Your insider's Travel Guide Blog to Vietnam
Great weekend getaways from Saigon don’t have to involve air travel. Beach lovers can sunbathe just 2 hours away from the city. Wild jungle trekking can be done in just 2 days. Ho Chi Minh City is a place like no other, a seething and densely-populated mess of traffic, people, construction sites, pollution, narrow alleys, and towering skyscrapers.
There are quiet spots and there are parks, but sometimes, visitors and ex-pats are seized by an urge to flee the chaos and the noise. But where to go? Especially if an overseas jaunt isn’t financially viable.
Most people head to Mui Ne or Vung Tau for a quick getaway from Ho Chi Minh City. But there are other options. Here are 6 of the lesser-known places that can provide a soul-soothing return to nature or relaxing beach break, all just a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
The last Javan Rhinoceros in Vietnam, which the Cat Tien National Park was set up to protect, was, sadly, killed in 2010. But there is still a range of interesting and exotic wildlife to see in this national park, 3.5 hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City.
The 720 square kilometer park is home to elephants, sun bears, several species of monkeys, deer, gaur, civets, and dozens of bird species. The park can be explored on foot, by bicycle, jeep, or kayak. It’s also possible to visit the primate and bear rehabilitation centers, both close to the national park headquarters, and stay overnight near Crocodile Lake.
The Ta Lai Longhouse, 12 km from the park headquarters, is a great base for exploring the national park and the nearby villages, which are home to people from the Ma, Tay, and S’tieng ethnic minorities. The longhouse was set up in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and an NGO, and a portion of the profit goes to support the four Ta Lai villages.
The staff at the Ta Lai Longhouse can organize pre-dawn gibbon treks and half-day or longer treks, as well as visits to Crocodile Lake and other parts of the national park.
Ho Tram Beach Resort – 2 hours from HCMC
With or without kids, Ho Tram Beach Resort is a relaxing beach break only two hours from Ho Chi Minh City. The resort is a stylized traditional village, with winding stone paths leading to the various bungalows and villas, two swimming pools, a tranquil pond, and the beach.
Relax on the beach, at the spa, the pool, or the beachfront bar, or in your room, either on the balcony, in the four-poster bed, or in the full-length bath, a standard feature in the jungle-ish outdoor bathrooms.
The resort is quite isolated, with dining options limited to the in-house open-air restaurant, which serves Vietnamese and Western dishes and overlooks the children’s playground on one side, and a stream on the other.
Stu’s Explorer Club – Two-day weekend activity
For a real back-to-nature experience, join Stu’s Explorer Club on a weekend “rumble in the jungle” adventure that involves hiking, swimming, camping under the stars, and eating hearty home-cooked Vietnamese meals. You can choose to drive your own motorbike to the Dong Nai forest, or opt for a transfer in a private car. These jungle adventures are only overnight excursions but they leave you feeling as refreshed as if you’ve been away from the city for several days. As an added bonus, Stu provides free leech socks!
Victoria Cruises – 2/3 days cruises
Tune into the gentle rhythm of Mekong Delta life with a luxury cruise on your own private sampan. Victoria Cruises has several join-in cruises that explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta. But a most peaceful and private option is a private two- or three-day cruise aboard the Song Xanh Sampan, which usually includes a stop at the historic family home of Huynh Thuy Le in Sa Dec.
The character of The Lover in the book of the same name by French author Marguerite Duras was based on Mr. Le. The house, built in 1895, remains much as it was when Duras’ mother taught at the local school, with photographs on the walls of the actors who starred in the 1992 film, The Lover, as well as the real Mr. Le and Ms. Duras.
A Mekong Delta cruise usually includes delicious food, cycling along narrow local paths, and visits to local cottage industries.
Mekong Delta Homestay – 3,5 hours from HCMC
For a land-based Mekong Delta getaway, consider a homestay. Green Village Homestay and Nguyen Shack Homestay near Can Tho, Mekong Riverside Resort near Cai Be, and Mango Home Riverside near Ben Tre are all great getting-away-from-it-all choices with comfortable facilities and quiet country settings.
You can use your homestay as a place to loll about in a hammock and recharge your depleted batteries, or as a base for exploring local villages on foot or by bicycle. Most homestays have fishing equipment, and some offer cooking classes and/or cooking demonstrations.
Phan Thiet – 4 hours from HCMC by train
Just 12 km from Mui Ne is the fascinating fishing village of Phan Thiet, a completely different world from its resort-centric neighbor. There’s no tacky tourist trade here. Phan Thiet is a lively town that’s perfect for a weekend of pottering about, eating well, and strolling on the beach.
The cost of food and accommodation in Phan Thiet is a fraction of what it is in Mui Ne. So this town, just four hours by rail from Ho Chi Minh City, is ideal for adventurous types who prefer to spend less so they can see more of the fabulous country they’re in. These are just a few examples of great weekend getaways from Saigon. Have you traveled to one of these destinations? What is your favorite spot to escape the city’s stress?
By Lien Nguyen
Vietnam is not only known for tourist meccas like Hạ Long Bay or Sapa, but also for its handmade craft villages. These villages have existed for centuries and have been preserved for generations. A big number of high-quality products from these craftspersons are exported abroad. The customs, cultures, and traditions of the Vietnamese are expressed through the art and images of these handmade goods. Without further adieu, here are the best craft villages in Vietnam. Don’t miss them if you’re in the area.
1. Gốm Xứ Bát Tràng (Bát Tràng Pottery)
Bát tràng pottery is an old traditional craft village near Hà Nội about 13km from the capital center. This is the oldest and most famous pottery village in Vietnam. Bát Tràng pottery dates back to the Lê dynasty (which ended circa 1400 AD). If you’re in the capital, go! It will be a fantastic opportunity for you to experience the pottery-making process. Some clay studio owners offer pottery workshops where a host will help you carefully manipulate the clay and wheel so that you can make a piece on your own. They will even dry your production and color it for you. Expect to pay around US$5, a humble amount to become a real pottery artist.
2. Làng Lụa Vạn Phúc (Vạn Phúc Silk Village)
Although it is not far from Hà Nội center (10km), this village has preserved the elements of a traditional Vietnamese village: banyan trees, wells, and a marketplace under the tree in front of the village temple. When you first step into the village, you can hear the sound of looms from the textile factories. There are many kinds of silk, nearly 70 weaves. There are broadly four different kinds of silk patterns: animals, plants, objects, and art.
The silk is used to make clothes like the traditional áo dài. You can watch them make the silks and clothing as well as buy them. Interestingly, this village’s silk artists joined a fair in Marseille, France, in 1931 and were top rated in a ranking of silks from Indochina. Afterward, their products were exported to Eastern European countries and elsewhere, a trade route that continues today.
3. Làng Tranh Đông Hồ (Đông Hồ Painting)
This is a village famous for its paintings that have existed for a long time in Vietnam, since around the sixteenth century. It’s located in Đồng Đông Ward in the Bắc Ninh Province. There are many subjects of study which appear in Đông Hồ’s paintings: the locals’ daily activities, dreams of a good life and happiness, and the customs of Vietnamese. Because the images are simple, easily understood, and depict iconic images, the paintings leave an impression on viewers.
The surface material is a traditional paper called giấy dó (Nepal paper). It may be the canvas of choice for its colors, which are blanched from naturally occurring whites: seashells, specific leaves, or even bamboo. It can be said looking at a Đông Hồ painting is like reading Vietnamese literature. Artists who make pictures create visual poems on a range of subjects and interests.
There is a busy painting market on the 6th, 11th, 16th, 21st, and 26th of Lunar December. In 2018, that’s the 22 and 27 of January; and the 1, 6, and 11 of February. Look here for lunar calendars from other years. The painting market attracts a great number of people who come here to visit or to buy paintings.
4. Rượu Làng Vân (Làng Vân Rice Wine)
It’s made in Vân Hà Commune in the Việt Yên District of Bắc Giang Province. Wine from Làng Vân is a special drink famous inside as well as outside the country. It’s a nice present to give to family members and friends when coming here. Just as red or white wine is a typical dinner drink in the current age, Làng Vân wine was once a mainstay of banquets in dynastic times. It was considered a proper gift for the king.
The main ingredients are glutinous rice. A kind of special sticky rice is chosen very carefully, a secret yeast and pure water from the well in the village. All of them are mixed to make the special Làng Vân drink. Surprisingly, the locals in Làng Vân have striven to keep the traditional trade of their family. Làng Vân wine has developed a following not just in Vietnam but in other countries.
5. Điêu Khắc Đá Non Nước (Non Nước Stone Carving Village)
Huỳnh Bá Quát founded this stone carving village in the eighteenth century in the Thanh Hóa province in the coastal city of Đà Nẵng. Stone carving is a valuable skill that’s still a source of stable employment and income as it was when the first artisans learned it.
They harvest stones from Ngũ Hành Sơn marble mountain to make artifacts that range from the useful to the beautiful: flour grinders, dragons, and Buddha statues of different sizes and shapes. If you have a chance to visit Đà Nẵng, don’t forget to come to this village at the foot of the Ngũ Hành Sơn marble mountains. You’re sure to find a nicely designed sculpture by the local artists.
For additional visual information on Vietnamese handicrafts villages, view the below-selected video.
By Arik Jahn
When I first came to Vietnam, all I knew about its history was basically what I had seen in Apocalypse Now (no, not that Apocalypse Now) or read in more-or-less knowledgeable guidebooks. This was both a pity and an opportunity, as I discovered that Vietnam has enthralling stories and the sceneries, architecture, and sites to tell them! We’ll start our journey where pretty much any journey through Vietnam starts: in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City
Get a Subversive Pho
You arrive at Tan Son Nhat Airport, hop on a taxi and all you want is a first, authentic taste of the country – in other words: a pho. But hey, we won’t let you eat just any pho: we start our history lesson at Pho Binh at 7 Ly Chinh Thang Street in upper District 1, the former hiding place of one of the Northern Vietnamese units that planned the famous Tet Offensive of 1968.
While slurping your soup, ask the shop owners about the history of the place and their families. Their English might not be great but you’ll gain some captivating information.
Experience History First-Hand
The next day, you obviously do the standards: the Reunification Palace, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office. Look out for an almost 90-year-old Vietnamese man sitting in the back of the Central Post Office, Duong Van Ngo, Saigon’s last public writer. He knows this place like the back of his age-spotted hands. If you feel inclined, ask him about the building and how Saigon has changed over the decades: he speaks English and French.
Visit a Couple of Museums
Let’s be honest: compared to Hanoi, the museums in Ho Chi Minh City aren’t great. We recommend the shockingly straightforward War Remnants Museum, and the History Museum right at the Saigon Zoo. The latter displays Vietnam’s history before the American War, including the 1000-year-long domination by the Chinese.
Veteran Highlight: D3’s Secret Armoury
Saigon is full of lovely little alleyways that make up the gridlocked soul of this city. 287 Nguyen Dinh Chieu in District 3 is one of these. Plus, it conceals yet another former Northern Vietnamese hideaway. Seek out house no. 287/70 which is easy to miss on this busy market street outside lunch hours. Entrance is free, but the caretaker will appreciate a small tip to open the cellar hatch for you to climb down to the historical armory. Also, check out the authentic relics displayed upstairs!
Apart from the one we report, the below video identifies further historical sites of significance.
Horror in Paradise
The next stop is the Con Dao Archipelago – we can’t let you tour through Vietnam without some quality beach time. And Con Dao happens to be not only pristine, including some great scuba diving and snorkeling spots, but also a historical site.
To cut a long story short: the archipelago was home to the nation’s most dreaded prison during the French colonization and the American War. National hero Vo Thi Sau was executed here at the tender age of 19. Some Vietnamese think that Con Dao is haunted by the ghosts of the dead.
Before visiting Phu Hai Prison, the oldest and largest prison complex on Con Dao, stop by the adjacent museum to fully ‘appreciate’ the history. The (very affordable) ticket gives you entrance to both. Don’t say we didn’t warn you: this is what people call a sobering experience. Case in point: tiger cages.
If you want to pay further tribute to the victims, head to Hang Duong Cemetery. The gravestones read like a who’s who of Vietnam’s urban street names.
Veteran Highlight: The Central Highlands
The scenic Central Highlands are worth a visit in themselves, but the main draw for veterans is their military history. Pleiku, for instance, maybe a picturesque small town today but during the war, it was an American base that was nearly destroyed.
Learn more about the region’s ethnic tribes at the Ethnographic Museum in Buon Ma Thuot before you visit Camp Enari, a former US Infantry headquarters on nearby Ham Rong Mountain, and the Plei Me Post 40 kilometers south of Pleiku, where 1965’s Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between US forces and North Vietnam was triggered. As per all military sites in Vietnam, it is advisable to hire a guide to fully understand the history of the place.
The Hoi An–Danang–Hue stretch in Central Vietnam bursts with history. Hoi An was recently listed among the top 15 travel destinations worldwide by TripAdvisor. Definitely go there, get Vietnam’s best banh mi at Banh Mi Phuong (2B Phan Chau Trinh), and stroll through Hoi An’s Ancient Town to get a feel for what was one of Asia’s most important trading ports some 500 years ago. Include the impressive Chinese Assembly Halls in your itinerary.
