From Ha Long Bay to Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam quick tips
Top 10 destinations
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What not to miss
Sunset floating through Ha Long Bay. Getting measured up for a suit in charming Hoi An. Belting through Saigon by cyclo. Trekking in the northern hills of Sapa. Take a motorbike adventure through the Central Highlands. Hang out in Hanoi for as long as you can manage.
When to visit
There's no "best" time to visit Vietnam as different parts of the country see very different weather patterns. September through to the end of the year and March and April are the best overall times to visit weather wise, but if you're hitting just one part of the country, check our weather section for more localised advice.
Because of the reputation of the Hanoi Hilton, the real Hanoi Hilton called itself the Hanoi Hilton Opera when it opened.
From the vertiginous rice valleys of Sapa in Vietnam's north stretching to the fascinating bustle of the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam is home to a wealth of attractions that will seduce both budget and top-range travellers.
Vietnam's war-torn history -- both the French and Americans have left their own unique and not often positive stamps on the nation -- as well as its stunning and varied geography, delicious cuisine, hedonistic beaches and amazing shopping are all reasons to travel to the fast-paced Communist nation.
Welcoming foreign tourists and their dollars for well over a decade, enterprising Vietnam has rapidly developed a well-trodden trail of tourist attractions. Many travellers kick off their vacation in the former capital of Hanoi in the north, where smokey French-style cafes rub shoulders with traditional stores hawking most anything and internet cafes frequented by well-groomed teenagers who otherwise hang out on the streets on their sharply polished motorbikes.
From here, popular side trips for travellers include Ha Long Bay, where soaring limestone karsts boggle the mind, and the former French hill station of Sapa, where hilltribes in colourful dress who work the terraced rice paddies -- and now the masses of tourists -- combine with cool weather to make a must-see destination.
Travel by train, or bus, to take in the remainder of Vietnam. Remnants of the American War in Vietnam provide sobering viewing around the central region's demilitarised zone (DMZ), an essential stop for the many war veterans returning to this now-vibrant nation.
The nearby imperial capital of Hue offers a glimpse into yesteryear, while incredibly popular Hoi An offers an opportunity to get an entire new wardrobe -- shoes included -- stitched up for a song, as well as some great cafes and cuisine to while away a few days enjoying.
Adventurous travellers will want to head further south again and inland to the little-touristed Central Highlands region, where ethnic minorities scratch out livings for themselves -- not always in harmony with the central government.
A trip to Vietnam would not be complete without a stop at one of the beach strips for some surf, sun and sand, and perhaps a sipped cocktail or two. Nha Trang and Mui Ne are popular vacation spots, offering backpacker accommodation as well as some remarkable luxury resorts these days.
The country's southern capital of Ho Chi Minh city, or Saigon, is a throbbing metropolis where some might be as enthralled with the mesmerising traffic as they are with the sights.
Below Saigon the Mekong Delta offers particular delights to the independent and intrepid traveller -- think freshly caught crispy fish, eaten while sitting on a barge cruising the waterways. Be sure to palm off the organised tours and do this part of the country on your own.
Sublime Phu Quoc Island is another excellent retreat, lapped by turquoise waters and a wealth of sea life.
Backpackers could easily spend a few months taking in Vietnam at a leisurely pace, though Vietnam Airlines and burgeoning regional budget airlines with their cheap flights now make spending say a long weekend in Hanoi or a quick break in Nha Trang a viable prospect for short-term, luxury tourists -- or those who just want a taste of a fast-developing country that was off limits for so long.
Ha Long Bay: Which tour is right for you?
If you ask a travel agent or your hotel tour desk what the differences are between the various cruises to Ha Long Bay, they will all tell you the same: the more expensive it is, the better the boat and the better the food. But how different are they and what's going to suit you and your budget?... Read full story
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