For many Americans, Vietnam drums up a mix of emotions and curiosity. The country is a unique blend of bustling cities, expansive tropical lowlands, rice fields, and hundreds of rivers and canals.
It’s a relatively small country, with a narrow profile that borders China and Laos to the north and stretches south to hug the eastern border of Cambodia.
Travelers to this beautiful country often begin their journey in Hanoi. There are many highlights in this dynamic city, but a few include Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter, Ba Dinh Square, various pagodas and temples, and the Hoa Lo Old Prison (also known as the Hanoi Hilton). The prison was first built by the French to house local prisoners, but later became infamous as the place where American prisoners were held during the Vietnam-American War (including the late Senator John McCain).
Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon, is another common stop on many Vietnam itineraries. Known for its pivotal role in the Vietnam War, this vibrant city also has numerous French colonial landmarks and an abundance of food stalls, especially around the bustling Ben Thanh Market. As one of the southern most cities in Vietnam, extensions into Cambodia are common due to its close proximity.
As visitors venture out into the countryside or to the coast, the diverse and beautiful landscapes bring well-known photographs to life. In particular, the picturesque rock formations and emerald waters of Halong Bay leave a lasting impression on first-time and return visitors. Be sure to get out on (or under) the water. Junk boat tours, sea kayaking and scuba diving are popular ways to experience the area. Access from Hanoi is easy by land, but even more beautiful by sea plane!
And, of course, you can’t talk about Vietnam without touting its spectacular Mekong Delta. Located on the most southern tip of the country, this vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands is home to many floating markets, pagodas and villages. It serves as another opportunity to get on the water and truly soak up how the local culture is literally built around the delta.
Here are a few other highlights and tips from Pique Travel Designer, Erin Green:
• The food is exceptional. French food/bread/pastries can be found throughout Vietnam due to the late colonialism by France. • The Sofitel Legend Metropole (a Virtuoso hotel in Hanoi) discovered an underground bunker left from the war when they remodeled their pool. They’ve left it intact so you can tour that as a hotel guest. • You can take a seaplane to get to Halong Bay if you're heading there from Hanoi. Not only does it cut out a three-hour land transfer, it gives you exceptional views. • Hoi An is a great city that gets you out of the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). They have beautiful beaches (with a Four Seasons Resort) and a quaint town that is a UNESCO world heritage site. This is an amazing place for cooking classes, food tours, bike rides in the countryside, learning about the farming industry and so much more. • Although experiencing the Cu Chi Tunnels is a bit heavy emotionally, it offers an incredible history lesson. Guests visit places where the Vietnamese lived in this extensive tunnel system underground during the Vietnam War and are offered the option to crawl through the tunnels. • Vietnamese tailors are incredibly skilled and affordable. You can bring favorite pieces of clothing or even pictures of pieces of clothing and they will duplicate them with beautiful fabric at an extremely affordable price. • Be sure to visit a theater to take in a water puppetry show. The “stage” is a pool of water where puppeteers stand waist deep, hidden by a screen. From there they skillfully maneuver wooden puppets to dance and play on the water’s surface. A traditional orchestra plays while performers sing songs to tell the story.
Want to learn more about a journey to Vietnam? Email Erin Green at ErinG@PiqueTravel.com.