Nha Trang

Nha Trang is one of the less commonly visited cities in Vietnam, but those visitors who do make it here, usually come in search of the beaches and the lifestyle that goes with them. Nha Trang’s beaches stretch out for five miles along the coast, giving visitors plenty of room to spread their wings. Aside from the beaches, Nha Trang has a vibrant and interesting urban core, and some fascinating sites in the surrounding area.

Buses from Ho Chi Minh usually take around 12 hours to arrive in Nha Trang, whereas those coming from Hoi An can take up to 16 hours. Express buses from the major cities tend to drop people off in the tourist areas around Biet Thu, rather than at the central bus station. Nha Trang is popular with Vietnamese beach-goers and scuba divers, and therefore most of the activity happens around the beaches and the areas that are geared up fro tourism. If you want to see more of the city, the pubic bus system is convenient and reliable. If you don’t feel confident getting on a bus, there are also the usual options of hiring a taxi, cyclo or motorbike.

The beach itself is not the most pristine or serene in Vietnam – if you want a paradise-like scene in which you can relax under a palm tree listening to the waves lap the shore, you might want to head on to Qoy Nhon. However, if what you’re looking for is beach activities, water sports, diving and the rest, you are in the right place. As with other coastal cities, Nha Trang has a good selection of local seafood restaurants, plus a good number of bars for you to relax in after a long day in the water. If you are looking for authentic, locally-caught seafood, you might want to head up to Doc Let beach, where fishermen will prepare their catch for you in the local style.

If you want to take a boat out on the water, you can hire a captain and a vessel from the Nha Trang Sailing Club. If you prefer to indulge in a spot of surfing, look out for The Shack on Bai Dai Beach, where you can hire equipment and even book lessons. This is also a great place to spend the evening, with an authentic barbecue steak grill and plenty to drink. There are also diving shops all over Nha Trang and you can hire equipment and take diving courses for a snip of what it would cost you in some other countries.

Away from the beaches, there are plenty of other outdoor activities you can take part in around Nha Trang, such as off road cycling, climbing, trekking, hot springs and mud baths. One of the most popular places is the Thap Ba Hot Springs and Mud Bath, on the north side of the city. This place is geared up rather like a resort, with various pools, a restaurant, cocktail bar and massage service.

If you don’t feel like taking part in too many outdoor activities, you can always head over to the National Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam, where you can see various endangered and rare aquatic species. Alternatively take a look around the central core of this pleasant and vibrant city, perhaps stopping in the French-built cathedral for a rest and to enjoy the cooler air.

Quy Nhon

Whilst the town of Quy Nhon doesn’t as yet have much to offer visitors to Vietnam (this is being worked on) the surrounding beaches are certainly amongst the country’s finest…and this being Vietnam, that’s saying something.

Mile upon mile of undeveloped sand reach both to the north and south of Quy Nhon, and the daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi ensure convenient access is possible. There is also a train station in the Quy Nhon itself as well as its close proximity to Highway 1.

At this time there are only two resorts worth considering – the Bai Tram Hideaway which, in Nick’s opinion at least, is arguably one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets (for now!) and the Avani Resort & Spa, 40 minutes drive south of Quy Nhon.

If you want an undisturbed, luxurious and healthy break from the rigours of life and travel in Vietnam then Quy Nhon may be just the solution.

Hoi An

For many visitors, Hoi An really is the ‘Jewel of Vietnam’. Our guests rarely pass up the opportunity to wander through its ancient streets, enjoying the country’s finest cuisine. They may visit the famous (and unbelievably cheap!) tailors, or just kick back for some well-earned R&R on nearby Cau Dai beach.

Hoi An’s town centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protecting its unique Chinese, Japanese and European influenced architecture for future generations. Motorised traffic is banned for several days a week on its narrow streets. As darkness falls, all electricity is switched off. The town begins to glow, illuminated by hundreds of beautiful traditional silk lanterns.

Incredible cuisine is a significant highlight of any visit to Vietnam, and this is especially true in Hoi An. Most Vietnamese people agree that Hoi An is the home of Vietnam’s finest food, and the town isn’t shy about this accolade. You can eat well here on almost any budget.

Many of the most atmospheric restaurants line Hoi An’s harbour front, where you can admire the traditional fishing boats over a plate of delicious fresh dumplings. There are several ‘must eat’ local dishes, such as Cau Lau, a noodle soup that can only be made with water drawn from the local well.

Hoi An’s market is a hive of activity on any day of the week. It’s interesting and vivid enough to revisit day after day, never tiring of its colourful sights and sounds.