Angkor Not! But Worth It
While you are in Hoi An, take a day tour to the My Son Sanctuary an hour west of the city to discover the era of the Cham Kingdom. The seafaring Hindu Champa empire had its heyday between the 6th and the 15th century and controlled all of Central Vietnam. Don’t expect a second Angkor Wat: this ancient place of worship is much smaller and was bombed to ruins during the American War. Invest some money in a good tour guide, and consider using an umbrella to protect yourself from the sun.
The old imperial capital of Hue simply can not be on this list. It was also one of the main staging grounds for the abovementioned Tet Offensive during the American War. Historical sites abound. Obviously, don’t miss out on the Citadel. Our tip: visit at night from April to September to escape the almost unbearable daytime heat.
Another must are the imperial tombs, the most beautiful of which is unfortunately also the biggest crowd-puller: Khai Dinh’s Tomb south of Hue. Hiring a guide is recommended.
The Better Cu Chi
You may wonder why we didn’t send you to Cu Chi northwest of Saigon earlier on. The reason: there are better examples of wartime tunnels to be experienced. From Hue, venture to Vinh Moc, a tunnel system similar to, yet much less touristy than, Cu Chi. It’s in the former DMZ (Demilitarised Zone), a good two hours north of the city by bus or car.
It goes without saying that being “demilitarised” didn’t save the area from being bombed during the war, hence the tunnel system that is now more spacious and easier to access than the better-known one in Cu Chi. Vinh Moc truly gives you a sense of what life underground must have been like. There are guides here and a small museum as well.
Veteran Highlight: South of the DMZ
The Vinh Moc tunnels are just the beginning of what the region holds in historical sites of military relevance. It was south of the DMZ where some of the most pivotal battles of the Vietnamese-American War took place. On your way from Hue to the battlegrounds, stop by The Rockpile, or Elliott Combat Base, off Route 9: an all-too-well-known landmark of high strategic importance for all those who served in the area.
The Khe Sanh Combat Base southwest of The Rockpile houses a small museum, with several authentic US military vehicles and aircraft on its premises. Northern Vietnamese forces besieged it for more than five months in 1968, distracting the US from their preparations for the Tet Offensive later that year. This decisive encounter was accompanied by an attack on the lesser-known Lang Vei Special Forces Camp further down Route 9 in February 1968 where a monument has been built and a Communist tank is showcased.
Start Your Tour de North
Spend a day or two taking in the ambiance of Vietnam’s proud capital by visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Hanoi’s great museums (notably, the Ethnology Museum). Then, go to the historic sites further north. You can catch a bus or a flight to Dien Bien Phu, where the climactic battle of the First Indochina War took place in 1954. However, we suggest you mix history with scenery and integrate another historical gem: Cao Bang Province.
Cradle Times Two
Located 300 kilometers north of Hanoi along the border with China, the scenic Cao Bang Province is a twofold cradle: first, of the Vietnamese people as it was from here that the Vietnamese expanded southwards several thousand years ago, and second, of the revolutionary movement as it was here that Ho Chi Minh created the Viet Minh independence league in 1941 when he re-entered Vietnam after a three-decade globetrotting odyssey.
Find yourself a guide in Cao Bang city to go on an hour-and-a-half journey north to Pac Bo Cave, Ho Chi Minh’s hiding place. Check the newly built Ho Chi Minh Museum. The cave itself is a strikingly simple revolutionary monument. Along with the gorgeously peaceful surroundings, it sets a truly contemplative mood.
Vietnam can be a country of extremes. When it’s hot, it’s really, really hot. When it rains, oceans pour from the sky. Between the months of May through October, you should be prepared for both.
From HCMC to Sapa, Hoi An to Can Tho the topography changes as do the customs, the climate, and even the language. First-time travelers to Vietnam’s cities often report feeling overwhelmed by the throngs of people in the tourist zones and the seemingly unbreakable walls of traffic, yet, a trip by wooden boat along the Mekong river will transport you back to a time before modernity ruled.
Read on to discover our list of the top 20 things you should do to prepare for Vietnam’s extraordinary contrasts and experiences. And if you do not have time to read it all, just play the below video. See you soon in Vietnam.
1. Don’t Underestimate the Weather
In HCMC, between the months of May to October, you should be prepared for both sweltering temperatures and soaking wet shoes. However, as a trade-off, you’ll be treated to frequent, impressive lightning shows.
Unlike Saigon, Hanoi has four seasons with very hot and sticky summers and bitterly cold and humid winters. You’ll need more than your linen beach clothes to keep you warm if you travel North. Pack layers, waterproof shoes, bug spray, and plenty of sunscreens. Forget something? Don’t panic. Head to one of Vietnam’s numerous markets to stock up on almost anything you can imagine.
Have a headache? Feeling lethargic? You’re probably dehydrated. Don’t slack on your water intake.
2. Embrace the Nap
Photos of Vietnamese taking a midday snooze in random locations have become an internet phenomenon. To keep up your energy while traveling, do as the locals do and take a break in the afternoon. Head out to see the sights early in the morning or after 5 p.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day. Attractions such as temples and churches are usually not air-conditioned, and the heat combined with the crowds can be tiring.
Not a nap person? Choose a calming coffee shop to step out of the city chaos, catch up on your emails and throw a few jealousy-inducing social media posts online for your friends back home.
3. Eat Everything but Beware
Vietnamese food is delicious and you will want to try it all. Go ahead and buy a kilo of those strange looking purple fruit, but be aware of hygiene when you’re eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors with a good crowd in front of their stands. Another way to be sure of what you’re eating is to book a street food tour. Always wash or peel your fruits and vegetables and avoid drinking water out of the tap.
4. Keep Your Phone and Wallet Out of Sight
Violent crime is rare, but like any large city, both have their fair share of pickpockets. Be especially aware of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao, known as the backpackers’ district. Carry a purse with a strap that goes across your body and keep it in front of you. Never put your passport in your backpack. Either put it in a special carrying case that fits under your clothes or leave it in the safe at your (reputable) hotel.
5. Get Your Hotel Details
Remember to take your hotel’s business card to make your return to the hotel much easier by handing it to your taxi, xe om, or cyclo driver.
6. Leave the Plastic at the Hotel
Vietnam, especially once you get out of the major cities, is still a cash-based economy. Most places won’t accept credit cards and ATMs can be scarce.
7. Walk Slowly when Crossing the Street
Forget the epic colors of Halong Bay and the windy beaches of Mui Ne, the single most impressive sight in Vietnam is seeing a line of people crossing the street as a torrent of motorbikes hurtle towards them. Newcomers to Vietnam may find the practice of stepping into traffic more than a little terrifying but there is a logic to the madness.
Motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you, so keep a slow and steady pace. It’s also advisable to hold out your arm to let the cyclists know that you are actually crossing the street. In Hanoi, people often hold hands and walk across in single file, but in HCMC where traffic lights are a bit more au courant, this practice is less common. Traffic lights don’t mean traffic will stop, however. Be prepared for stragglers to still cross after the light changes and those who are turning right won’t wait for you to clear the street. Never try to test your might with the buses.
Always be aware of everything around you whether you’re crossing the street or walking on a sidewalk. Roads can be an abstract concept in Vietnam’s cities.
8. Motorbike Safety
If you’re going to brave the traffic on a bike, make sure you take proper precautions. Always wear a helmet, avoid dangly jewellery, flip flops and miniskirts and clip your bag to the bike to keep it safe from snatchers. Also, see if there is a storage area underneath the seat. If you have the app on your phone it is easy to hail a Grab motorbike from anywhere in the cities.
9. Sidewalk Parking Lots
Parking space for motorbikes in Vietnam is at a premium and some pavements have become de facto parking lots. Sometimes this means that pedestrians have no option but to share the road with traffic. In this case, be on high alert and get back to the sidewalk as soon as possible.
While tipping is not always expected, especially at local restaurants, international venues have become used to the practice. Leave enough for a coffee: VND5,000-10,000.
11. Cover up
When visiting temples or pagodas, make sure to bring that extra scarf to cover your shoulders. Remember that you are visiting a piece of history so show some respect and follow the rules of the place of worship. Some locations will have loose robes that you can rent and don during your visit.
12. Don’t Trust the Taxi Meter
Ripping off unsuspecting passengers is an art form for dishonest drivers. Most taxi drivers are not frauds but to be safe, stick with reliable companies such as Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh, and Vinasun. Get out of any taxi that refuses to turn on the meter. Or for a sure thing just book a car through Grab. You can see the price on the app ahead of time.
It is now a law to buckle up in Vietnam, yet many taxis do not come complete with functional safety belts. Do your best by using your seatbelt whenever one is available. If your trip costs VND17,000 dong and you only have VND20,000 the driver will often expect the extra as a tip. It’s a nice gesture to let them keep the change if you’re happy with their service.
13. Be a Sensitive Photographer
Get permission before taking anyone’s photograph. Most people in Vietnam love having their picture taken and will ask to have one with you, but it’s always nice to ask. Also, there are some places like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or military buildings where taking photos is prohibited. If you have children don’t be surprised if people ask to take pictures with the kids. Children, especially those that look different than the local population, can be treated like superstars with the paparazzi to match.
14. Don’t lose your temper
In heated discussions, keep your cool and don’t raise your voice. Losing your temper is considered a serious loss of face for both parties and should be avoided. Try to maintain a cool demeanor and you will be reciprocated in kind.
Remember that negotiating is not rude but expected. Haggle for the best price or risk paying well over the actual price of an item. Try ‘walking away’ to get a better price. If that doesn’t work, you can always go back to the vendor later. For a few tips on how to haggle, check our guide here.
16. Be Patient
The first rule of travel is to be prepared for the unexpected. Yes, your bus might be canceled or your hotel pool may be more like a pond, but the key to having a great trip is to not get too attached to the details. That canceled bus may force you to have the best banh mi of your life in the cafe next door to the station. Or perhaps leave the budget hotel behind and try a homestay instead. When something doesn’t go your way just take a deep breath and get on with the adventure.
17. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Your most important memories from your childhood probably have to do more with trying something new than whatever you watched on TV. The best way to really experience a country is to not expect it to be like home. Love eating pizza every Sunday while catching up on Netflix? Save that routine for your post-holiday recovery. While traveling in Vietnam make a point to try new and weird food every day or to say yes to something that you normally wouldn’t. It’ll become part of your history.
18. Splurge on Some Travel Insurance
Even if you’re not planning on bungee jumping off a bridge it’s still a good idea to get some reliable travel insurance. Proper insurance should cover you if you have a bag snatched or if you contract dengue fever. This is one thing that you shouldn’t leave to chance.
19. Learn a Little Bit of Vietnamese
Vietnamese is a difficult language to perfect but that shouldn’t stop you from memorizing a few key phrases to facilitate your voyage. Even if you don’t say something correctly you’ll often be rewarded with a smile from whoever you’re talking to. The Vietnamese are usually happy to help you out and the effort made can reward you with a new friend. For some useful words, check our guide here.
20. Enjoy yourself
There is so much to do and see, but don’t forget to stop every once in a while to pull up a plastic chair, order the local coffee, ca phe sua da, and take it all in. While sights and activities hold interest, sometimes you can learn more about the culture by speaking to the locals and taking your time to adjust to the country’s pace. Remember that you are on holiday!
By John Brooksbank
The Government of Vietnam officially recognizes 54 different ethnic groups in the country or 53 who are not Kinh, also known as the Viet, who comprise approximately 90 percent of the nation’s more than 95 million people.
Ethnic groups are classified as being members of one of eight languages ‘families’ – Han, Mong-Dao, Tibeto-Burman, Austroasiatic, Tay Thai, Kadai, Malayo-Polynesian, or the majority Vietic speaking peoples.
While some ethnic minority groups are struggling to maintain traditional culture amid an influx of mainstream Vietnamese and Western influences, many ethnic groups are relatively easy to recognize, having maintained their unique languages, culture, lifestyle, and particularly traditional, colorful styles of dress.
World-recognized travel photographer Réhahn, a resident of the historic city of Hoi An, has made documenting the many different cultures in Vietnam a life passion. As Réhahn notes, “[Most ethnic minorities] live in communities where family and group have central roles in daily life. They are curious about other ethnic groups. For example, when Co Tu people visit the museum, they use words like a brother to talk about other groups, as if belonging to an ethnic group versus the Kinh made them feel closer.”
Check out réhahn’s stunning gallery, Couleurs d’Asie in Hoi An, to get a closer look. However, they also differ in many ways, due to unique histories and the need to adapt to different environments.
Ethnic Minorities in Many Colours
Their diversity is perhaps most pronounced in the Northern Highlands. The Hmong people, for example, are thought to have arrived on Vietnamese soil only about 300 years ago, whereas the Tay arrived around 500 AD and now live in the north-eastern provinces of Cao Bang, Lang Son, Bac Kan, Quang Ninh, and Ha Giang.
Through his camera lens, Réhahn has captured this diversity. ”The Red Dao’s tradition of shaving their hair and eyebrows gives them an intense style and visually interesting faces. They also have impressive costumes which take up to six months to complete.”
He adds, “They are surpassed only by the Lo Lo Hoa. It takes up to a year to sew more than 4,000 little triangles into their dress. Then there is the Co Tu dance – gracious, poetic, and joyful, with the gong giving it a real intensity. I’ve seen it many times at the Co Tu Night Festival; I’d love other people to see it too.”
