Why Vietnam should be top of your holiday wish-list
Read about our Travel Expert Emma's holiday to Vietnam and why it's a must visit destination...
Vietnam had been at the top of my wish list for a long time and for one reason or another, the chance to go had always eluded me, until last month when I finally got the chance to spend ten days exploring the country. Now that I’m back, the only regrets I have are that I didn’t visit sooner and didn’t spend longer, so I’m writing to tell you a bit about my holiday and hopefully inspire you to fast track Vietnam right to the top of your holiday wish list!
I started my journey in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) after a pleasant flight and at just over 11 hours, it’s wasn’t really much longer than it takes to get to Bangkok. My first thoughts about the city were how clean and pretty it is. As is always the case in Asia, the traffic can be a force to be reckoned with but it’s actually surprisingly easy to walk around and I never felt unsafe. In fact, I did all of my sightseeing on foot and it can easily be done in just a couple of days if you’re pushed for time. In one afternoon, I managed to explore the Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Independence Palace, Ben Thanh Market and War Remnants Museum.
Although I don’t class myself as a history buff, I found myself fascinated by the Vietnam War; the War Remnants museum in particular was a real eye-opener. It’s hard to believe this took place as recently as the 70s. For me, it’s a must-see while you’re in the city. Outside are a collection of US military aircraft and tanks, while inside you will learn about some of the most shocking events in the war – not for the faint hearted! The next day, I drove around ninety minutes outside of the city to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Viet Cong used this network of underground tunnels as hiding spots, communications and supply routes during the war and today you can experience life underground for yourself as some of the tunnels have been opened up for tourists. It’s hard to believe that people spent up to a few months at a time living underground, especially when you see just how tiny the tunnels actually are!
I rounded up my time in Ho Chi Minh in style with a few drinks at the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel and a meal in a lovely Vietnamese restaurant I discovered tucked away in a small courtyard, opposite the Park Hyatt hotel. The courtyard was originally an opium refinery but is now home to a charming selection of quality restaurants – a definite hidden treasure!
The next stop on my trip was the coastal city of Danang, just an hour flight away. I’d heard that Vietnam had some nice beaches but I was amazed at just how spectacular and unspoilt they actually were. The powdery white sands, dotted every now and then with traditional Vietnamese bamboo fishing boats seemed to stretch for miles and miles. Forget rows of tightly packed sun loungers, noisy beach bars and beach vendors trying to sell you things – the beaches are so tranquil that the only sound you’ll hear are the waves breaking against the shore. Although there’s not much to do outside of the hotels, to me, that was part of the charm. When the beach is that great, why would you want to leave! This really is the perfect spot for a few days of guilt free, toes-in-the-sand relaxation.
After a few days of blissing out on the beach, I was ready to experience more of the Vietnamese culture, so the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Hoi An was my next and, sadly, final stop. Located around thirty minutes drive south of Danang, the narrow streets, quaint shops, unique architecture and colourful lanterns of this gorgeous town mean it is an absolute must visit on every Vietnam itinerary. Originally a major trading port, the town now oozes charm and has great shopping and bars, ideal for walking around during the day or in the evening. It’s proximity to the nearby beach resorts also means it’s so easy to pop in for an afternoon of shopping, or an evening meal overlooking the river; allowing you to combine the best of both worlds. You can even try your hand at a traditional lantern making class! There’s an abundance of tailor shops and art galleries here too and the prices are incredible – whether you’re looking for a unique piece of art work or want to select your ideal material and style for a made to measure dress, this is undoubtedly the best place to be.
In addition to Vietnam’s fascinating history, unspoilt beaches and unique culture, the other thing that will really stick with you is just how warm and welcoming the local people are. Service standards are on another level here; everyone we met couldn’t do enough for us, from our hilarious transfer guide Mr Minh, to the bar staff at our hotel, nothing was too much trouble.
Unfortunately, as with all holidays, my time in Vietnam seemed to pass by far too quickly and now I’m left with an overwhelming urge to go back and see some more of this beautiful country. Thankfully as eating, drinking and shopping is so cheap there, I have some spending money left over to put towards my next visit and I hope to visit the north of the country to explore Hanoi, Halong Bay and the hill tribes of Sapa. Perhaps I’ll see you there?