We say: ‘Hoi An is a truly remarkable destination, combing culture with beach and relaxation. We love to cycle the maze of quiet lanes that run between the old town and Cua Dai beach. You may get lost, but you can be sure a friendly farm hand will point you in the right direction… if your Vietnamese isn’t up to asking, just try sign language!’

Hoi An: Highlights

Cau Dai Beach

Just 5km’s from the Hoi An Old Town, Cua Dai beach is deserted by most other Asian countries standards and you can walk for miles in either direction stumbling over little other than the odd small fishing village. There are a very limited number of hotels and resorts on the beach ensuring this tranquility is likely to remain for sometime. Further north, as you drive towards Danang, you will see far more development.

China Beach and Marble Mountain

As you drive towards Danang, you will find China beach, the famous base for American GI’s on R&R during less peaceful times. Close by is ‘marble mountain’, containing dozens of buddha shrines that you can explore whilst climbing to the peak to enjoy a magical view across this former Champa kingdom (co-incidentally, also a popular spot for Viet Cong during the American-Vietnamese war as it provided excellent cover whilst shooting down American war planes).

My Son

Just an hours drive from Hoi An you will find the often overlooked archaeological site of My Son. Home to incredible, eerie ‘tower temples’ covered in jungle creepers. In a lush green valley you’ll get to explore the dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating from between the 7th and 13th centuries.

The Hai Van Pass

The drive between Hoi An and Hue is one of the finest in Vietnam and fans of the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ may already be familiar with it (think three men-children on motorbikes, one with a model Spanish galleon strapped to the back, driving down a meandering mountain road towards one of the most picturesque fishing villages on the planet).

The Hai Van, or Ocean Cloud, Pass winds its way over the top of the Truong Mountain Range, dropping down to the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co on the Hue side. The road to Hue then continues to keep you enthralled as you pass mile after mile of undeveloped beach, passing through villages and at times driving alongside the tracks of the famous Reunification Railway.

Sapa

Sapa, nicknamed the ‘Tonkinese Alps’ by the French, is a wonderful destination if you want to experience any combination of trekking (or light walking), photography, minority village markets, and generally explore a region that’s stayed relatively untouched by modern life.

Located in the far north of Vietnam, just a few miles from the Chinese border, Sapa and the surrounding region offers a completely unique holiday experience, not to be found elsewhere in Vietnam. When you realise that the highest mountain in Sapa, Fan Si Pan, is actually the final significant peak in the Himalayan chain, you’ll understand how far you’ve come.

This is where those misty, pastoral images of traditional Vietnam are still a reality. Traditional dress is still worn here, with colourful outfits identifying each different hill tribe. Buffalo are farmed in the valleys, while the mountainsides are terraced for miles with lush green rice paddies.

Although most visitors are aware of Sapa’s hill tribes, fewer realise that the region is also home to diverse wildlife. Many rare and unique species live here, in habitats that range from alpine forest to acres of dwarf bamboo, the only vegetation that can survive here above 3000 metres.

During your visit, you’ll travel to remote hillside villages and local markets, which are an essential part of mountain life. Visiting is always a pleasure. Don’t be surprised to find villagers from several minority groups bartering hard over a basket of hens whilst sipping locally brewed rice wine.

Sapa can be reached by overnight train (Hanoi to Lao Cai), which takes approximately 10 hours. At the beginning of 2016 a newly opened expressway made driving a viable alternative, with the journey taking around 5 hours. Either way, it’s well worth the effort: the view en route is wonderful enough, and once you’re here you’ll discover a constantly stunning landscape.

The colourful markets of Sapa

Almost every day of the week, somewhere in the area around Sapa the local hill tribes will be gathering for their weekly market. As well as providing the opportunity to buy and sell anything from vegetables to buffalo, these are also important social occasions. Those who live in the region’s more isolated villages have the chance to meet friends and family, exchange news, eat, and even indulge in some of the locally brewed spirits – which can be up to 55% proof!

Some of the most popular markets are:

Tuesday:

On Tuesday you can visit Coc Ly Market, a small gathering of the Flower Hmong, Black Zao, Nung and Tay minorities. Among the goods for sale you’ll find vegetables, livestock and local textiles, all the subject of some lively bargaining. We also recommend a boat ride along the Chay River followed by a short walk to the Tay minority village of Trung Do, although in July and August the boat ride is often not possible due to high river water levels.