The Thai ethnic minority is the second-largest ethnic minority in the country. The White Thais live mainly in Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces, while the Black Thais can be found more in the provinces of Son La and Mai Chau. They are known for their beautifully woven garments and other accessories, and they live in stilt houses designed to protect residents from possible flooding and dangerous animals, as well as to provide shelter for their domestic animals.
Black Thai women wear green, blue, pink, or purple blouses with a distinctive row of buttons, a black skirt, and a black scarf. Thai people have a great heritage of myths and ancient legends and love to sing and perform folk dances known as Xoe, Sap, and Han Khuong. Their customs include the practice that a husband lives in the house of the family of his wife until a baby is born, before moving in with his family – a lesson for us all, perhaps!
The approximately 600,000 Dao, known as jungle people, originally came from southern China hundreds of years ago. Their religious beliefs include elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
They are divided into smaller sub-groups – Dao with white trousers, Dao with narrow trousers, Dao with coins, Dao with blue clothes, and similar descriptive titles.
Women of the Red Dao sub-group are easily identifiable by their triangular red turbans or scarves decorated with silver coins and red tassels. The men usually wear long pants, shirts, and headscarves.
The Importance of Tourism
Various NGOs provide support for community-based tourism that involves local ownership and management, offering tourists the chance to learn about and experience the culture, work environment, and lifestyle of local villages.
Fortuitously, the regions that are home to many ethnic minorities have breathtaking landscapes, spectacular rice terraces, limestone mountains, and impressive waterfalls that make them ideal locales for sustainable tourism activities.
Réhahn has seen this during his photographic travels. ”I believe the best way to protect ethnic groups is to promote them outside their community, to create a sense of pride and make them realize the value of their heritage,” he says. “For example the Quang Nam of Hue province is active. Northern groups have proven that there is an interest from foreigners in tribal culture; now people have to realize that ethnic groups are found everywhere in Vietnam, and some have only a few hundred members.”
An example of these efforts was the first Hoang Su Phi Mountain Bike Challenge in May this year, which, apart from cycling in Sapa, had participants interacting with communities and carrying out a day of voluntary work that directly benefited a local village.
A number of tour companies now organise trips to the more remote areas of the country relying on homestays with local ethnic families. For example, Mr Linh’s Adventures Travel Company, based in Hanoi, has a range of tours that focus on the Ba Be National Park, home to Tay, Dao and H’mong ethnic groups. All of his five to 21-day trekking, caving, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing and boating tours include basic but comfortable homestays in local villages.
By Emilio Piriz
Vietnam has been a multi-religion nation for centuries, receiving cultures and religions from foreign countries. Religious followers have lived harmoniously in Vietnam for thousands of years and this is easily observed in today’s society. Meanwhile, as religious conflicts keep arising around the globe, Vietnam should be proud of hosting doctrines of Confucianism and Taoism (due to its Chinese heritage), Buddhism, Catholicism, Caodaism, Hoahaoism, Hinduism, Islam, and other smaller groups (there’s even a Hasidic service for the estimated 200 Jews in HCMC).
Despite being known as one of the most atheist countries in the world these days (despite deep and surviving traditions in Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist practices), since the start of the Vietnamese reform policy in 1986, the state has shown interest in religious tolerance and how best to adopt all the religions coexisting in Vietnam.
As a result of this, the country is witnessing a rise in spiritual travelers visiting the top religious destinations, attending the famous sacred festivals, or experiencing a meditation retreat for peace of mind. Let’s begin our spiritual pilgrimage in Vietnam.
Religion Runs Deep in Vietnam
Before jumping into the places and the facts that make Vietnam a popular destination for holy reasons, we should expand on the importance of religious practices here. As modernity truly starts to sink in, religion and spirituality preserve the core values of Vietnamese society and help people deal with the consequences of innovation.
Vietnam’s first-time visitors will quickly realize the relevance of ancestor worship and the numerous ways in which the Vietnamese show gratitude to their deceased loved ones. As a ritual of return to one’s origins, which is focused on the family and community, ancestor worship is part of Vietnamese folk religion traditions and is a widespread practice around the country.
Sneak a peek in Vietnamese homes and you will notice the adorned altars venerating passed relatives. However, the veneration of ancestors goes beyond family and lineage, including heroes of the past, local guardian spirits, and gods as well as deceased political figures and war heroes.
Ancestor worship plays an important role not only in daily life but also during pilgrimages to specific sites, as we’ll explore below.
Famous Pilgrimage sites
The largest in Southeast Asia, the Bai Dinh Pagoda (Ninh Binh province south of Hanoi) is a cultural complex that houses different Buddhist structures such as Tam The Hall and Phap Chu Hall (the biggest ones), the gigantic statue of Maitreya Buddha or the 22-meter-high bell tower.
During the sixth day of each lunar year, this sacred destination attracts pilgrims from all places of the world as it celebrates a traditional Buddhist festival. Previously, the festival only lasted for a week; now that the state has invested large amounts of money in the complex, it lasts the entire spring.
The festival is filled with the warmth of youth, respect for elders as well as the joy of tourists and Buddhists. The complex covers an area of 700 hectares, and crowds of pilgrims flock around the low and high mountains, woodlands, and forests.
Located 1,068 meters above sea level, Yen Tu Mountain east of Hanoi is considered the capital of Vietnamese Buddhism. The story goes back to the 13th century when king-monk Tran Nhan Tong abdicated at the age of 35 and decided to spend the rest of his life practicing Buddhism here. He even founded the first Vietnamese school of Buddhism called Truc Lam, Vietnam Zen Buddhism.
The Yen Tu Festival takes place from the tenth day of the lunar new year through the end of the third lunar month and has become a big spring festival for Buddhists and tourists nationwide. The pilgrimage route, which winds from the foot of the mountain to its pinnacle, is almost 30 kilometers long and gets quite crowded during the spring festival. On the first day of the first month of the current lunar year, the site welcomed over 3,800 visitors and expected more than two million visitors throughout the festival.
Ba Chua Xu
Since the early 1990s, the shrine of Ba Chua Xu, the Lady of the Realm near the Cambodian border in An Giang Province west of Saigon, has become the most visited religious site in southern Vietnam, receiving more than a million visitors annually. Mother, benevolent creditor, healer, relationship advisor, and business consultant, the Lady of the Realm is one of a group of goddesses whose shrines attract devotees from all corners of rural and urban society.
According to the legend, Sam Mountain (An Giang province) was once home to many invaders who found a beautiful stone statue atop the mountain and tried to take it without success. A little village girl, who revealed herself as Chua Xu Thanh May, told them to retrieve the broken statue and leave it at a designated spot. Today, the statue remains at the same location where the visitors left it and is a sacred site of worship attracting many pilgrims from the 23rd to the 27th of the fourth lunar month.
Map for the Spiritual Route across Vietnam
Did you know…?
Thien Buddhism is the Vietnamese name for the Zen School of Buddhism. King-monk Tran Nhan Tong founded Truc Lam (Bamboo Grove), the only native school of Buddhism in Vietnam. Truc Lam’s Zen monastery is at Tuyen Lam Lake five kilometres south of Dalat, and easily accessible by cablecar.
This is one of the largest Zen meditation study centres in Vietnam, with large numbers of nuns and monks (many of them speak English). This monastery is not only popular locally but also among Vietnamese abroad for meditation studies as it is under the teachings of the venerable Thich Thanh Tu, a renowned meditation master for many decades.
Dutch travelers Marianne Buckman and her husband Kees Bukman ended up in Saigon the way many people do. “Everyone said ‘Vietnam? Why Vietnam?’” Kees recalled. “I said ‘Well, why not?’” Their cavalier manner belies a very specific and obvious obstacle. While Kees spoke seated at a table in a chair, Marianne was sitting on the opposite side in her wheelchair, a necessary aid given the severity of her multiple sclerosis.
“Of course, yes. People stare sometimes,” he said. “But they’re very friendly in general.” “What I hate most is if they ignore you. If I’m pushing her and they start asking me about her, that’s the most annoying,” he said. “They ask him everything and they ignore me,” Marianne said with a laugh. “You have to treat the disabled as normal people,” her husband added.
The couple spent 10 days on a tour with Roll in Asia, an agency that specializes in serving travelers with a disability. It included stops in Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Nha Trang before arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. The group toured the highlights including the Reunification Palace, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, and Ben Thanh Market.
The couple reported their favorite part of the trip so far was dining on the local cuisine. “Every time, new flavors. That’s the basic highlight of the trip. And then to meet all the friendly people of Vietnam,” he added.
Before Marianne’s multiple sclerosis limited her mobility, the couple traveled extensively. In the late ’80s, the couple visited Cuba, a nation which they said at the time bore striking similarities to modern-day Vietnam.
While the couple was seeking something that would be appropriate for Marianne’s abilities, they also worried that agencies serving travelers with a disability might be too dull. A cruise on a ship would be an easy way for Marianne and her husband to get out of the Netherlands. “But it’s not adventurous,” Kees said. “We said we have to search for something different because I’m not going to spend the rest of my life cruising.”
This is why “each trip is tailor-made”, Roll in Asia co-founder Charlotte Jean said, describing a lengthy and in-depth planning process between her firm and a prospective traveler to identify limitations, medical needs, and any other necessary modifications for a traveler with a disability. “Every trip is different, every concern is different.”
The Bukmans’ travel through Asia and the availability of services through companies like Jean’s represents an important step forward in what the United Nations calls “barrier-free travel” – tourism for a population with a disability. In a 2003 report, the UN cited a lack of facilities, resources, and even a dearth of data related to travelers who had a disability. The report didn’t cite Vietnam specifically but said that attitudes about disabilities tend to vary throughout the Southeast Asia region and that a lack of awareness towards those seeking barrier-free travel can engender indifference.
Jean vehemently disagreed that the Vietnamese lacked compassion toward those with a disability. “No, I don’t agree with this,” she said. “People are very helpful. They’re actually too helpful.” Rather than neglecting her travelers, she said the level of hospitality was always exceptional, almost to an etiquette-breaking point. Take, for instance, the lack of handicap ramps. Jean said she’s had to stop people from physically carrying a traveler with a disability.
“There is this big misconception between what is possible, and what is fine,” she said. So, “if the person has to be carried like a baby during the whole holiday, that’s not nice.” In a by-any-means environment like Saigon, where any street corner is just a few plastic stools and a soup pot away from becoming an open-air cafeteria, Jean said that sensibility can translate to gestures seem helpful but read less warmly to a traveler with a disability.
Equal Travel Opportunities, Everywhere
In lieu of broadly available handicap resources, Jean said she and her partner have instead worked with existing facilities to identify enough handicap-friendly spaces and activities to create a journey for their clients. Since the business’ creation two years ago, Jean and her cofounder Clément Abalea have traveled throughout Vietnam identifying a chain through Vietnam that would create the most accessible route for travelers with a disability.
“At the end of the day, we can have a full and complete trip,” she said. Her agency offers tours for visitors going through Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang, and of course Ho Chi Minh City. Wheelchair accommodation ties into what Jean said is a top concern for those traveling with a disability: hotels. Her firm assesses hotels rigorously to make sure that the facilities can meet the travelers at their specific ability.
Kees affirmed Roll in Asia’s tailor-made approach to travel planning. Not even everyone in a wheelchair has the same ability, and this must be taken into account. “One thing for Marianne is that she gets tired very easily. But I see other guys who are very strong and they’re just wheeling around. Their main obstacle is just the pathways and the potholes.”
At Citypassguide.com, we support travel actors who make a difference for those who need it. Check the below video from WHEEL THE WORLD, an agency specializing in arranging tours for disabled people.
“Every disability is different,” he said. But “they want to be treated like normal [people].” Kees said pedestrian and wheelchair-friendly areas were a big concern for him and his wife. “The sidewalks are terrible, and the traffic is an uh, a lot,” he said.
But the couple said there’s an idiosyncratic rhythm to how things are ordered in Vietnam that accommodated them nicely while they were here. For example, while the drivers appear to have their own rules sometimes, “if you know that rule and just take care of yourself, they afford you,” Kees said.
Before they set off for Vietnam, the couple showed their itinerary to their son. He too had traveled through Southeast Asia and visited the same sights. The Bukmans said their son registered some surprise when he was told all of this could be done while traveling with a disability.
By Keely Burkey
Vietnamese cuisine is Vietnam’s best asset
You’ve probably seen this many times: a person sitting at a metal table at a hole-in-the-wall eatery, face held parallel to the plate or bowl in strong focus. In Vietnam, food isn’t just nutrition, it’s a philosophy – beautiful, complex, and simple all at once.
And lucky you – you can experience it yourself.
A Family Affair
Vietnamese food is not just an assortment of ingredients made in a specific manner. That’s a recipe, not a cuisine. At its most fundamental, Vietnamese food is both an idea and an experience.
First and foremost, it’s a cuisine that celebrates the idea of family. As the writers of Golden Spoon & the Quintessence of Vietnamese Cuisine point out, “In Vietnamese culture, the family meal is always something holy. It is not only a place for the reunion but also a moment for connection, sharing [and] warmth that everyone saves for each other.”
Walk around Saigon’s streets at night, and you’ll see this happy communion of souls at many a bia hoi and sidewalk restaurant: large groups laughing, shouting, and cheering over gigantic, family-style spreads of stir-fries or communal hot pots.
