Rapidly modernising yet oozing the allure of bygone Indochina, Vietnam’s slender landmass moves from rural beauty through historic temple-toting towns and imperial enclaves, to wonderfully mesmeric cities, all interspersed with powdery white beaches and gleaming rice paddies bobbing with iconic conical hats.
In the aftermath of war, it’s to the credit of the Vietnamese spirit that a peaceful tranquility permeates so many of the country’s sights. Lime-green terraces trace graceful contours into Sapa’s mist-shrouded hills, waterfalls tinkle serenely into enticing jungles, and flowering orchards scatter petals onto the languid Perfume River, from which sunsets acquire a blissful romance as bamboo rafts drift between palm-fringed banks. On tropical beaches, watch distant thunder storms crackle over the South China Sea which, at night, glows neon blue as magical bioluminescent plankton perform one of the world’s most enchanting natural phenomenons. Even in southern Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the eternal flow of motorcycles, cyclos, bicycles and taxis; the swirling scents of fresh coffee, incense and fried snacks; the blur of bright lights and the roar of activity blend into a heady vision of pulsating vitality – a ceaseless backdrop that astonishes and captivates in equal measure.
Vietnam’s northern powerhouse, Hanoi sprawls around the Red River, with French and Chinese architecture vying for aesthetic dominance amidst ever-growing skyscrapers. Tree-lined boulevards and roadside baguette stalls earn vibrant Hanoi the reputation of the ‘Paris of the East’, though the stunning 11th-century Temple of Literature, flaking villas of the Old Quarter and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum all add more than a dash of exotic Eastern charm. Moving south, Hue’s impressive Imperial City exudes power and majesty, with the seven-storey Thien Mu Pagoda rising delicately into azure skies. Sample Vietnam’s exquisitely-flavoured cuisine on Danang’s cosmopolitan riverfront before motorcycling over the glorious switch-back tarmac of the Hai Van Pass; raise a glass of rice wine aboard a fan-sailed junk to toast sunset over magnificent Halong Bay’s 2000 towering limestone islets; or pick through the Mekong Delta’s maze-like waterways in search of floating markets and stilted bars. Erupting with colour and generous slices of paradise, Vietnam is a destination like no other.
Combine the joys of Cambodia’s iconic Angkor temples and Ho Chi Minh City’s marvellous frenzy on luxury cruises that glide up and down the mighty Mekong River. Witness the laid-back charm of rural Vietnam unfurl from the slow-moving comfort of these elegant river safaris.
Golden beaches framed against dramatic karst hills, wispy clouds reflected in emerald rice paddies, serpentine rivers disappearing into otherworldly caves and, most famous and awe-inspiring of all, thousands of jungle-capped limestone pillars rising from turquoise waters at Halong Bay: Vietnam truly is a treasure trove of spellbinding natural wonders. Motorcycle along roads oh-so-invitingly draped over coastal mountains, or cycle into pastures of unspoilt green to encounter these mystical landscapes at your own pace.
From the Beaux-Art monuments of the French administration to serene temples intricately adorned with Buddhist imagery, Vietnam plays host to a stunning array of cultural artefacts. Bullet pockmarks add a layer of history to Hue’s faded Imperial City – an immense moated complex of grand pavilions and colourful palace buildings – while at converted villas expert tailors will make you a suit in the time it takes to explore Hoi An’s atmospheric temple-lined streets and picturesque Japanese bridge.
Distinctly unique and downright delicious, the gastronomic world has finally caught on to Vietnam’s amazingly healthy cuisine: a fusion of French, Chinese, Khmer and indigenous recipes. Take a cookery class to learn the specific yin-yang balance of fragrance, taste and colour, or sample finely perfected street food in bulbous Chinese dumplings, richly packed baguettes or steaming bowls of nourishing pho.
Despite the ambitious modernisation of fast-paced cities and a tragically war-torn past, the people of Vietnam are unfailingly friendly and thoughtful, fostering a gentle hospitality that might at first seem at odds with the pandemonium of their surroundings. Pillars of kinship, ancestor worship and superstition uphold Vietnam’s fascinating culture, whose products are displayed in handicrafts and fabrics, silk paintings, calligraphy and traditional water puppet performances.
Highlights of Vietnam
12 days from £2,995 pp incl. flights
An introduction to Vietnam's most iconic and enticing sights, including its vibrant major cities and charming coastal towns, verdant countryside and the mighty Mekong Delta.
Highlights of Indochina
18 days from £5,200 pp incl. flights
Stay in the region's most luxurious accommodation, enjoy excursions including an overnight cruise at Halong Bay, cooking course in Hoi An and traditional Mekong boat trip, amongst other tours on this truly special itinerary.
A River Journey through Indochina
13 days from £7,500 pp incl. flights
Sail the mighty Mekong River to discover riverside monasteries and floating markets linking Ho Chi Minh City's (Saigon) buzzing energy charm with the golden palaces of Phnom Penh before ending with Cambodia’s national treasure and icon, Angkor Wat.