Wednesday:

Wednesday is market day in the hamlet of Cao Son, in the Muong Khuong District of Lao Cai Province. An early start is a must to reach this market, but we think it’s worth it. The trip takes you through beautiful scenery ranging from tea plantations to pine forests, and on arrival you’ll find a bustling market packed with buyers and sellers from all the main communities who live in this area, including Flower H’Mong, Phu La, Dao and Tu Di.

Relatively inaccessible until recently due to its remote location, the small Sin Cheng Market in Si Ma Cai District is arguably the most unspoilt of the markets in this area, and so comes highly recommended by Selective Asia. What it lacks in size is certainly made up for by the stunning rural location close to the Chinese border, along with the extremely photogenic display of traditional costumes from the White H’mong, Flower H’mong, Black Dao, Tay and Giay who live in the area. This is also one of the best places to gain a true sense of the importance of the social role of these markets, as young and old take the opportunity to catch up on all of the local news and gossip.

Thursday:
An option for Thursday is a trip to the small Lung Khau Nhin Market, travelling via the Tram Ton pass, which at 1900 metres is Vietnam’s highest. This tiny market is another of the most traditional in this area, and a variety of minority tribes people gather to sell their wares. Expect to meet the friendly and hospitable Tai Lu, Tai Laos, White Tai, and H’mong amongst others. After exploring the market, you’ll have the chance to visit the Black Dao village of Sin Lung Chai.

The alternative to Lung Khau Nhin is the Thursday market at Tam Duong Dat, which is usually attended by a very photogenic mix of White H’mong, Flower H’mong, Lu, Phu La, Black Zao and Giay – often sporting their traditional dress. Once again, visiting this market involves crossing the Tram Ton pass, offering beautiful views on a clear day. The market has a very authentic feel, and serves as a centre for those who live in the many small villages in this area.

Saturday:
One of Vietnam’s most interesting markets, the small but unique gathering at Can Cau takes place every Saturday. Groups such as the Flower H’mong, Black Zao, Tay and Phu La come from near and far to trade and socialise with each other, and with their neighbours from across the Chinese border. The Flower H’mong in particular are known for their elaborate costumes, which ensure the market is always a riot of colour. Keen photographers will enjoy the chance to capture the picturesque scenes of local life, as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes.

Saturday Evening:
Saturday is the day of Sapa’s famous ‘love market’. In the past this was where boys and girls from the surrounding valleys would have come in search of partners, and whilst it’s not really the genuine article anymore, it’s well worth a visit. Young Red Dzao and Black H’mong girls still arrive every weekend to sing songs, although mostly for the tourists it has to be said!

Sunday:
Finally, the week ends with perhaps the most famous of all the markets of this region, held at Bac Ha, around 3 hours from Sapa. This huge gathering of minority people offers everything, from local produce to some of the intricate textiles and handicrafts for which the area is so well known. You can also see many other interesting facets of local life, such as the practise of traditional medicine. This area has a particularly large Flower H’mong community, so called due to the bright and striking colours of their traditional costumes.

The hill tribe people of Sapa
Some of Sapa’s surrounding villages, especially the more remote ones, are still largely untouched by modern ways of life. During any visit to the region you will have the opportunity to learn about the various hill tribe cultures, and meet the indigenous Vietnamese people.

There’s the Red Dzao, who live mainly in Dong Van and Tam Doung. Their red hats indicate how “wealthy” the wearers are: the bigger the hat, the better off the person! “H’mong” means “free people”. The H’mong came from China, and their different tribes can be identified by the colour of their clothes.

One of the best places to meet with likes of the Flower H’mong and Red Dzao is at one of the local markets, which take place each week in-and-around Sapa. While the markets are a little more commercial than in times gone by, they still form an important part of weekly life and are vital to ensuring that the rich local cultures are preserved. Bac Ha’s Sunday market is especially good, and perhaps the least touristy, although you will need to rise early and catch a minibus to get there.

The village of CatCat is within walking distance of Sapa. It’s hard to get lost – just follow the road out of Sapa, perhaps with some of your new tribal friends, and take the road that goes downhill to your left. It’ll cost a few dollars to enter the village but you’ll be able to see traditional farming and tremendous views.

Avoid taking photos of the tribespeople without asking their permission, but don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with them. You may be surprised to discover that they have an excellent grasp of English – after all, they’ve been exposed to visitors for years, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to interact, and strike a bargain. Bracelets and little fabric items can be bought from them for very little. Children here learn to earn their living as young as five, by selling trinkets and generally being adorable.