The Spice of Life
However, what is most integral to Vietnamese food? For renowned Vietnamese chef Chiem Thanh Long, it comes down to spices. Chef Long is quick to note that spices aren’t just used to add flavor.
Spices are part of a complex system of health that’s grounded in the concept of yin and yang, the idea of contrasting-yet-complementary forces that work to make a beautiful and balanced whole.
For example, in Vietnamese cuisine, duck is almost mandatorily paired with ginger. This isn’t just because these tastes work well together. “Duck is ‘yin’, or cool, and ginger is ‘yang’, or hot. They balance out so that when a person eats too much duck, their stomach is not upset by too much ‘yin’.”
Look at your next Vietnamese menu and you’ll start to see this pattern. Sauteed morning glory (yin) and garlic (yang). Snakehead fish (yin) and piper lolot (yang). This delicious list goes on.
No Set Cuisine
It’s a shame just how little the nuances and varieties of Vietnamese food are celebrated across the globe. “Before I came to Vietnam, I had no idea about the food! All I knew was pho and banh mi.” Mark Lowerson, food blogger and street food tour guide in Hanoi, recognizes this unfortunate oversight in much of his clientele: “A lot of people will maybe know about pho, but maybe won’t know the difference between a Vietnamese and Chinese spring roll. And it’s always a revelation.”
Even Vietnamese locals have been humbled by the complexity. Ly Sang, who organizes the yearly national cooking competition the Golden Spoon Awards, told us, “I thought I knew a lot about Vietnamese cuisine, and then I started traveling the country [for the competition]. I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface!”
After all, the bun cha in Hanoi is remarkably different from the bun cha on offer in Saigon. Each region lays proud claim to unique styles, tastes and spices. Chef Chiem Thanh Long says, “Nowadays people in Saigon eat less sugar, but it’s supposed to be sweet still… In the central [region], it’s salty and spicy. In the north, chefs try to keep the natural state of ingredients.”
And thanks to Vietnamese chefs’ penchant for using only fresh, locally sourced ingredients, a region’s cuisine naturally depends on the herbs, spices and produce that thrive in each of Vietnam’s dramatically differing climates. For the savvy gourmand who wants to understand the nuances of Vietnamese cuisine, here’s our list of must-tries in North, Central and South Vietnam.
Sapa: Thang Co and Com Lam
With perhaps the most unique menu on our list, Sapa’s mountainous region has naturally developed a very specific set of ingredients to work with. We recommend two rustic dishes cooked and enjoyed by the Hmong people: thang co and com lam.
Thang co is a hearty stew that pairs many parts of a horse (bone, viscera, meat) with a veritable medley of spices like cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and citronella. Making thang co is a labor-intensive process taking at least a couple of hours for all the flavors to blend. But when they do, get ready for something special. It’s typically served with a hot red pepper from Muong Khuong.
To accompany your thang co, go for com lam, or bamboo sticky rice. Locals fill individual sections of bamboo with rice and add a bit of salt and water, and steam the rice directly in the bamboo, which makes for a delicately sweet, salty, and chewy accompaniment to any meal.
Grab a piping hot bowl of thang co at weekend fairs in Sapa, as well as Nha Hang Kham Pha Viet (15 Thach Son, Sapa).
Hai Phong: Nem Ran and Banh Da Cua
This industrial business town isn’t seen as very touristy, but it has incredible seafood. Crabs are usually on the menu, which they cook up adeptly for Hai Phong’s famous nem ran, a decadently big, fried, square spring roll traditionally cut into quarters.
Many restaurants mix the crab meat with minced pork, egg, mushroom, and onion and wrap this in a special rice paper from Hai Phong to give these heavenly crab pillows the perfect amount of crunch. These can be served as an appetizer, or along with greens and vermicelli if you want to make a meal of it (recommended).
Once you’re done with your starter, it’s time for your main course: banh da cua. The wide, flat, brown noodles found in Hai Phong are here paired with wilted spinach and morning glory, tomato, and crab balls. Over this delightful concoction, the talented chef will pour a seafood-based broth. The flavors are relatively mild, and the textures provide a satisfying chew.
Hanoi: Ca Cuon Thit, Bun Cha
On our “spring rolls done differently” tour, we come to Hanoi’s little-known ca cuon thit. This is simply a gem within a gem: at its core, there’s a mixture of pork and wood mushrooms; wrapped around this, flakes of succulent perch; and around this, different types of flour mixed with dill, deep fried to perfection. And when you add the obligatory fish sauce for dipping? Heaven in a bite.
We now come to the place of origin of bun cha. Part of the DIY variety of food so popular in Vietnam, a steaming plate of bun cha will allow the diner to create a soup made from the diluted fish sauce (usually accompanied by pickled veggies), a mountain of greens, a mass of vermicelli noodles and bite-sized hunks of beautiful, flame-grilled pork. The most difficult part is finding the best bun cha place in Hanoi: there are too many!
Ca cuon thit is difficult to track down in Hanoi, but check Bun Ca Sam Cay Si (5 Trung Yen). The best bun cha restaurant is a matter of dispute, but Bun Cha 34 Hang Than (34 Hang Than) is popular with the locals – always a good sign.
Hue: Bun Bo Hue and Com Hen
Perhaps the most celebrated food destination in Vietnam is Hue, which houses a long food history, deeply intertwined with past royalty. It’s said that rulers in the 19th century demanded a new dish every day of the year, forcing the royal chefs to come up with hundreds of distinct and intricate culinary delights.
The quintessential Hue delicacy remains the rustic bun bo hue – not a very regal dish, but absolutely delicious nevertheless. As Tai Dang, tour manager of Saigon’s XO Tours told us, “The broth is different. For pho, the broth is beef or chicken. For bun bo hue, the broth is beef and pork, and flavored with lots of lemongrasses.” These subtle differences make for a notably different eating experience. When paired with the huyet (cubes of congealed pig’s blood), water spinach, morning glory, and bean sprouts, it’s hard not to order a second bowl.
Another Hue dish is com hen, or mussel rice: steamed rice accompanied by tiny mussels, a variety of shredded greens, and the obligatory spicy chili fish sauce. Traditionally this is seen as a dish enjoyed by commoners, but who cares? It’s amazing. Head over to the very local Quan Bun Bo Hue Restaurant (19 Ly Thuong Kiet) for your first course, and then nab some com hen at Quan Nho (28 Pham Hong Thai).
Danang: Mi Quang and Bun Cha Ca
One of the most distinctive Vietnamese noodle soup dishes around, you won’t get better mi quang than in its place of origin, Danang. The solid base of this hearty soup is a healthy dollop of turmeric-infused rice noodles, with mad creativity of proteins that can include shrimp, pork, chicken, and sometimes fish and beef. Just as likely to be floating in your little bowl of paradise are crushed peanuts, hard-boiled egg, a large shard of sesame rice cracker, and, our favorite part: a delightfully fresh and crunchy plate of thinly minced vegetables.
If you want more, it’s time for bun cha ca. Danang is famous for its fabulous, fresh seafood, and this is truly displayed by the cha ca (fish cakes), traditionally savored for breakfast. This noodle soup dish pairs these delicious cakes with slices of lemons and chilies, fermented shrimp paste (just try it!), with vegetables like pumpkin, pineapple, tomato, and cabbage.
Nha Trang: Lac Canh and Bun Ca Sua
There’s a saying: “If you come to Nha Trang and don’t try the grilled beef lac canh, it means you only know half of Nha Trang.” What really makes lac canh special is the marinade. They infuse the beef with a mixture of honey and spices and then grill this pairing over charcoal. It’s served with bread or raw vegetables.
Just as integral to Nha Trang’s cuisine landscape is bun ca sua – seafood soup. Of course, variations of seafood soups exist up and down the coast, but few take advantage of the jellyfish roaming Nha Trang’s seas. They’re definitely an acquired taste, but worth trying. To get your fill of lac canh, visit Nha Hang Lac Canh (44 Nguyen Binh Khiem). For bun ca sua, there’s none better than Ba Nam (50 Thong Nhat). Bon appetit!
Saigon: Com Tam and Banh Canh
Saigon is a bit of a food mystery. As Tai from XO Tours tells us, HCMC is routinely referred to as “the house of food” with delicious dishes from all over Vietnam. However, there aren’t many Saigon-specific specialties. As Chef Chiem Thanh Long confirms, “Actually, there is no food that is typical of Saigon. Whether you want to eat the food of Central, Northern, Central Highlands, or Southern regions, all are here in Saigon. Saigon and Dalat are similar in that sense, collecting so many dishes without a typical dish of its own.”
Bearing that in mind, you can get some seriously delicious fare here. Take the quintessential southern com tam, for instance. While broken rice was originally fed to livestock, today its soft, delicate texture lends itself well to the paired egg, meat (usual pork), and pickled vegetables. Com tam is meant to be sweet, like a lot of food in Southern Vietnam. Definitely soak the rice in fish sauce, not soy sauce.
Another dish you’d be crazy to pass up is banh canh. With perhaps the thickest of all Vietnamese noodles, the beauty of banh canh lies in its variations. Depending on the city, or even the restaurant, you can get shrimp, pork or fish cake with it. In the Mekong Delta, be sure to keep your eyes open for banh canh made with coconut milk.
There’s no “best” com tam, but Tom Divers of Vietnam Coracle recommends Com Tam 352 (352 Chu Van An, Binh Thanh D).
For banh canh cua (with crab), we’ve heard good things about Banh Canh Cua 87 (87 Tran Khac Chan, D1).
Mekong Delta Region: Hu Tieu and Fried Elephant Ear Fish
As the farming capital of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is virtually exploding with delicious food. Here there’s a multitude of everything: fruit, vegetables, and animals. Take, for example, the always-lovely fried elephant ear fish available at restaurants and homestays.
The presentation is half the fun, as the fish is traditionally propped up, so hungry guests can take the meat from both sides at once. Paired with lettuce and a sauce for dipping, this is definitely one of the freshest fried foods around.
Hu tieu is another beautifully balanced dish – a medley of different meats from land and sea paired with a clear, subtle broth, vermicelli noodles, and a lot of seriously fresh vegetables. This dish has many changing faces: it can be served dry as well as in a soup, and the additives change depending on each chef’s specialty.
Nha Hang Song Nuoc Mien Tay (52-53 to ban do so 18, ap 3, Xa Tan Thach, Ben Tre) has great fried elephant ear fish if you want this tasty treat, and Hu Tieu Binh Dan Ba Sam (188 Tran Hung Dao, Sa Dec) has been named the best Hu Tieu in Southeast Asia (and a bowl is around VND12,000!)
Understanding the Vietnamese Table
You might not be familiar with all the sauces at a Vietnamese table, but have no fear! Tai Long from XO Tours gives us a briefing.
Chopsticks are used for a lot of dishes, but you’ll also see forks and spoons. Spoons are essential for eating rice and even cutting meat. Use the chopsticks in your right hand to push the food on the spoon, held in your left hand. If you eat rice with a fork, you might be laughed at.
Limes, Peppers and Sauces
Chances are you’ll be presented with a small dish of limes, banana peppers (spicier than the red flakes!), and sauteed red peppers in oil. Use as little or as much as you’d like – one of the great things about Vietnamese cuisine is that it’s easily customizable. If a soup broth is too salty (broths tend to get saltier as the day goes on), add some lime to even things out.
Tai says, “When you’re drinking soup, don’t make so much noise. And don’t put your elbows on the table. It’s rude.” If you’re having dinner at a traditional Vietnamese house, wait before being served: sometimes elders and men are served before all others as a sign of respect, although this tradition is waning. If you want to show your host you’re a happy eater, there’s no better way than to eat everything. “Clean your bowl,” Tai says. “And don’t be afraid to pick up your bowl and drink from it. It means you’re enjoying it.” With the food in Vietnam, that won’t be a problem.
By Kathleen Brown
Kathleen, her husband John, and their two adopted children, Peter Quang and Claire Xuan, are touring around Vietnam during their Christmas holiday. Kathleen is a long-time television producer and /or media consultant for humanitarian agencies and her husband, John, is a professional photographer. Every couple of days, they will post a story along with photos of their travels and adventures.
Family trip in Vietnam – Tribute Episode to our Guide Stars
Why guides you ask? If you are like me, you have toured both with and without guides and what I have learned is — they are an invaluable asset. In Vietnam, guides, translators, and drivers are essential to making your journey a safe, comfortable, and uniquely unparalleled experience.
During our heritage tour, Hoi An Express and Custom Vietnam Travel provided guides who became integral to our experience of the country for understanding its traditions, cultural and religious landmarks, foods and the many daily transactions one makes during a visit to a foreign country and who deepened our understanding of Vietnam’s people, their economy and their national identity.
Over the course of our three-week visit, each guide became a trusted friend by sharing something of his own life, work, family stories, and genuine pride in the country’s history, its many landmarks and religious shrines, the beauty of its endless rice fields, and industrious people and its treasured place in the global family of nations.
A journey made without their personal attention to our needs as an American family, with children, and more specifically two adoptees returning to the land of their birth, may have been as good as any tour in exclusive guidebooks or apps, but our trip was more — so much more. It was the trip of a lifetime!&
In the course of our twenty-one days in country, we came to know Bao, Mot, Hung and Loi in the Mekong Delta, Saigon, Da Nang, Hoi An and Hanoi, as well as, Vu and Quang on the Saigon Street Eats tour in HCMC. Each guide shared a different personality, offering insights, sharing history and facts, helping us on and off boats, bikes, motorbikes and vans and into restaurants, historic sites, cafes, markets and finding rest stops, good prices, better deals, and ao ba ba, the local women’s attire of the Mekong Delta, when my luggage was lost by the airlines and every stitch of my clothing arrived three days into our travel.
