It’s been a decade since I was last in Vietnam and in that time the country has changed drastically. It’s still as beautiful as ever, from the karst islands of Halong Bay to the winding alleyways of Hanoi’s French Quarter. But Vietnam is now bursting with excitement and new travel opportunities. The cities have grown, the infrastructure has upgraded, and there are great new places to stay at, restaurants to eat at, and wonders to experience.
A team of our Asia Destination Specialists and I recently explored the country to get a sense of its transformation over the past decade. We visited old favourites like the capital Hanoi, Halong Bay, the gorgeous coastal town of Hoi An, and the urban quarters of Ho Chi Minh City. We discovered new favourites, from the rice paddies and karst mountains of Ninh Binh to the quiet mountain valley retreat of Mai Chau. Throughout the journey, we had the opportunity to witness the bright promise of this country, one that is young and as appealing to travellers as any place in Asia.
If you’re looking for an affordable vacation in one of the world’s most appealing destinations and want to experience breathtaking natural beauty and a hearty cultural welcome, plan a trip to Vietnam.
What has changed in Vietnam?
When many people think of a trip to Vietnam, they think of Hanoi, Halong Bay, and some historical landmarks from the Vietnam War. The country is so much more than that! This isn’t a destination stuck in the past. In fact, it’s a country with one of the youngest populations in the world, with over half its citizens under the age of 25.
This youthful wave has revitalized the nation, and made it very convenient for westerners to explore. English is increasingly common and there is far more to do than historical tours. The infrastructure is also scaling up at an impressive rate. As Elyse Perciasepe, Reservations Manager for Asia, puts it: “Ho Chi Minh City will have its first metro system ready to go come summer 2024. Hoi An has built a new quarter on the other side of the river that mirrors the styles of the old quarter. And Mai Chau has some nice luxury properties that offer different experiences from the typical homestays in this rural region.”
You can discover rural stilt villages, go shopping for luxury brands in the cities, and experience the kind of natural wonders that you didn’t think existed. And the food scene is remarkable. As Steve Hope, Reservations Supervisor & Asia Specialist, puts it: “While the food scene in Vietnam has always been the stuff of legends, the dining scene in urban centres has grown so much in recent years. There are fusion options to gourmet banh mi shops, top-tier local restaurants and international favourites. The food scene is hard to beat and likely going to be on many year-end best of lists.”
What are the newest and coolest things to do in Vietnam?
Where do we start? I asked some of our team who visited to share their favourite experiences, which should give you an idea of all that you can do in Vietnam these days.
Elyse Perciasepe: “The Vespa foodie tour in Ho Chi Minh City was incredible. It was the best way to see Saigon at night and sample some Vietnamese delicacies, including fish cakes, banh mi sandwiches, and a vast assortment of savoury and sweet dishes.”
Steve Hope: “Staying at Avana Retreat in Mai Chau was a very special experience. The property, service, and villas are spacious with gorgeous views and top-tier food. The whole area is great for travellers to immerse themselves in the rural lifestyle of Vietnam and interact with the local communities, who offer a refreshing counter to the bustle of the cities.”
As for me, it’s difficult to answer, as Vietnam has so many phenomenal destinations. I loved getting away to Mai Chau to relax and be engulfed in the rural beauties of Vietnam. I love cruising Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay for their justifiably iconic views. And it’s hard to beat Hoi An for its quiet charms.
What is an iconic landmark that travellers shouldn’t miss in Vietnam?
Both Frank Lin, Asia Team Lead, and Brent Morris, Senior Destination Specialist, went with the most justifiably beautiful landmark in the country: Halong Bay. Commonly referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Halong Bay is a karst bay a few hours from Hanoi. You can cruise the bay overnight and dock at islands to swim in hidden coves and explore limestone caves. It’s undeniably amazing.
Both Steve and Elyse recommended a different landmark in the capital, Hanoi. Steve recommends “Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the surrounding Ba Dinh Square and museums, which provide a great spot to take in the history of the country, while admiring a mix of French, Soviet, and Vietnamese architecture.” Elyse recommends the “Temple of Literature, which was founded in 1070 and is the first national university in Vietnam. It’s a stunning temple and work of architecture.”
For me, the War Remnants Museum is an absolute must-do in Ho Chi Minh City, although it’s a truly sombre and sobering experience. Not everyone is a history buff, but this museum showcases the difficult history of the Indochina War and Vietnam War, while also exploring the history of an independent Vietnam. It can be a moving visit, while also extremely educating on what this country endured.
What is the hidden gem that’s going to be super popular in the coming years?
Ninh Binh is often known as Halong Bay on Land, and it’s absolutely stunning. Located to the south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is a dramatic landscape of karst mountains looming over rice paddies, canals, and small villages and temples. Instead of cruising on a sailboat, you can bike or ride in a paddleboat, which the local guides paddle using their feet! It’s a beautiful landscape where you can’t believe the scenery.
What are some things to keep in mind on a trip to Vietnam?
Elyse Perciasepe has some great reminders about what to keep in mind when on a Vietnamese vacation: “Depending on the time of year you are travelling, you will need to be prepared for the temperature differences in the north vs. the south and pack accordingly. Always pack an umbrella and a raincoat as well, as the rainy season alternates between north and south. As well, give Vietnam the time it deserves. The country is so vast and measures about 1,025 mi / 1,650 km from north to south. The landscape as well changes the further north or south you go, so you want to give yourself as much time as possible to see everything it has in store.”
Vietnam is transforming. It’s only growing more appealing, more innovative, and more welcoming with each passing day. If you’re looking for adventure, luxury, and divine natural landscapes on a future vacation, head to Vietnam. It’s ready to be rediscovered.
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