Ha Giang

One of the most remote, mountainous and hitherto inaccessible corners of Vietnam, Ha Giang is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves for its breathtaking mountain views and traditional way of life. Nestled up by the Chinese border, this part of the country has, for the most part, been ignored by the regional powers, including the Vietnamese themselves, making it home to a large number of ethnic minority communities. These people continue to live our their traditional lives, tending to rice paddies and living in small villages which cling to the mountainside.

Most people who arrive in Ha Giang, do so either coming from Hanoi, or having crossed into Vietnam from China. From My Dinh bus station in Hanoi, it takes around six or seven hours to get to Ha Giang. If you are crossing into Vietnam from China, there are two buses running each day from the Lao Cai border crossing. Be aware that foreign travelers are still required to apply for a permit to travel in this region, due to the sensitive situation around the border.

Getting around the province can be done in several ways. There isn’t much in the way of public transport, but many people are happy to hire a local driver and agree a fee in advance for a day, or several days touring the area. Alternatively, it is possible to hire motorbikes. If you really want to get close to nature, it’s a great area for trekking, with a number of established trails.

Once you’ve found a place to stay, you might want to partake in some of the local food offerings of this unique region. Many dishes originate with the ethnic communities who live here, and can’t be found anywhere else in Vietnam. Chao Au Tau, for example, is a popular evening dish served around Ha Giang town – a dish based on glutinous rice, featuring pigs trotters and an assortment of herbs. Alternatively, you might want to plump for smoked buffalo meat, another local delicacy.

In terms of seeing the sights, most people aim to get the to Ma Pi Lang pass – a steep road climbing up to 2,000 meters of elevation, offering travelers some incredible views stretching from China, out across the mountainous province. From there, you might want to head towards Xa Phin Village, where you will find a grand edifice known as the Hmong King Palace, and named for the ethnic Hmong people who inhabit the area.

To get closer to more local ethnic minority communities, and to see their everyday lives, head to Pho Bang Village, where you can appreciate the wooden columns and mud walls of their traditional architecture. People here belong to the Hoa and Mong ethnic minorities and, with any luck, you might be able to see them in their traditional costumes. If you are trekking, you’ll want to head for the Dong Van Plateau – an almost untouched part of the country, offering panoramic views down to the Vietnamese rice paddies on one side, and the mountains of China on the other. The ethnic minority communities here have been isolated from the rest of the country, and offer the chance to see their communities without the typical tourist gimmicks.

Halong Bay

Halong bay is one of the world’s ‘natural wonders’, and an absolute must-see for any visitor to the north of Vietnam, the Bay (also spelt Ha Long) is defined by more than 1,000 awe-inspiring limestone karsts and islands of various sizes.

Of course it’s slowly modernizing, but Halong Bay’s UNESCO status makes sure it stays well protected. The area plays host to a huge diversity of ecosystems, including offshore coral reefs, freshwater swamp forests, mangrove forests, small freshwater lakes, and sandy beaches.

Folklore says that dragons descended from the heavens to help locals by spitting jewels and jade into the sea, forming a natural fortress against invaders – the islands that you see today. Several of these boast beautiful grottos and huge caves that you can explore during your tour of the bay.

Throughout much of the year (weather & season permitting!) overnight junk journeys give you the chance to sunbathe, swim and snorkel. You can be sure to stop at caves, deserted bays, remote islets and hidden lagoons. If you fancy taking things even easier, just stretch out on the sundeck, sip a cocktail and soak up the magic.

Environmental Efforts in Halong Bay

Efforts are being made to minimise the environmental impact on the bay. While the number of junks has increased in recent years, and the pollution levels in some areas are causing concern (particularly around the main ports), Halong Bay’s iconic status and irresistible beauty is still an essential stop on any journey through Vietnam.

Sailing the water of Halong Bay in style

Having travelled the 170km from Hanoi (the journey takes approx 3.5 hours by road) you can board one of a selection of vessels. Over the years we have formed a strong relationship with several junk operators in Halong Bay and can offer a range of vessels to suit all requirements and to meet any budget. Sailing options on Halong Bay include traditional junk, deluxe junk, private junk, or the deluxe Colonial Emeraude Cruise.

Each has its advantages; the deep-hulled Emeraude takes a far more solitary course than many of the junks, although on the flip side, due to its bulk, it does not have the ease of access to small bays and harbours that the shallow-hulled junks allow.