Mot, our hip, energetic guide in DaNang spoke several languages and had just taught himself Spanish in order to accommodate Spanish speakers touring the country. He led our expedition on bicycles and a motorbike while on a countryside tour pedaling us through Cam Kim commune and to his own Father’s home to reveal the senior citizen’s basket-boat making skills and then on to a very poor neighbor’s home whose sedge weaving into colorful mats earned about $5 USD for many hours of work. Mot’s touring included a stop at a family’s rice wine still, which had not appeared in the original tour description.
It was in central Vietnam, with Mot’s encouragement, that our touring took on a much more personal edge as when a local ferry ride turned into a passenger play-by-play of our family history with approving nods from the locals or when an afternoon visit to tailor shops lurched into an exciting design competition among our children.
Hung, a youthful man with the soul of a sage, took on maybe our most delicate and heartfelt passage in Vietnam. He was our guide for two days of visits to our children’s orphanages in Phu Tho province. While sharing coffee and tea with both orphanage directors, it was Hung’s job to ask delicate questions while seeking additional information about our children’s histories.
After our visit to one of our children’s communes did not reveal much of his personal history, our evidently saddened guide led us on a pilgrimage to the Au Co Pagoda hoping that a visit to the Holy Mother of all Vietnamese people might provide solace and a sense of belonging. It was a beautiful gesture of compassion greatly lifting the spirits of our entire family.
On our visit to the Perfume Pagoda, Loi, our inveterate guide schooled us in the meaning of numerous altars, deities, touchstones for pilgrims, and Buddhist practices. When I paid for incense sticks with a 2 USD bill inexplicably causing a stir, Loi explained what lavish good fortune I had unknowingly offered the aging woman. I never imagined a $2 bill could fetch more than $75 in Vietnamese money.
His detailed stories about everything we encountered were invaluable — my personal favorite was learning about a shortcut to nirvana earned by pilgrims making a climb atop a pagoda near Heaven’s Kitchen during a special festival.
Traveling through any country can be done with a guide-book or an app, but it is in touring with guides that a visit becomes an exploration at a deeper level and the journey becomes far richer for the guide star leading you. Having a guide/translator allows you to get your head out of the guidebooks and focus your eyes on the surroundings so you don’t miss the beautiful countryside, colorful residents, and amazing experiences that Vietnam has to offer.
Thanks to Bao, Mot, Hung, Loi, Vu, and Quang for being our guide stars on our travels in Vietnam — we have memories of a lifetime because of each of you.
By Kathleen Brown
Kathleen, her husband John, and their two adopted children, Peter Quang and Claire Xuan, are touring around Vietnam during their Christmas holiday. Kathleen is a long-time television producer and /or media consultant for humanitarian agencies and her husband, John, is a professional photographer. Every couple of days, they will post a story along with photos of their travels and adventures.
Family trip in Vietnam – Episode 11: A Boat Ride, Gondola Glide, and Heavenly Slide – Our Visit to the Perfume Pagoda
On December 31, the last day of the year, our visit to the Perfume Pagoda, Buddhist Vietnam’s holiest of sites, is on the calendar. It proves to be a serene and beautifully appropriate way to wrap up one year and head bravely into the next.
So many expectations, losses, unfulfilled moments can be offered up, pondered over and then, like the smoke that rises from the incense ash, ascend to heaven. Best yet, there are altars at the highest Pagoda of Heavenly Traces to pray for longevity, prosperity and good health. Just to be sure, we make offerings at all three!
The guide books don’t seem to really capture the immense beauty, mystery and remarkable majesty of this ancient place. Most of the emphasis seems to be on the Pagoda of Heavenly Traces — but it is the entire approach which makes the journey a pilgrimage: by boat paddled by young women through a valley of green lowlands punctuated by rugged outcrops of mountains.
Then on foot through a midway of restaurants, shops and stalls to visit the Pagoda of Heaven’s Kitchen, the middle pagoda, then coming to the gondola station, and finally boarding a tram car which hoists you up over the canopy far below you delivering you to your final ascent and then descent into the mountain cave to be swallowed by the Pagoda of Heavenly Traces. It mirrors the journeys of our lives — our lowlands, ascents, descents and finally our mountain top epiphanies.
Once inside the Pagoda of Heavenly Traces our guide helps to explain the many altars, deities, formations to touch for certain blessings, were to light our incense and how many to place — never twos or fours, one, three, or five sticks only. He reveals two altars — the boy’s altar far more laden with offerings than the girl’s altar, not surprising, where I offer prayers of thanksgiving to heap on the girl’s altar.
As far as I can see — it’s the women who are the engine of growth and productivity in this Confucian nation, so I’m “leaning in” to pray for their societal value and cultural worthiness. Hey, it wasn’t the men who rowed us here!
The visit to this holy place is a venture into a grotto where time stands still. The deep gash in the Huong Tich Mountain is said to be millions of years old: a place where chanting and offerings have been made for generations upon generations.
In their lifetimes, almost all of Vietnam’s Buddhist devotees will make a visit to this beautiful place to offer their gratitude, thanksgiving, and fervent prayers for those things we all desire in our lives — good health, longevity, and prosperity!
As our guide explains Buddhists see life as a circle where they continuously work out their destinies through right living and acts of mercy and compassion. But good Catholic that I am — I really connect with the story he relays where pilgrims at the Pagoda of Heaven’s Kitchen, during a certain festival, can climb to the top of a pagoda and by ringing a bell earn a shortcut to nirvana.
We, Catholics, have something similar — they were called indulgences which we could buy or earn through prayer — escape the fires of purgatory to go straight to heaven. The lesson here: no matter what our religion, it’s human nature to seek a shortcut. The lesson about this pilgrimage: there are no shortcuts. It’s a long and beautiful journey to be sure. Enjoy it, be present to it and live it! Happy New Year
Touring by scooter or motorcycle is the best way to explore the many wonders of this country and discover much of what it has to offer. Sure, a car is more comfortable and provides far more protection and luggage space, but at a cost – and staring at the world from an aquarium doesn’t really put you there.
The climate is not conducive to long trips by bicycle, and walking gets you up very close but not very far. You could cover the intervening distances by bus or train, but then you miss most of what’s in between. Convinced? Before you set out on your motorcycle trip, however, keep a few things in mind.
Vietnam Bike Tour Preparations
Type of Bike
Any motorbike or scooter is fine for day trips, but on longer journeys, such as a multi-week Saigon-Hanoi adventure, it might make sense to go for chain drive rather than belt drive (as used in scooters and other automatics). Belts are fine around town, but excessive heat build-up over long distances at speed can cause them to snap. With a chain, don’t forget to keep it at the right tension (not too tight or loose), and lubricate it daily. Proper chain lube is almost impossible to find in Vietnam, but really, any oil will do – preferably a thick grade such as used in scooter transmissions. A quick smear of grease works too.
Spend a few minutes each morning to look at things like engine oil level, tire pressures, and the above-mentioned chain tension. Engine oil lasts longer over long stretches than in stop-start commutes, but make sure it’s reasonably fresh and not too black. It’s the best insurance for engine longevity. Oil changes are very cheap here.
If you come off, medical help is always far away and rudimentary. Padded pants and jacket, proper boots and gloves, and preferably a full-face helmet are the go. And don’t forget proper rain gear – ponchos aren’t much use on the open road.
Check your medical insurance policy about holding a Vietnamese motorbike license or one from your home country. Serious medical attention requires evacuation abroad which isn’t cheap at all.
The wind dehydrates you quickly, so carry bottled water and drink it even if you don’t feel thirsty yet. Otherwise, your body might cross the “unquenchable thirst” barrier where you can’t stop drinking.
Avoid the wet seasons if you can (May-September in the South, September-December in the Centre, and April-October in the North). Flooded roads are common then, usually not for long, but landslides in remote mountain areas can cut roads off for days.
Maps are still a government monopoly and aren’t very good. German-published maps are slightly better but they’re hard to get here. See how you go in major bookstores like Fahasa. GPS works okay but isn’t always reliable either. Getting lost is part of the adventure!
It takes a while to get out of the city and into interesting biking areas. The Mekong Delta is just about doable in a day, but even then, two or three days are preferable if you want to see village life in this fascinating part of the country. The scenery isn’t mindblowing but the experience will be.
Otherwise, you’ll need a week. Go up to Dalat to spend the night (or two). Then take the stunning mountain road down to the high-rise developments on the coast at Nha Trang, where you overnight among lobster-colored Russian tourists.
Continue down the coast past Cam Ranh airport to the beautiful new road around the Nui Chua Peninsula – ask for directions in Ap Gio Ta about half an hour south of Cam Ranh, the turn-off sign on Highway 1 is easy to miss.
After that, perhaps spend the night at Ninh Chu Bay east of Phan Rang, with lots of Vietnamese tourists on the weekend. Then continue down the coast to Mui Ne – try to follow the coast as much as possible, which may be difficult at times. Spend the night there. Follow the coast road from there via the Ke Ga lighthouse to Vung Tau and the boring ride back to Saigon.
Saigon to Ha Noi
This is the Big One, 2,000 km (more like 3,000 with loops and turns). A month or more would be good, two weeks is the minimum if you skip many of the sights and experiences. For scenic delights and peace of mind, stick to the highlands and avoid Highway 1 as much as possible, but dip into the coastal must-sees. For instance, take the mountain pass from Dalat to Nha Trang, then go back inland and dip back out again to descend to Hoi An and Danang. The stunning Hai Van Pass just north of Danang offers unparallelled views.
Proceed to the lovely and much underestimated former imperial capital of Hue. Then head back inland to the war museum at Khe Sanh, site of a big American defeat in 1968 similar to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Continue along the western Ho Chi Minh Trail to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, inland from Dong Hoi, for the most stunning limestone caves in the world. It’s an unforgettable ride over a mostly empty road through hill-tribe villages. Stock up on fuel, though you can get some from a drum at a village halfway.
The Ho Chi Minh Trail (there were several, mostly through Laos) is now a good road. Originally it was a supply route through mountain jungles to ferry war supplies and troops laboriously from North to South during the American War. When the sappers encountered big rocks during construction, they lit campfires and retreated to a safe distance. The Americans would bomb the obstruction almost immediately so they could continue. From Dong Hoi, proceed inland and/or along the coast to Hanoi.
Around Ha Noi
North(west) of the capital, the mountains offer some of the best motorcycling scenery on the planet, such as this round trip to Sapa: Leave Hanoi for Son Tay (highway 32C). Turn left 23km later to Than Son and then follow highway 32 past Nghia Lo and on to Binh Lu where you turn right and climb the mountains to Sapa. The return takes in Lao Cai on the Chinese border and then you follow the railway line down highway 32C back to Hanoi.
Highlights include beautiful scenery after Nghia Lo, the most beautiful rice terraces in Vietnam at Than Uyen, and the magnificent climb up the Hoang Lien Son Range to Sapa. Total distance is about 550km. Allow at least five days with two nights in Sapa.
About the author
Rob is a former editor of Australian Motorcycle News and guidebook publisher at Lonely Planet, who lives in Saigon and has biked his way around some 65 countries. Vietnam is among his top destinations for its variety of landscapes and experiences.
By Keely Burkey
There are some destinations that, while being an amazing vacation spot for an older couple or a group of young friends, will likely lead to frustrated crying and fits of boredom for your little ones. Our advice? Skip Hue, Hoi An and Hanoi. These cities are undisputed tourist hotspots and add immense cultural value to many a trip. But do your kids care about cultural values? Will they be listening, rapt, and in awe, to your tour guide as you walk around Hue’s royal citadel in the blazing heat? We’re guessing no.
Why not avoid all that inevitable fuss and choose one of these family-friendly destinations? Here are our top five picks.
This city enjoys its reputation for good reason: there’s so much to do here! The trick to travelling with children is to keep them constantly entertained. Take advantage of some of the alternative travel methods available in Dalat: a horsedrawn carriage, or the cable car skirting over the trees on its way to the Truc Lam Monastery.
Go through one of the many reputable tour services (always do your research and make sure they have credentials) and have a great time ziplining, rafting, hiking or biking. Most companies will be more than happy to accommodate children.
And before you go home, it’s always worth stopping at the legendary Crazy House (03 Huynh Thuc Khang, Ward 4). You and your family will have fun discovering all the twists, turns and nooks in this architectural marvel.
Vinpearl Nha Trang
Built on Hon Tre Island off the coast of Nha Trang, Vinpearl Nha Trang has to be seen to be believed. Mega-developer Vingroup set out to make a go-to destination for holidaying families and did the job well.
Besides beautiful beaches and the largest freshwater pool in Southeast Asia (and the longest oversea cable car in the world), guests can enjoy indoor and outdoor games and activities like beach volleyball, table tennis, archery, billiards and cycling.
And outside the 5-star resort, the options get better. Spend one day at the huge water park and aquarium, and another day at the theme park. For families, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Only two hours away from HCMC, the laid back atmosphere of this classic beach town is perfect for the family that prefers to make its own itinerary. The most celebrated activity here is the Ho May Culture & Ecotourism park (1A Tran Phu, Ward 1). For around VND 300,000 per person, families can take advantage of a cable car trip to the park itself, a short horse-drawn carriage ride, access to the waterpark and amusement park, and even the chance to soar on a zip line.
