Featured Hotels in Vietnam
A small arc-shaped country along the edge of south-east Asia, Vietnam evokes romantic images and ideas out of all proportion to its size -- images of cone-hatted farmers in fertile rice fields, floating markets on richly-endowed rivers, ancient cities rich in exotic architecture. Vietnam holidays have become more and more popular since the country emerged from its devastating civil war, and opened its arms to visitors, with incredibly warm and generous hospitality. Now it is easy for everyone to enjoy the rich treasures this beautiful country has in store.
North to South
The long thin shape of Vietnam is often compared to a pole with rice baskets at either end, and at the two ends of Vietnam are the two major cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Holidays to Vietnam often take the form of a journey from north to south, with these two cities as the natural start and end points. It's very easy to use the rail network -- the Reunification Express -- for travelling through the country, setting you free to relax and contemplate the amazing scenery, and air-conditioned coaches ferry tourists up and down Highway 1 between the two cities.
An ideal starting-point for Vietnam holidays is the northern capital Hanoi, sometimes known as Thanh Long, the City of the Soaring Dragon, and full of serenity and grace. It's worth spending time exploring the Old City with its maze of narrow lanes, where ancient pagodas mingle with exquisite colonial architecture. To escape from the hustle and bustle of the markets and street traders, you can relax at the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature, or by the tranquil waters of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
A stay at Hanoi is also the perfect opportunity to visit Ha Long Bay, one of Vietnam's most spectacular sights, with its myriad rocky limestone outcrops rising from the aqua-green water like sea-dragons, giving it an other-worldly and mystical feel. One easy way is to book an overnight cruise from Hanoi, on a luxury sampan, allowing you to sail to more than 2,000 jungle-covered islands, pitted with grottoes, lakes and caves, many sculpted into fantastical natural formations. Alternatively you can hire a kayak and explore the caves, or find a tiny deserted bay.
The other unmissable cruise for holidays to Vietnam is the Mekong Delta, which meanders through tropical forests and past fertile rice paddies and sugar cane groves. Quaint villages nestle along its banks, and floating markets tempt you as you sail slowly by. It's even possible to spend the night in a riverside family home.
To experience more adventure while in the north, head to Sa Pa, for astonishing views over the jungles, mountain ranges, dramatic waterfalls and spectacular rice terraces of north-west Vietnam. You can join an organised trek for the chance to explore remote villages, and encounter the Hmong and other hill tribes, with their unique and picturesque lifestyles and cultures -- even possibly staying in their homes. Alternatively you can head south of Hanoi into the forested limestone mountains of the Cuc Phuong National Park, where you can encounter many rare bird and animal species.
Further south, Hoi An in Central Vietnam is a beautiful old city which dates back to the Champa Kingdom 2,000 years ago. At its heart is the atmospheric Old Town, full of beautiful architecture, with narrow winding lanes lined with traditional wooden houses and hundreds of tailor's shops. Also in Central Vietnam, on the banks of the Perfume River, lies Hué, once the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty, with its spectacular sprawling Citadel full of ornate temples and grand palaces, set around the magnificent Thien Mu Pagoda.
Although the beach may not be your priority for holidays to Vietnam, some of the finest beaches in south-east Asia are to be found here. The best known is Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, popular for its palm trees, picturesque mountains and lush islands. However there are many beautiful and less frequented beaches, such as Mui Né in the south-east, a great place for windsurfing, or Da Nang with its mountains and caves, in central Vietnam. The Con Dao islands off the south-eastern coast are among south-east Asia's most idyllic and undiscovered island groups, and one of Vietnam's star attractions.
Whether you decide to stay in one place, or travel through the country, Vietnam holidays will undoubtedly dazzle your senses. Apart from the wonderful sights to see, there are the exciting festivals, and the cuisine is utterly delicious, quite different from that of Thailand or Cambodia. Above all, the country's greatest asset is its friendly and hospitable people, ensuring your entire trip will be a feast of delights.