Northern Vietnam boasts some of the country’s most spectacular scenery with soaring mountains, forested limestone karsts and cascading rice terraces. The capital city Hanoi bears the traces of centuries of change in its wide Parisian boulevards and colourful Chinese temples. The seascape of Halong Bay is a magical sight; breathtaking rock pinnacles rise dramatically from the sea and floating villages sit languidly in the bay.
The Mekong Delta is blessed with lush fertile land where villagers in traditional conical hats work in vibrant green rice paddies and traditional boats with dragons’ eyes ply the murky waters. Ho Chi Minh City’s wartime past is displayed at the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum but this vast metropolis is also full of modern bars, shops and restaurants.
Start the tour in the northern part of Hanoi at a colourful market selling herbs, spices, sea products and many other local and exotic ingredients. Stroll alongside the lake and even have a go at paddling one of the small paddle boats shaped as swans. Carry on past the peaceful Quan Thanh Taoist temple and the Presidential Palace to the Botanical Gardens, the green lung of the capital.
Wander through the maze of narrow streets and crowded alleys until you emerge at a small lake containing the wreckage of a crashed B52 from the Vietnam War. End the tour with a refreshing drink under the trees of a local café.
Hanoi, A sleepy city of wide Parisian boulevards, Chinese temples and crumbling mansions.
GMT +07:00 (Indochina Time Zone)
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Visit the house of Nguyen Van Tan, an artist who studied at the College of Arts in Hue and whose work has been exhibited throughout Vietnam and Thailand. He generously opens the doors to his beautiful residence and invites visitors in to see his home and art. Everything in his house and garden, from the artworks to the plants and rocks, has been arranged in an artistic way in order to fuse art and nature.
Browse through his paintings and wander through the beautiful garden to see the water features and enjoy the peace and serenity. Mr. Tan will take you through the history of Vietnamese art, and will personally teach you how to produce some traditional folk art of your own.
Drive to the small village of Dong Ho, famous for an age-old form of woodblock printing that dates back to the 11th century. Traditionally, Dong Ho painting was an essential part of the Tet holiday when everyone would take part in creating these colourful artworks. Several families in Dong Ho village have dedicated themselves to the preservation of this exquisite art form. By passing the original techniques down from one generation to the next they are ensuring that this unique tradition continues for many more years.
On the way back to Hanoi, stop for a visit at the studio of surrealist artist, Dao Anh Khanh. This contemporary and controversial artist is well known within Asia for breaking away from the traditional constraints. His enormous studio features a giant Thai-style wooden house filled with sculptures and paintings. Hidden within the jungle-like garden are several tree houses, a sculpture waterfall, a stream, and even a prison dungeon. Meet this larger than life person in his unusual surroundings, and enjoy some tea while relaxing in the garden and admiring the artworks.
HALONG MEANS ‘DRAGON DESCENDING’
In Halong Bay, limestone karsts rise from emerald green waters while traditional Vietnamese junks sail slowly by. Over 3,000 rock islands are scattered across this bay; according to legend they were formed from pearls placed by a celestial dragon who answered the Jade Emperor’s call to stop an invasion. Enchanted by the bay’s beauty, the dragon and her children then came to earth to live in the bay. Halong means ‘dragon descending’.
Sightings of dragons are rare but Halong Bay’s other glories include tiny fishing villages with floating wooden houses and shops.
Many islands have caves or grottoes which can be seen on visits ashore. Nights on Halong Bay offer the relaxing sound of lapping waters underneath a vast black sky while mornings see the bay’s karsts peeking from hazy mists.
TREKKING MAY TAKE YOU TO SEE TRADITIONAL HAMLETS OR
TO THE SUMMIT OF VIETNAM’S TALLEST PEAK
Sapa sits in the Northern Highlands in the northwest corner of Vietnam overlooking the Muong Hoa Valley. The town was established as a hill station in 1922. Sapa has become a meeting place for the various ethnic minorities who reside in the neighbouring villages. The Northern Highlands are bordered to the west by Laos and to the north by China, and Sapa has the edgy air of a border town.
Traditional handicrafts are specialities of this region and Sapa’s weekly market is an entertaining place to buy. The local ethnic minorities at the market make for a vivid sight in their traditional dress, especially the Flower Hmong in their brightly-striped and checked layers. Here you can also see the buffalo market perched on a hillside overlooking the valley.
The surrounding countryside is a mass of tumbling green rice terraces, winding rivers and forested mountains. Trekking may take you to traditional hamlets to see hand-weaving or to the summit of Vietnam’s tallest peak, Fansipan.
NHA TRANG BOASTS THE COUNTRY’S BEST CITY BEACH,
A 6KM STRETCH OF GOLDEN SAND LAPPED BY TURQUOISE WATERS
Situated in central Vietnam, Nha Trang boasts the country’s best city beach, a 6km stretch of golden sand lapped by turquoise waters. Along this glorious coastline a modern resort has developed, and there are many hotels, swish bars, fashionable restaurants and chic gift shops. There is good snorkelling and diving here and day trips can be made to the nearby islands.
Nha Trang city itself remains largely unaffected by the resort which has developed along its shoreline, although its French Gothic Cathedral is worth a visit. The city has Cham ruins nearby, Po Ngar Cham Towers, constructed between the 7th and 12th centuries. These stone monuments continue to be used as a place of worship today.
PHAN THIET IS A HAVEN OF CALM AWAY FROM THE BUSY TOWNS AND
NOISY TRAFFIC OF VIETNAMESE TOWNS.
Phan Thiet is about 200 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City on the southernmost shore of Vietnam.
Phan Thiet’s attraction is its idyllic golden beaches, seemingly designed for relaxing and gazing towards the small fishing boats on the horizon. A number of international-standard hotels occupy prime beachfront positions and you may enjoy many luxury trappings including fine dining, shorefront villas and infinity pools.
The town of Phan Thiet is a bustling fishing port known for its unusual round boats.
Nearby Mui Ne is a more established beach resort and famous for its giant orange sand dunes. The region is famous for producing that staple of Vietnamese cuisine, fish sauce (nuoc mam).
THE VAST MEKONG DELTA IS KNOWN AS ‘THE RICE BOWL OF VIETNAM’
The vast Mekong Delta is known as ‘The rice bowl of Vietnam’ and covers 13 provinces in the south-west of the country. The mighty Mekong and its numberless waterways seep across this region and create a fertile waterscape.
Rice fields, fish farms and orchards dot the countryside.
The Mekong’s floating markets bustle with trade and every boat’s prow is painted with eyes to ward off ‘river monsters’. Water coconut palms trail across the river’s surface and cycle ways perch on its banks.
In addition to rice the Delta produces shrimp, coconut, sugarcane and fruit, and many small producers allow visits to observe traditional production methods. Rural home stays afford an added insight into the local culture.
Can Tho, the Delta’s largest city, is a popular base for visits to floating markets and also has excellent restaurants.
CHAU DOC’S SACRED MOUNTAIN HAS SWEEPING VIEWS TO THE BORDER WITH CAMBODIA
Far away Chau Doc’s sacred Sam Mountain (Nui Sam) has sweeping views to the border with Cambodia.
Tropical Phu Quoc Island was once known for its black pepper and fish sauce but is lauded by travellers for its diving, kayaking and fine beaches.
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