On day two, instead of hitting Vung Tau’s beach, which often suffers from unsightly pollution, why not take a trip to the Binh Chau Hot Springs, located off Highway 55 about 60 km northeast of Vung Tau? If your kids aren’t ready to enjoy the peace of a good soak, there’s always the feeding demonstrations at the crocodile farm close by to keep them interested.
Madagui Forest City
This is just a few hours northeast of Ho Chi Minh City near Cat Tien National Park. The people who developed this 1,200 ha jungle paradise made it their mission to provide families with fun activities. Here are just a few: ziplining, canoeing, zorbing, paintball and grass sledding. Another plus is the management’s focus on environmental conservation. Around 80 percent of Madagui Forest City is protected, which means you can hike through real and untouched jungles.
This remains the prime destination for the more low-key family unit. Snorkelling and swimming at the beautiful beaches are the first order of business here, but that’s not all this southwestern island has to offer. The huge Phu Quoc National Park, which covers over half of the island, provides a great venue to camp in the subtropical wilderness for a night or two.
The Department of Tourism has been targeting Phu Quoc as Vietnam’s next big tourist destination. Be sure to take your kids to Vinpearl Phu Quoc (Bai Dai, Ganh Dau), opened in 2015, which includes a theme park, an aquarium and a safari.
Traveling with Children in Vietnam: An Expert Opinion
You have the destination in mind, but there’s still the actual traveling to contend with. Driving or flying hundreds of miles can be tedious and stressful for adults, let alone the more emotional, impulsive, and youthful among us. So we talked to Neil Fraser, the branch manager of Hoi An’s super family-friendly Vespa Adventures, to find out what it takes to run a smooth trip.
What are the biggest challenges to traveling with small children?
Safety is always the biggest concern and therefore a challenge for any parent, mainly because of new environments you aren’t familiar with. However, Vietnam is a very safe country, and the locals are very comfortable with kids, and luckily nearly all places welcome children with open arms. Number two would be health issues. Again, new environments involve different foods, potential bugs and viruses, and maybe medical care if needed.
We all need to be aware of how strong the sun is in Vietnam, and take the relevant precautions – plenty of sunscreens, keep them continually hydrated, in plenty of shade, and also wear rash vests when swimming. Finally, it’s being able to keep the kids entertained, whether it’s on long journeys or lazy days around the pool, and modern technology can really help out here.
Getting from A to B can take a long time. What are some tips for keeping children entertained?
Trying different modes of transportation such as boats, trains, motorbikes, and even sometimes the local buses. This gives you a variety of experiences, sites, and landscapes. For longer distances, you are better off flying as overland transport can take longer than expected, and local coaches can be a little scary to the uninitiated. The train is more leisurely and kids can get up and walk around.
It gets hot in Vietnam! How does Vespa Adventures make sure that the children are cool, yet protected from the sun during long journeys?
This is a real issue for young children and everyone else, the sun is deceptively hot in this part of the world. Keeping regularly hydrated & the continued application of sun protection should be emphasized. It may be better on very hot days to wear long trousers and long-sleeved ones, just in case. We would also recommend sugar cane juice, with a pinch of salt & half a squeezed kumquat as this takes the edge off the sweetness. The juice itself helps replace lost fluids and contains electrolytes. Generally, it can also help to take regular dips in a pool of the East Sea to keep the body temperature cooler.
On Vespa Adventure tours, which sights do children seem to love the most?
They love the countryside the most because they continually see the sights and sounds of a different culture. Typically, the countryside people are more curious about visitors/foreigners than city folk are and go out of their way to try to interact with them. The opportunity to interact with the locals is priceless, especially if they are kids of the same age. We also encourage kids to try local activities such as noodle making and they just appreciate being up close with nature, whether it’s at a duck farm, watching chickens run around the locals’ houses, or seeing the majestic water buffalo bathing in the flooded rice paddies.
By Keely Burkey
Picture this: 300 kids singing, dancing, and brushing their teeth. A gong beating in the background to keep the kids on track, and a teacher shouted from a microphone, “Upper left! Lower left!” to guide their wards in proper dental hygiene. The mood is light and happy – the children get to do something together outside the classroom, after all, and when the kids go home, they’ll probably tell their parents about their exciting experience. With any luck, this program will spread not only to the children’s families but also to their neighbors and the village as a whole.
This is all part of Bernard Kervyn’s plan. As the director of Mekong Plus, an NGO focused on reducing poverty and poverty-related issues like dental hygiene in the poorest regions of Vietnam and Cambodia, Kervyn and his team have made it a mission to lend a helping hand to households who make less than a dollar per day. At last count, Mekong Plus has helped over 800 villages in three provinces (two in Vietnam and one in Cambodia), and Kervyn told us he’s aiming to work with 1,000 villages in another year. And the best part? You can see these programs working with your own eyes.
Bernard Kervyn isn’t shy about letting us know exactly what the biggest challenges are in running Mekong Plus. As a non-profit organization, Kervyn says the biggest problems aren’t working with the villages or getting social programs off the ground – it’s funding his team’s salaries and transport. That’s why six years ago the Bamboo Bike Tours was born. Rather than rely solely on donations from individuals or companies, the Bamboo Bikes Tours allows groups to experience the Mekong Delta and Cambodia – and make a positive difference along the way.
An avid biker himself, Kervyn tells us that the Mekong Delta is perfect for long-distance biking due to its largely flat landscape and natural beauty. Tour guides lead groups of all different sizes, varying from a family of four to a company team building group of 80, to different villages in Vietnam and Cambodia that Mekong Plus works with. The visitors can see the projects, help out if they want to and, most importantly, interact with the villagers through interpreters.
It’s this aspect of connecting with the people that excites Kervyn the most about the Bamboo Bikes tours. “When we organise these bike tours, it gives people an overall different look of Vietnam altogether,” he tells us. “If you go to Cu Chi with a regular tour, you sit in a cafe, you’re in an air-conditioned bus and you have very limited contact with the people. When you go biking, the contact is really amazing.”
A Different Way to Give Back
Traditionally, giving aid to those in need has always been a passive affair. Maybe you sign a check or donate to a fund and go on with your life. Although you hope that the US$10 will help people, unfortunately there’s just no way to be sure. By taking a tour with Bamboo Bikes, you can see your donations in action. Roads are being made, villagers are given employment, and education foundations are being created. In as little as a year, Kervyn reports, the income of many families double; after three or four years, the families are able to subsist on their own, without additional help. After 10 years, you have a successfully functioning village working together towards a brighter future.
So take a bike ride, and see it all in action.
By Patrick Gaveau
First, let me get the negative out of the way. This is going to be a brutal winter for Vietnam’s tourism businesses. The drop in value of the ruble is going to completely stop the flow of the fastest growing market of inbound arrivals. Investors and businesses were adding new supply to the market in anticipation of the Russian market nearly doubling this year and instead everyone will be fighting for the few who actually came.
At the same time, the Chinese market has not rebounded from the anti-Chinese riots and arrivals are still less than last year. If you are thinking of investing in Vietnam tourism, this spring will represent the perfect buy-low opportunity. So with that out of the way, let’s try to focus on some positive news, especially since this is the holiday season. It is not often I read about a Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism proposal and feel they have any understanding of what they are doing; but this month they surprised me.
The governmental department has proposed to give inbound travelers from India visa exemptions. Now granted, Vietnam should eliminate or at least ease the visa process for all travelers. Also, this is just a proposal and has not come into law. But the proposal is a rare example of understanding the future rather than a reaction to the past. It’s also a positive step in diversifying away from a dependence on Chinese tourists and a creating new demand for Vietnam’s two major cities which have been losing ground to coastal tourism.
Why India is Important?
At first glance, India’s outbound market is not all that significant;it’s only 17% the size of China’s. In fact, VNAT does not even list the country in its statistics so it is difficult to say how many Indian’s come to Vietnam each year.
Two interesting factors combine to make India a market to target. Obviously the first is the size of India’s population (2nd largest in the World). But India has been the second largest population for some time. Even though the country comprises 17.5% of the world’s population, Indians still only took 1.5% of the world’s annual international trips last year. That is about to change. Like China before, India’s per capita GDP has made impressive gains over the last decade, but it is expected to grow even faster in the next decade as the country continues to urbanize. This is important because we know two things:
1. It is not the size of the population that matters when it comes to outbound tourism, it is the size of the middle class population that has disposable income.
2. People begin traveling internationally at an income of about $1,500 USD per month.
So right now India’s population is not traveling in large numbers because a significant majority of them don’t have the disposable income (the GDP per capita is about $1,500 a year). As the average income increases over the next decade, a meaningful amount of people will have disposable income for the first time and they will begin traveling. Like China, the growth rate will be exponential rather than linear as the median income approaches the magic number.
What Does that Mean for Vietnam?
Another thing we know about tourism is that the first international trip is usually very close to home and easy for a first time international traveler to navigate. Vietnam is in a unique geographical position to take advantage of both the Chinese and India market. Last year TLR Development Advisory created an Asian population center of gravity map that took into account the major population centers in Asia and graphed a center line based on the weighted populations of various cities.
As you can see, the line went straight through Vietnam. In other words, Vietnam is at the center of India and China’s immense populations, denoting it should draw substantial number of tourists from each country.
Does Vietnam have what Indian tourists want? That is a more difficult question. There are currently direct flights from India to Vietnam by Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines since November 2014 along with other foreign airlines such as Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Air Asia, so it´s expected that more airlines will include this route soon. But taking steps to reduce barriers to first-time international travelers is incredibly important so the visa waiver is a critical step. It is also a vital step in reducing dependency on Chinese tourists, which as we’ve seen, will be used as an economic weapon by Chinese leaders.
Below are the available flight routes from India to Vietnam with reference prices as of September 2022.
By Vinh Dao
While most travelers tend to book their holidays outside of the rainy season, there are quite a few advantages to traveling in Vietnam during this time. For one, it’s definitely cooler and a welcome relief for many who don’t want to sweat 24/7. Another is the lack of crowds, which means cheaper rates through tour operators and at hotels when compared to the high travel season. In fact, head to our Deals calendar to see said reduced rates!
While Vietnam’s 3,260km of coastline experiences a rainy season from May to September, some provinces get more rain than others. Nha Trang is the place to be if you want to stay dry, but if you are a fan of the rain, head to Dalat which averages 175 cm a year. If you’ve decided to travel during the rainy season, check out these five tips to keep yourself not only (somewhat) dry but also entertained.
- Don’t be afraid to get wet, it can be part of the fun if you let it.
- Be flexible when making your schedule, you never know when the ceiling’s going to drop.
- Be prepared. Whether it’s durable flip-flops with good traction or lots of spare socks, a disposable rain coat or a well-made rain suit, and it never hurts to carry a small umbrella.
- Protect your electronics. Think ahead and invest in the right waterproof bags or capsules or carry some zip lock or grocery bags in case you find yourself in a pinch.
- Keep an eye on the motorbikes going by. If a majority of them are wearing raincoats, rain might be in your near future.
- If you want to read a bit more about the different weather patterns in Vietnam, check out our blog post here.
Many thanks to our Facebook fans, mainly Michael Hardy for helping us compile the tips for this blog post.
Other travel Vietnam Tips Articles:
By Patrick Gaveau
For most, Vietnam is an exotic, politically stable, economical country, a view which steadily drives foreign travel interest. Advantageously located between the world’s three largest continents and ripe with year-round tropical weather and lengthy white-sand beach coastlines accented by warm waters, the country holds a curiously strong magnetism during cold winter months. For genuine travellers, however, Vietnam’s “true charm” is found daily. From the genuine smiles of friendly Vietnamese faces, the tastes found in fresh local cuisine, the beauty of the classic Ao Dai, all the way down to the unmistakable dichotomy between old and new. Vietnam is an intensely unique treasure.
As a whole, however, tourism is relatively new to Vietnam. It began with the Doi Moi in the mid – 1980s. During the 1960s and 1970s in the south (the American War period), Vung Tau was the primary escape destination in terms of revitalising soldiers. Further back, at the helm of 130 years of French Colonialism, Dalat and Vung Tau, then called “Cap Saint Jacques”, were hidden gems for any traveller looking to escape in southern Vietnam.
In the early 1990s, reminiscent of once named Cochinchina, the Vietnamese began to pay tribute to a country which was once theirs. This burst of “exotic longing” soon extended to the French and American communities. Simultaneously, 250,000 French and 1,200,000 Americans, “Viet Kieu”, who had fled the country during the late 1970s and early 1980s, began to return “home”.
Subsequently, the late 1990s saw the opening of Vietnam’s first internationally managed resort in the then unknown beach strip Phan Thiet. Further north, in Nha Trang, linked to Ho Chi Minh City by train, high-rise properties overlooking one of the country’s prime bays exploded onshore. Still further north, it did not take long for Hoi An, the ancient port city and uniquely preserved World Heritage site, to become frequented by the growing number of foreign travellers. Hanoi, the country’s capital, as well as Halong Bay, the other monumental World Heritage site, also attracted interest.
