central portal is a board with the Chinese characters 靈姥寺 (literally 'Divine Old Woman Temple'), in honour of the presiding deity of this plot of land. The temple itself is a humble building in the inner courtyard, past the triple-gated entrance where three statues of Buddhist guardians stand at the alert. In the main sanctuary behind the bronze laughing Buddha are three statues: A Di Da, the Buddha of the Past; Thich Ca, the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni); and Di Lac Buddha, the Buddha of the Future. Entrance fee and other practicalities The pagoda is free to visit. Try and arrive in the morning before large tour groups show up. Many sights around Hue, including Thien Mu Pagoda and several of the royal tombs, can be reached by boat via the Perfume River. Most hotels and travellers’ cafes offer shared day tours from US$5 to US$20 per person.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Banglamphu

    Golden Mount

    Even if you're wát-ed out, you should tackle the brisk ascent to the Golden Mount. Serpentine steps wind through an artificial hill shaded by gnarled trees, some of which are signed in English, and past graves and pictures of wealthy benefactors. At the peak, you'll find a breezy 360-degree view of Bangkok's most photogenic side. Before glass and steel towers began growing out of Bangkok’s flat riverine plain, the massive Golden Mount was the only structure to make any significant impression on the horizon. The mount was commissioned by Rama III (King Phranangklao; r 1824–51), who ordered that the earth dug out to create Bangkok’s expanding klorng (canal) network be piled up to build a 100m-high, 500m-wide chedi (stupa). As the hill grew, however, the weight became too much for the soft soil beneath and the project was abandoned until his successor built a small gilded chedi on its crest and added trees to stave off erosion. Rama V (King Chulalongkorn; r 1868–1910) later added to the structure and interred a Buddha relic taken from India (given to him by the British government) in the chedi. The concrete walls were added during WWII to prevent the hill from eroding. Next door, seemingly peaceful Wat Saket contains murals that are among both the most beautiful and the goriest in the country; proceed directly to the pillar behind the Buddha statue for explicit depictions of Buddhist hell. Tickets and other practicalities Located on Phu Khao Thong, just off Th Boriphat, the Golden Mount is open daily from 7:30am-5:30pm. Climbing the summit costs 50B for foreigners. Entry for Thais is free. Dress code There is no dress code for the Golden Mount, but visitors should still consider wearing culturally appropriate clothing as it is still seen as a holy Buddhist site. This means trousers or long skirts and tops that cover your shoulders. Top tips The audio recordings piped out along the ascent to the Golden Mount are Buddhist sermons. In November there’s a festival in the grounds of the Golden Mount and Wat Saket that includes an enchanting candlelight procession up the Golden Mount.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Nha Trang

    Nha Trang Beach

    Forming a magnificent sweeping arc, Nha Trang's 6km-long golden-sand beach is the city's trump card. Sections are roped off and designated for safe swimming (where you won't be bothered by jet skis or boats). The turquoise water is very inviting, and the promenade a delight to stroll. Two popular lounging spots are the Sailing Club and Louisiane Brewhouse. The former is also the spot for beach parties, with dancing on the sand when the sun goes down most nights of the week (especially Saturdays). If you head south of here, the beach gets quieter and it’s possible to find a quiet stretch of sand. The best beach lounging weather is generally before 1pm, as the afternoon sea breezes can whip up the sand. During heavy rains, run-off from the rivers at each end of the beach flows into the bay, gradually turning it a murky brown. Most of the year, however, the sea is just like it appears in the brochures. Hotels near Nha Trang Beach Nha Trang has a very wide selection of hotel rooms, from dorms to luxury suites. Most are within a block or two of the beach. During high season (July and August) prices increase and it can be tough to find a place to stay. Luxury hotels and international chains line Ð Tran Phu, the waterfront boulevard. However, the area's most exclusive resort hotels are out of town, in Ninh Van Bay to the north. Hotels along the waterfront include the Sheraton and Novotel, as well as characterful spots like Sunny Sea, which offer more of a local flavour. There's a cluster of cheapies on an alleyway at 64 Ð Tran Phu, very close to the beach; all offer similar air-conditioned rooms for US$15 or so. Hostel-style places tend to be located inland from the beach. Good options include Mojzo Inn Boutique and iHome. As for hotels directly on Nha Trang beach, the Evason Ana Mandara Resort Spa is your best bet, as well as some homestays at the southern edge of the sand. All other options fall on the city side of the promenade.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hanoi

    Temple of Literature

    Set amidst landscaped grounds near the centre of Hanoi, the Temple of Literature honours Vietnam's finest scholars, and also offers visitors a chance to see a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Le Thanh Tong, the attractive complex is dedicated to the Qufu-born philosopher Confucius (Khong Tu) and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, Quoc Tu Giam (1076). The altars are popular with students praying for good grades, while the halls, ponds and gardens of the five courtyards make picturesque backdrops for student graduation photos. The temple is depicted on the 100,000d note. Originally university admission was exclusively for those born of noble families, but after 1442 it became more egalitarian. Gifted students from all over the nation headed to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. In 1484 Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered that stelae (large slabs) be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars: 82 of 116 stelae remain standing, mostly atop turtle statues. Paths lead from the imposing tiered gateway on P Quoc Tu Giam through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavilion, constructed in 1802. Entry to the temple is 30,000d for adults and 15,000d for students. Hotels near the Temple of Literature Hanoi has accommodation suited to every budget, though an extra US$10 to $20 makes a massive difference in quality: you could easily move from a windowless room to a larger space with a view, so splurge if you can. Good hotel options within walking distance of the Temple of Literature include Tomodachi House and Somerset Grand Hanoi, a 15-minute and 17-minute walk away respectively.