Whatever you favour, you can be assured of exceptional food, a fun crew and a backdrop you will never forget. Cabins are all en suite and comfortable. On the deluxe junks there is the opportunity to upgrade to a cabin with a private balcony, surely the finest spot on the planet to enjoy your morning coffee!?
The day usually starts early with the sun rising across the bay, lighting up the magnificent limestone karts. Breakfast is served on board whilst the skipper sets the days course. Much of the pleasure is just soaking up the views from your cabin or the outdoor deck, however stops will be made, allowing you to feel dry land once again and explore caves or hike up to spectacular vantage points.

Lunch and dinner are social affairs, as you join the other guests in the junks restaurant. Food is plentiful and if you like seafood then you’re in for a special treat, however all meal requirements can be catered for. There is a small bar on board also ensuring sunset can be toasted in style!

If you you looking for the best Halong Bay cruise for your next holiday in Vietnam?

Click Here to See the beautiful boat in Halong Bay 

 

Ninh Binh

From Hanoi to Ninh binh take around two hours, the city is surrounded by a most dramatic landscape of lakes, rivers, caves, rice paddy fields and huge limestone karsts & it’s a very different situation.

Breathtakingly beautiful, the region clearly shares it’s geology with nearby Halong Bay and is often referred to as ‘Halong bay on Land’. A thousand years ago the nearby settlement Hoa Lu was capital of Vietnam and the ancient citadel and two temples can still be visited today. Tam Coc is the best known of the region’s caves, and is in fact a series of three inter-linking waterways. There is also the rural region surrounding Vuon Thi, where you can be sure of an exhilarating afternoon learning about farming techniques, the art of Vietnamese cooking and enjoying some of Vietnam’s most compelling scenery from the saddle.

It is possible to visit the Ninh Binh region on a day trip from Hanoi however, ideally you will opt to stay a night to allow a slightly more comfortable pace of travel.

Hanoi

The capital city of Vietnam has, for a long time, been somewhat overlooked in favor of its larger counterpart in the south. These days, however, Hanoi is firmly on the tourist map and visitors continue to come each year to sample the city’s delights. The city’s architecture and cuisine reflects a fascinating blend of Vietnamese culture with French influences. As the city was largely undamaged in the war with America, it is perhaps the best place to get to grips with a more traditional side of the country.

Most visitors arrive at the international terminal at Noi Bai Airport, which was opened in 2015, and has vastly improved visitors’ experiences. It takes just under an hour from the airport to Hanoi station by air-conditioned bus, which runs at regular intervals through the day. This is generally the preferred way to get to the city, as many visitors have been put off using taxis due to being overcharged and other bad experiences. Taxis, however, do remain one of the most important ways to get around the city, although you also now have the option to use Uber. Motorcycle drivers and pedicabs will also take visitors on shorter journeys. For the truly adventurous, the bus is an excellent, cheap and reliable option. If you are unsure where to get off, ask the conductor when he or she comes to collect your fare.

Perhaps the most famous attraction which continues to draw the tourists, is Hanoi’s Old Quarter. As its name suggests, this is one of Hanoi’s oldest districts, and its streets and buildings survive intact to this day. Take a stroll around and admire the mixture of traditional Vietnamese buildings, interspersed with architecture from the French colonial period. At one time, this part of the city was the most important merchant district, and it still has the bustle, sights and sounds suggestive of that time. If you’re lucky enough to be there around lunch or dinner time, the aromas of freshly cooked food will be added to that blend, making the Old Quarter a real treat for the senses.

For something of a relaxing chance from the Old Quarter, you can take an early morning, or late evening saunter around Hoan Kiem Lake. This charming body of water provides citizens with a place to relax together, exercise, socialize and forget the stress of the city. It is punctuated with delightful bridges and statues. The lake itself is also home to a number of giant turtles. In fact, don’t forget to look out for the most conspicuous of the temples around the lake – Turtle Temple.

To get some idea of more recent history, no trip to Hanoi is complete without visiting the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The former leader’s embalmed body lays here, with thousands visiting each day to show their respect. You’ll need to dress appropriately – no shorts or exposed midriffs, and the guards don’t tolerate loud, drunken or rude behavior. You won’t be allowed to stop for too long to take a look at the embalmed body – the line is supposed to be constantly moving. But you’ll get an idea of just how much the country reveres the memory of this extraordinary man.

If all that walking takes its toll on your feet, it isn’t difficult to find a good places to sit down to eat and drink. No visitor to the city should leave without trying a Hanoi specialty – Banh Tom – deep fried and battered shrimp and sweet potato. If you were wondering what to wash it down with, look no further than Bia Hoi Hanoi, a local, unpreserved beer that perfectly quenches thirst on a hot afternoon.