Since 2000, tourism in Vietnam has swiftly grown nationwide from northern most Sapa down to the most southern and secluded island of Con Dao. Development throughout varied as growth was especially tied to accessibility, attraction, and accommodation. New markets including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong began their own inbound market infiltration.
As of 2007, with support from foreign investment programs and the accession of the World Trade Organisation, infrastructure developments climbed starting with renovated or brand new airports in Dalat, HCMC, Nha Trang, Danang and Can Tho. Additionally, “highways” were built to lead us directly into Halong Bay or Baria Vung Tau. Despite these efforts, Vietnam’s tourism infrastructure is still rather insufficiently developed to cope with the growth in demand. Steep challenges lie ahead.
Western leisure tourism throughout Vietnam steadily continues with tour operators offering 7- to 15-day journeys across the country, the most popular route being from Saigon to Hanoi. Pre-organised cross-country group tours are also favoured considering their stunning all-inclusive packages of less than USD800. Not only westerners are lured in by Vietnam’s magic; China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Cambodian markets are also fuelling the country’s tourism market. “Backpackers” are unceasingly travelling on a shoestring, the main market of which includes Australians. Another rising giant, the Russian market delivers travellers on the beach in hordes for extended holidays. Nevertheless, repeated visit is extremely low, under 10 percent.
The future of Vietnam’s tourism is linked to the rise in demand from China, already the leading incoming market. Experts suggest that by 2020 over 20 million visitors may visit Vietnam. A frightening statistic as the current number is below 7 million. It is equally important to note the neglected infrastructures, weak governmental will, and feeble tourism education, all of which require strong planning and adequate funds for renovation.
The above mentioned facts and radical changes in terms of volume, market, budget, travel format, and interest, lead us to believe that quality will unlikely be a main focus for Vietnam’s travel industry in the years to come. The private sector will most likely adapt to market demand, ultimately changing the face of Vietnam’s tourism entirely.
Vietnam is fast becoming a popular tourist destination, but just like fish out of water, some visitors might have a hard time trying to make sense of how things work here. There are habits and systems that have been in place for generations that may seem perfectly normal to a local but might come across as strange to someone from a different continent.
This leads to the inevitable awkward (and sometimes hilarious) situations that may arise. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of common mistakes first time visitors to Vietnam tend to make and how to avoid them. If you’re currently in Vietnam and have loved ones or friends who are coming here soon to visit, feel free to share this article with them. It’s for their own good!
1. “I’ll never burn”
Some of us have weather apps on our phones which constantly remind us to stay indoors during the afternoon because of the high UV rating here. Sometimes it’s ridiculous – I get these even during rainy days. Sadly, this notification is actually legitimate, even during a thunderstorm. It’s common for the UV index to loiter around the 8-10 range in Vietnam, and sometimes it even goes up to 12. To put this in perspective, a reading of 6-7 is already considered a “high-risk potential of harm from unprotected sun exposure.” In other words, buy sunscreen and use it. Every day. An SPF of at least 30 is good enough, although 50 is recommended. Try not to stay under the sun for too long, regardless.
2.”Riding a motorbike should be easy and pleasant”
It’s not, unless you enjoy crawling at about 15km/h together with 200 other bikes within a 100 metre radius under the really hot sun. For starters, traffic lights and signs are mainly just suggestions and motorists only pay heed to traffic rules when there are traffic policemen around.
Secondly, your sense of direction will be distorted quite rapidly because at some point, you may start wondering why you are suddenly facing oncoming traffic even though you didn’t switch lanes (It’s not your fault, actually). And good luck to you at roundabouts, because entering one of these will be the closest visual and experiential representation of a beehive just seconds after getting disturbed.
Suggestion: Get apps like GoJeck or Grab, with their respective bike taxi options. They are cheap, reliable and, more importantly, the destination and route are already set. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
3. “Air-conditioning is good!”
In a country that’s mostly hot and wet all year round – especially in the south – air-conditioning may come across as a lifesaver. However, unless you can constantly ensure that the filters are clean, there’s a pretty high chance you might get yourself into a coughing fit. It is also advisable to not set your temperature more than 10 degrees celsius below the temperature outside your room. Since the average temperature in Saigon is about 30-33 degrees celsius during the day, a decent range for your air-conditioner would be between 24-27 degrees celsius.
Suggestion: Get an electric fan. They are generally cheap and you can find a decent one at any neighbourhood electronics store for about US$10.
4. “Clothes in Vietnam are of poor quality”
Not many people know this but textiles and garments are a leading export in Vietnam, with about a quarter of the country’s industrial workforce employed in this field. This also means there’s plenty of fabric lying around and with that, plenty of skilled tailors to turn that fabric into stunning pieces of clothing.
Suggestion: Plenty of locals and foreigners alike get their clothes custom-made and fitted by bespoke tailors here. And the best part? They’re affordable! Why go to a shopping mall for a shirt that someone else may also own when you can just get some fabric, head down to a tailor and get it made exclusively for less than US$30.
5. “I can see a lot in 12-14 days”
In theory, yes. But you may realise you’re spending more time sitting in a vehicle than actually experiencing your destination. Due to road conditions and traffic, some routes take over six hours to get somewhere less than 200 kilometers away, and if you’re planning a cross country trip (Saigon/Hanoi to Da Nang/Hue), the fastest option will be taking a flight. Keep in mind that the trip may not be cheap, and if you head to the airport early you have less time to actually explore.
Suggestion: You might want to plan for one or two long trips (Phan Thiet to Dalat/Nha Trang) and a couple of shorter trips (Da Nang and Hoi An) instead. If you really want to explore the north, central and south in one trip, you can consider spending three to four days in Hanoi, take a flight to Da Nang to spend another three days there and then head to Saigon for your remaining days. It would be advisable to buy multi-city tickets on the same airline, which is what I did. My total fare was less than US$80, but that really depends on the time of the year and your luck.
6. “I’ll find out all I need to know when I get there”
This is also one of the reasons why this article exists – Vietnam is a country that upholds strong traditional and cultural values, and with tourism only a recent addition to the country’s objectives, you may have difficulties finding bilingual signs or menus. For someone new to the country, you should definitely do some research on the cultural nuances before getting here.
Suggestion: Research the names of dishes and the places you want to visit. If you write the addresses down, it will be easy for you to move around, as some parts of the country can be really confusing. More importantly, read up on what NOT to do when you’re here. Vietnamese people are generally warm and friendly, and you don’t want to offend them by unwittingly doing something inappropriate.
7. “I’ll get my visa on arrival”
Unless you’re a citizen of one of 17 countries who may enter Vietnam without a visa for varying time periods, you will need to apply and pay in advance – either through a Vietnamese diplomatic mission abroad, or through an agency or online application process so that the visa will be waiting for you on arrival. The latter is only possible if you’re flying in.
The only exception to this rule is Phu Quoc Island. If you enter by sea or through the international transit lounge at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, you get a 15-day visa exemption. Keep in mind that you will still need a visa if you proceed to the Vietnamese mainland from there.
Suggestion: If you’re heading to the mainland, visit one of the many travel agencies which allow you to make an online application for a visa. Vietnamvisapro.com is a good, reliable and efficient one.
8. “I don’t need to ask what something costs”
Although this is not as common these days, it’s always good to err on the side of caution. Vietnam may be generally cheap for foreigners, but you may not realise that at some places – especially street vendors or dealing with private motorbike taxi drivers – you might be paying more than what you should. I’ve had a com tam stall charge me VND25,000 for a meal when the local guy sitting at the next table paid only VND20,000 for the exact same thing. Although the difference is not large on a quantitative scale, it’s still an issue of ethics.
Suggestion: Be aware of what the costs are for certain items, it’s always beneficial to do a quick google search or ask a local. Sometimes it’s easier to be open-minded enough to just accept it if the difference is not that huge.
9. “That guy offering a taxi at the airport seems very nice”
He is, isn’t he? With a “Good Afternoon, Sir!” in perfect English and a winning smile, offering to help you with your luggage and showcasing the best of Vietnam’s hospitality, he might make a very good first impression of this wonderful country. That is, until you get to your destination.
He is out to make money, that’s a simple fact, and he’s going to charge you a pretty high amount simply because he can. Unless you were planning to get a limousine service, it’s best to just politely decline him at the airport, avoid the private taxi desks and move along to much cheaper options.
Suggestion: Regular metered taxis such as VinaSun (White) and Mai Linh (Green) provide reliable transportation to get you to your destination. Alternatively, you can also use apps such as Grab or Uber, which allow you to set your destination in the app with a fixed price although you might have to move away from the designated pick-up area at the airport to get one.
10. “I’m going to Halong Bay between December and March and hope to be able to swim in the bay.”
This applies if you think the whole of Vietnam only consists of two seasons: hot and rainy. Unfortunately, while this might be the case in most other Southeast Asian countries, this rule is only applicable in the south. The northern part of Vietnam actually experiences four seasons. So between December and March, and especially in January, unless you have a craving for hypothermia, it’s strongly advised to keep clear of watersports.
Suggestion: Halong Bay is best during the spring or autumn months when it’s not too hot or cold, and away from the rainy season, which typically lasts from July to September.
11. “This rum and coke bucket is cheap, it can’t be that bad”
The rule of thumb for drinking alcohol in Vietnam is this: If it’s way too cheap, it’s probably fake. If you come across a restaurant or store selling a bottle of alcohol for ridiculously cheap prices, it’s most likely coming from a local distillery making grain alcohol with the quality control requirements of “just fill in the bottle and close the cap and make sure it’s not leaking”.
Suggestion: The price of legitimate alcohol in most proper bars is generally affordable, so get recommendations from residents or credible websites on where you can spend a good night out without having to wake up the next morning with a piercing headache.
12. “Crossing the road is easy!”
It is easy, but only after you’ve mastered the art of telepathy. You may have seen a few people casually strolling across a busy street with cars and bikes whizzing around them. This is because they have developed the instinct to cross the road by regulating their speed and honing their self-awareness to knowing which vehicle is going to stop, or make a detour around them. This skill takes some time to master, and from now till the time you do so, crossing the roads in Vietnam will always be a life-changing experience.
Suggestion: You may have better luck at an intersection with traffic lights, but if push comes to shove and there’s no traffic light nearby, then remember this second rule of thumb: if it’s anything smaller than a car, just keep walking. But always keep your eye on oncoming traffic and react accordingly.
13. “One cafe sua da after dinner won’t keep me up”
Ca phe sua da stands for iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and both locals and foreigners love it because of it’s thickness and strong, sweet taste. Like all coffees, its primary function is to keep you awake and this one isn’t any different. In fact, it does its job a little bit too well sometimes.
Suggestion: drink something else that doesn’t contain as much caffeine and you should be able to get a good night’s sleep.
14. “You must always negotiate and bargain.”
This is a tricky one because things here are already cheap to begin with. You can easily get a glass of beer for US$1, a delicious meal for less than US$2 and a decent dress for less than US$10. To be fair, some places do not mark the prices of their products and it’s common to hear expats and tourists talk about how they’ve been overcharged, so it’s natural to walk around with the suspicion that every store owner in Vietnam is out to rip you off. This is certainly not true.
Suggestion: If you feel an item is unreasonably expensive, try haggling politely. If it doesn’t work, walk away. Reverse psychology can be a great tool sometimes.
15. “That location is just 2km away; I’m sure we can leave 15 minutes before the meeting.”
As mentioned previously, a 200km journey could take more than six hours, but on a micro level, a 5km journey could take close to an hour if you happen to be travelling during the morning or evening peak period, or anytime it rains. Due to infrastructural issues like bad drainage coupled with inclement weather and the increasing number of cars in the city, traffic congestion is a real problem in many parts of Saigon and Hanoi. This is almost always evident at the moments when you’re in a rush.
Suggestion: Allow an additional 45 minutes of travelling time on top of your original estimation by using the formula (n+45). For example, if you are going to travel to a place 5km away, you would think that being in a vehicle that’s going at an average speed of 30km/h would take about 10 minutes (n). Now add 45 minutes to the mix so this means, leave your house 55 minutes early to ensure you get to your destination on time.
16. “Isn’t pho the only noodle dish in Vietnam?”
Due to the international popularity of pho, it’s not surprising that many people think pho is the only noodle dish in Vietnam.
Suggestion: Now let me introduce you to hu tieu, mi quang, bun cha, bun bo hue, mien luon nuoc, banh cuon, cau lao, bun rieu, bun bo nam bo, cha ca and bun moc. That was quite a mouthful (pun intended).
17. “The bucket of water and ladle in the bathroom must be for washing my hands.”
It’s called a dip-and-pour, a very common thing in South and Southeast Asian countries, and it is exactly what it sounds like. You’re supposed to strip and then using the ladle, scoop up the cold water from the bucket, take a deep breath and then pour it over your head. About two scoops is enough before you start soaping yourself and then finish it off with another two scoops. If you’re lucky, you may get “hot water”, in the sense that it’s actually warm water that someone took the effort to boil earlier. Consider that a privilege.
18. “Everything is cheap here.”
I may have repeatedly mentioned by now how Vietnam is generally cheap but depending on where you are, and the make of the product or service, you could be looking at some serious dong. Since Vietnam is home to many manufacturing firms, there are many goods that are produced locally which are really cheap. However, imported items can be disproportionately costly. Items like ice-cream, luxury goods, Japanese whiskey and electronic goods can actually be even more expensive than in Singapore or Hong Kong.
