Southeast Asia’s once sleeping dragon is ascending and these top 10 Vietnam travel experiences will change your perspective on Vietnam travel forever
Someone once described the traditional Vietnamese soup, phở, to me as a “restorative food.” The steaming chicken and bone broth are said to have magical properties that can be both comforting and rich, as well as light and fresh when you add the delicate crunch combination of bean sprouts, julienned carrots, basil, and coriander. If ever there was a meal that personified its people and gave meaning to a place, this food is the perfect analogy for describing Vietnam. The country’s major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are kaleidoscopes of colour and freneticism, yet the cultivated farmlands, rice paddies, and mountain scenery are straight out of a fairytale. Add in the turquoise beaches, and hidden islands in the south and you’ve got a destination ripe for adventure.
Here’s our top 10 Vietnam travel tips and experiences up and down the Dragon’s Spine of Vietnam:
Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise:
Ha Long Bay steals the limelight when it comes to tourist attractions in northern Vietnam, but it’s the lesser-known Bai Tu Long and Lan Ha Bay which are quieter and much more authentic. While the limestone karsts here are a little more sparse, the junks (traditional overnight boats) are smaller, more boutique, and the magical dawn experience of waking up in your own private luxury cabin on the stillness of the bay is magnified.
Join a craft beer tour in Hanoi:
Drinking cheap ‘Bia Hoi’ on a Hanoi street corner was made ubiquitous for tourists when former U.S. President Barack Obama joined celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in an Old Quarter noodle shop in 2016. A glass of beer here will set you back as little as NZD$0.20 and in the fading sunlight of any hot and humid day in Hanoi, the light amber ale flows onto the streets of this ancient city. So popular has the beer scene become here, that entrepreneurs have even started craft beer tours on the back of motorcycles to help tourists search out the best-tasting hops and watering holes around the city.
Eat a Banh Mi at Bahn Mi 25 in Hanoi:
If phở is for restoration, then the bánh mì is for absolute indulgence. Enjoyed for either breakfast, lunch, and dinner (you won’t be judged in Hanoi if you have one for all three meals) you can pick up tasty pork, beef, or chicken bánh mì on every street corner. However, the very casual storefront of Bánh Mì 25 in Hanoi is our favourite.
Visit Ninh Binh:
What to do in Ninh Binh? Located just 100 kilometres south of Hanoi, Ninh Binh is often referred to as the ‘Ha Long Bay on Land’. Grab a paddleboat tour guide and glide through this spectacular riverine landscape, with huge limestone cliffs and shimmering water. Mua Cave viewpoint offers one of the best views (and Instagram spots) in all of Vietnam.
Ride The Vietage Train in Luxury:
The Vietage is a new 12-guest-only luxury carriage that uses the daily Vietnam Railways train which travels six hours between Da Nang and Quy Nhơn daily. A public-private partnership between Anantara Resorts and the Vietnamese government, the train carriage transfers guests between their legacy property in Hội An and their spectacular new beachfront villas in Quy Nhơn.
Wander the ancient streets of Hội An:
The ancient UNESCO World Heritage city is a melting pot of cultures. Somehow the ramshackle timber Chinese shop fronts work in harmony with the French colonial architecture and the canals dating back to the 15th century. Simply spend your time here meandering the streets of the Old City, give yourself plenty of time to find a tailor for a new suit or dress, and be sure to get lost in the evenings when colourful lanterns fill the skies and the waterways.
Savour the best coffee in Ho Chi Minh City:
You can thank the French for the Vietnamese obsession with coffee. But the locals have taken the ritualistic morning cup of joe and perfected it through generations. While the famous ‘Egg Coffee‘ is still a must-try (made by beating an egg yolk with sweetened condensed milk and then adding espresso) in the backstreets of Ho Chi Minh there’s been an explosion of cafe culture. Not only will you find the best espresso at The Workshop Coffee, but you’ll also get a cafe ambiance unmatched even in Melbourne.
Escape to Sapa mountains in Vietnam:
Escape the humidity of Hanoi with a visit to the mountainous region of Sapa. Best known for its trekking, village homestays, and idyllic waterfalls, the region offers visitors the chance to be immersed in the traditional Vietnamese way of life. An overnight train trip from Hanoi is highly recommended, not just for its ease, but the experience alone of traversing through mountain passes is worthy of mention.
Get lost in the Banh It Cham temple:
Imagine stumbling upon a series of temples in Southeast Asia totally unbridled by the crowd of other tourists or Instagrammers. It’s a place so quiet that you can almost hear the flaps of the butterfly wings as you wander in and out of a series of stone monoliths constructed in the 11th century (100 years before the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia). In Vietnam’s Bình Định Province, you’ll not only find the Banh It Cham temple complex, but also numerous other relics and museums from the Champa Dynasty that once ruled central Vietnam.
Phu Quoc Island is for island living:
Nicknamed ‘Pearl Island’ Phú Quốc’s blissful 150-kilometre coastline is filled with white sand, turquoise water, fishing boats, and resorts. The island is the sort of destination that is impossible to travel around without a motorbike or moped. It’s currently undergoing rapid growth, with big new hotels and a government-rebooted tourism scene post-pandemic. Regardless, the sun here is no less hot and the beer is just as cold, so if you’re coming from Ho Chi Minh City, Phú Quốc island is the perfect tropical island bolthole to chase a sunset on two wheels.