Vietnam is incredibly physically, climatically and culturally varied. Jagged alpine peaks define the northern provinces and a pancake-flat river delta enriches the endless rice paddies of the far south. Cave-riddled limestone hills loom over the central belt and there are dense rainforests along its western border.
The northern half of the nation experiences a much cooler winter, and the cuisine, lifestyle and character of the people reflect this. As you head south, the country has more of a tropical feel, with coconut trees outnumbering bamboo plants and fish sauce replacing soy sauce on the menu. The southern provinces are always humid, hot and sticky, their food sweet, spicy, aromatic and complex.
Spectacular Street Food
Dine in elegantly restored colonial villas, or pull up a stool and chow down on street-food classics including pho bo (beef noodle soup) or bun cha (barbecued pork with rice vermicelli).
Religion before Communism
A millennium of history including periods of Chinese and French occupation has left a legacy of religious and spiritual tradition evident in Hanoi's many surviving temples and churches.
Hanoi has lifted the weekend bar curfew and pedestrianised the Hoan Kiem Lake area, awakening a festival atmosphere. Cruising the bars in this zone has never been so much fun.
Soaring Limestone Peaks
Halong Bay's majestic islands are perhaps best observed shrouded in morning mist, which gives them an ethereal air. To the north, the sublime mountainous scenery of Ha Giang province is arguably even more spectacular.
The cascading rice paddies around Sapa and Bac Ha are a spectacular hub for trekking and homestays with ethnic minorities, including the colourful Dzao and Flower Hmong people.
Adventurous detours in northern Vietnam include rock climbing on Cat Ba Island or kayaking to hidden coves and sandy beaches in nearby Lan Ha Bay.
Partner with local foodies to discover flavour-packed street food unique to Hoi An and Hue – including Hue's famed Imperial cuisine – before dining at sophisticated restaurants helmed by international chefs crafting innovative fusion menus.
Centuries of History
The storied layers of history in this diverse, compelling region include the ancient Cham temples of My Son, Hue's majestic Imperial city and the wartime sites of the DMZ.
The area around Ninh Binh is typified by sublime limestone mountains. Further south, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park offers more of the same, plus several immense cave systems.
Vietnam’s coastline at its most enticing. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are the big hitters, but do investigate less hyped beaches such as Bai Xep and the secret coves of the Con Dao Islands.
The Kingdom of Champa once held sway over much of this region. Its legacy is still visible in a host of ancient brick temples, including the Po Nagar towers (Nha Trang) and the Po Klong Garai towers (Thap Cham).
Overall this is the best region in Vietnam for watersports: Con Dao is a scuba-diving mecca, kitesurfing is king in Mui Ne and you'll also find good sailing schools and surf breaks.
Get off the trail on a motorbike trip into the hinterlands. Self-drive on a Vespa or Honda Cub, or hook up with Easy Riders to experience a Vietnam less travelled on the back roads between Dalat and Hoi An.
Explore some of Vietnam’s leading national parks where the wild things are. Cat Tien is home to endangered primates and the innovative Gibbon Trek. Yok Don, easily accessible from Buon Ma Thuot, is where elephants roam.
Meet the Locals
Leave the lowlanders behind on the coast and meet the high-ground minority people. Get to know them better with a traditional village homestay around Kon Tum.
Ho Chi Minh City
Eating & Drinking
From an after-dark street-food exploration on two wheels to quirky walking tours uncovering street art and hip cafes hidden in heritage apartments, HCMC has a growing array of fun and informative tours revealing the best of this vibrant city.
The fall/liberation of Saigon was one of the late 20th century’s defining moments. Explore sites associated with the American War, from the tunnels at Cu Chi to the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace.
Food & Drink
The country's best international restaurants, stylish cocktail bars and buzzing craft breweries all combine with excellent local eateries serving traditional Vietnamese flavours.
The white sands of gorgeous Sao Beach and graceful Long Beach in Phu Quoc are Mekong Delta's trump cards. The island's a world away from the muddy riverbanks of the delta. Don't forget your beach gear.
Boat trips are essential for understanding how water defines this part of Vietnam, a region where children don life jackets to swim all day and the river can get so wide that you almost lose sight of either bank.
Just the sound of paddling water interrupts the bird calls as you glide through the superb wetlands of Trang Su Bird Sanctuary in Chau Doc.
Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor
It’s not all about Angkor Wat. True, the ‘city that is a temple’ is one of the world’s most iconic buildings, but nearby are the enigmatic faces of the Bayon, the jungle temple of Ta Prohm and the inspirational carvings of Banteay Srei.
Contemporary Khmer, spiced-up street food, fine French and a whole host more, plus legendary Pub St – Siem Reap is where it’s happening.
When not visiting temples, you can see Angkor by helicopter, zipline through the jungle, or quad bike through rice fields and villages. For a slower pace, take a cooking class or unwind with a massage.