Suggestion: Touristy places and shopping malls aren’t the places you want to be in if you’re looking for a good bargain. Consider flea markets and local boutiques. Vietnamese people are an entrepreneurial and creative bunch and you can find some hidden gems tucked away in some random alleys. So there you have it, 18 common mistakes that first time visitors to Vietnam have made. Do you also have a mistake that’s not on this list? Let us know!
By Patrick Gaveau
The development of MICE Tourism (meetings, incentives, conferencing, and exhibitions) is expanding quickly in Vietnam as businesses look to the country as a viable destination where they can send partners and employees as an incentive for working with them or to hold events, conferences, and exhibitions about their latest products and services. MICE travel consists of the following components.
Meeting vs Conference Travel
The International Association of Professional Congress Organizers’ definition of a “meeting” is any number of people coming together in one place for a particular activity. This can either be a one-time or a recurring activity. A conference is similar to a meeting, but the term usually connotes a specific objective and informational exchange. A conference is typically a larger gathering.
Incentive travel is travel that is granted to an employee as a reward. It does not usually involve an information exchange or a specific educational component. It is generally a leisure vacation offered to an employee as a means of rewarding good performance, often involving the family of the employee or a group of high performing workers.
An exhibition is an event in which products or services are presented and are usually the focal point of the event. Conferences may feature an exhibition as a component. Often, businesses use exhibitions to court new clients and introduce their newest offerings to clients or buyers.
According to Vietnam.net, surveys show that there are more than five million meetings, conferences, and events globally which consume a total of up to US$7 billion annually. The United States hosts the majority of these conferences and events, but Southeast Asia is quickly developing its own market for MICE tourism, with Singapore and Thailand leading the way and Vietnam making great strides in becoming a prime destination.
Marion Klein, the ex-Director of Sales and Marketing at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, gives #iAMHCMC her view on the socio-economic factors in Vietnam that are attracting MICE tourism. “This is a new and emerging market which stimulates integration. There are many potential developments, with many opportunities to promote to overseas markets.
In addition, the infrastructure and transportation systems have made great strides thanks to the special attention and motivation of the city and local authorities, such as the increase in the number of domestic and international routes contributing to tourism growth. After four years of construction, the first ever metro line in HCMC has completed more than 70 percent of the schedule, the entire 17 km of the overhead railway is expected to be operational by 2018.”
Vietnam – A Hub for Business Travellers
Vietnam has already hosted sizeable events, such as APEC 2017, the ASEAN Summit in 2010, the ASEAN Tourism Forum-ATD in 2009, and the 18th Global Women’s Summit. China, South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia have been mostly responsible for the rise in MICE tourism in Vietnam, with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as the most popular destinations. Statistics from McKinsey show that 17 percent of all tourists who traveled to Ho Chi Minh City did so for business purposes, which is 14-15 percent more than any other country in the region.
As general tourism is increasing in cities like Da Nang and Phu Quoc, those places are also beginning to open up to the MICE market. Klein continues, “We all know that Vietnam is fast developing with emerging MICE destinations like Da Nang, Phu Quoc. We believe that these cities will help [make] Vietnam even stronger with MICE business thanks to more connections to the international markets.”
Often, MICE tourists travel in large groups and are also known for consuming more than other tourists.
David Wicker, ex-General Manager of the New World Saigon Hotel, explains, “MICE tourists are mostly on a company account for a sizable portion of the travel-related expense and are most likely limited to generally a shorter stay with limited ‘free’ time, as numerous day and evening activities would be catered. [This] leaves all logistic issues to organizers and not the individuals, whereas other tourists most likely pay their own way for everything from their home point and back and may have flexible travel plans within Vietnam. They most likely have larger personal disposable spending.”
Planning for Progress
Although Wicker is hopeful about the future of MICE tourism in Vietnam, he also feels that there is some work to be done so that the services provided can meet international standards. “Vietnam has really only started to ‘open up’ following conflicts that ended with the reunification. The human resource factors from the early ’80s until now still lack an understanding of the international world around them, and while they exude enthusiasm and smiles, many standard operating procedures are not understood, [and there is a] lack of consistency in the delivery of services. However, visitors are easily enamored by their ‘innocence’ or simplistic approach to life…”
Vietnam’s relatively stable political system makes it a strong candidate for companies seeking to hold conferences and events. According to the UK’s Department of International Trade, “Vietnam is one of the more politically stable countries in Southeast Asia. Its leadership does not welcome dissent. Internal conflict is rare…” This, along with the aforementioned factors, puts Vietnam on the map for companies developing MICE tourism as a prime destination. As a result, MICE tourism is expected to expand greatly in Vietnam in the coming years.
Last summer, being bored of the traditional Nha Trang, Mũi Né, Vũng Tàu trips, my friends and I were trying to find an original place to visit in Vietnam. We decided to give Phú Yên north of Nha Trang a chance, and honestly, it was one of the best trips in my life. If you can’t decide between mountains and beaches, the province has them all. It also has everything you can expect from Vietnam: cheap food, natural landscapes, friendly locals, and more.
Being famous for the movie Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh with the famous scene of children playing in the rice field and running on the green grass on the hill, Phú Yên is full of places to see, from Đá Đĩa Reef to Đại Lãnh Cape. It is also home to Ông Cọp, the longest wooden bridge in the country.
How to Get to Phú Yên
Phú Yên is an eight-district coastal province in South Central Vietnam located about halfway between Nha Trang and Qui Nhơn. It’s about a two-and-a-half hour trip by bus from either city. There is a local bus service from Qui Nhơn which runs pretty much hourly seven days a week. Both north- and southbound trains stop about six times a day. By air, there’s a small plane going north or south once a day so you can arrive in the morning or mid-afternoon. The airport is a short taxi ride from town.
Where to Stay in Phú Yên
Although Tuy Hoa, Phú Yên doesn’t bustle like Qui Nhơn or Nha Trang, the infrastructure of the hotel is pretty good. Some hotels and resorts you can check include Bai Tram Hideaway Resort, Vietstar Resort & Spa, or Cendeluxe hotel.
What to See in Phú Yên
The best things to see in Phú Yên include the following:
1. Đá Đĩa Reef
Located in An Ninh Đông commune in Tuy An District (Tuy An being the capital of the province), Đá Đĩa Reef has become one of the must-come places in Phú Yên. It consists of an estimated 35,000 columns of basalt rocks created from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. When the molten basalt flows met cold water, they solidified and shaped these rare round, pentagonal, hexagonal, and polygonal formations. The dark-blue color of the stones combines with the fresh blue water from the sea to provide an unforgettable experience. A good part of this attraction is that it only costs around VND5,000 parking fee.
Tam Giang Dam on the Tam Giang river is also in Tuy An District. The dam is highly important for the rice fields in Tuy An District. You can cross it, but be careful not to fall down in the river. Tune into the gentle rhythm of Mekong Delta life with a luxury cruise on your own private sampan. Victoria Cruises has several join-in cruises that explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta. But a most peaceful and private option is a private two- or three-day cruise aboard the Song Xanh Sampan, which usually includes a stop at the historic family home of Huynh Thuy Le in Sa Dec.
The character of The Lover in the book of the same name by French author Marguerite Duras was based on Mr. Le. The house, built in 1895, remains much as it was when Duras’ mother taught at the local school, with photographs on the walls of the actors who starred in the 1992 film, The Lover, as well as the real Mr. Le and Ms. Duras. A Mekong Delta cruise usually includes delicious food, cycling along narrow local paths, and visits to local cottage industries.
This is also known as the first place in the country to see the dawn. To get there, you will have to climb up the 110 spiral stairs. Eat something before going up as there is no restaurant in the area. However, some drinks can be purchased at the top. From the top of the lighthouse, you will see the long beaches in Phú Yên. Wake up early and go there at 4 a.m. to witness the sunrise, it’s really worth it. The fee to the Đại Lãnh lighthouse is around VND10,000, last time we checked, which is used to protect the lighthouse.
4. Bãi Xép Hill
Well-known for a famous Vietnamese movie called Tôi Thấy Hoa Vàng Trên Cỏ Xanh, Bãi Xép became a great spot for nature lovers. The place is wild and peaceful. However, the images in the movie didn’t capture the real beauty of Bãi Xép. The green color of the grass and cactuses along the hill makes the scenery stunning. Right under Bãi Xép, you can see a beach and a seashore where thousands of dark stones create a song together with the ocean waves.
Ông Cọp Bridge is the longest wooden bridge in Vietnam at a whopping 400 meters. It connects An Ninh Tây Ward (Tuy An District) with Sông Cầu District. This bridge experienced a moment of fame in 2017 when it was featured in the reality show Vietnam Amazing Race. It takes around 10 minutes to walk across the bridge. Don’t forget your camera!
What to Eat in Phu Yen
Seafood is the main culinary attraction in the province, with grilled blood clam one of the local specialties. Other favorites include ocean tuna, oysters, and Mai fish from O Loan Lagoon.
1. Phu Yen Seafood
As the homeland of ocean tuna, you can enjoy tuna in all forms in Phú Yên: sashimi, steamed tuna eyeball, grilled tuna, and more.
Ba Tam Restaurant: 47 Nguyễn Huệ, Tuy Hòa, Phú Yên.
2. Chả Dông and Nem Nướng
This is a kind of spring roll served with a special sauce, with mixed grilled pork, vegetable, rice paper, and Dông grilled chopped (chả Dông).
Nem Nướng 92 – Chả Dông: 92 Nguyễn Công Trứ, Tuy Hòa, Phú Yên (available in the evening only)
3. Banh Canh Hẹ (Cake soup with Chinese Chives)
The literal translation is “chive noodles” and the soup certainly looks that way: a sea of green specks swimming in a light, clear broth.
Bánh Canh Hẹ Năng Nở: Điện Biên Phủ Street, Tuy Hòa, Phú Yên.
4. Bánh Bèo (Water Fern Cake)
This is a variety of small steamed rice cakes or rice pancakes in Vietnamese cuisine. It is white and typically features a dimple in the center, filled with savory ingredients.
Bánh Bèo Chén: 92 Lê Trung Kiên, Tuy Hòa, Phú Yên.
If you purchase expensive products during your travel in Vietnam, it is very easy to get a VAT refund if you follow these instructions. A pilot program was implemented in 2012 at Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat International airports which allowed foreigners to receive VAT refunds in Vietnam. As of early March 2015, the VAT refund to foreigners program has expanded to seven additional exit terminals.
New airports accepting VAT refunds added to the list include:
– Cam Ranh International Airport
– Da Nang International Airport and Da Nang port in central Da Nang City
– Nha Trang seaport in coastal Khanh Hoa Province
– Khanh Hoi International seaport in HCMC
– Phu Quoc International Airport.
– Ben Dam Con Dao Seaport
**VAT refunds are only applicable to goods brought along by foreigners when they exit. For the seaports, a refund is only available if the ships go directly abroad from the ports. Keep in mind these ship voyages only occur 3 to 4 times a year.
Foreigners are entitled to obtain a refund that accounts for 85 percent of VAT on eligible goods that were purchased at VAT refund shops during their travel in Vietnam. The remaining 15 percent will be counted as service fees. In other words, this is an opportunity for foreigners to get back some of that hard-earned cash by buying goods at shops that offer VAT refunds.
According to the Ministry of Finance, VAT refunded goods must meet these four requirements:
– The purchased goods must be subject to VAT, unused, and allowed on an aircraft.
– The purchase of goods must not appear on the list of export prohibitions or restrictions.
– Purchased goods must have invoices and VAT refund declarations issued within 30 days of departure.
– The purchased goods must be bought from a single shop in a one-day duration and must be a value of at least VND2.000.000 (around US$100).
To get the VAT refund, here is the procedure:
1) When purchasing goods, you must submit your passport to the retailer so they can create the VAT refund declaration form. They will issue you an original copy but make sure to check that all your information is correct.
2) Once you are at the airport, head over to the VAT refund customs inspection office where you will need to present the goods you have purchased, your passport along with the invoices and VAT declaration form.
3) Once you’ve taken care of all the paperwork to get your declaration form, you will need to submit a boarding pass from an international flight and invoices along with your VAT declaration form to the VAT refund counter. This is where you will receive your refund. It will be in Vietnamese Dong so you will have to head to a currency exchange. At Noi Bai, there is a Maritime bank and Vietcombank while you will find BIDV and VietinBank exchanges in Tan Son Nhat.
Pagodas are one of Vietnam’s top attractions for travelers. They are not just historical monuments of the past: Vietnamese visit them regularly to receive blessings, pray, or organize charity events. The best time to visit a pagoda is early morning when it is not too busy. After the night falls, it is also interesting as the lights and candles can create spectacular effects. If you are lucky enough to travel to Vietnam during a special holiday, for instance, Tet, you will notice that pagodas will be more crowded than usual and that they will have more decoration. Don’t forget to dress appropriately during your visit. Common sense prevails: Avoid shorts, bare shoulders, skirts, or hats.
Here is a list of 12 beautiful pagodas that we visited in Vietnam from the north to the south. Don’t hesitate to share with us your favorite places by leaving a comment below:
Pagodas in Northern Vietnam
Perfume Pagoda – Hanoi
The Perfume Pagoda is one of Hanoi’s most popular day tours. During high season, it will most likely be packed. You will have to take a short boat ride to the base of the mountain, then walk steep steps up to the cable car. The whole trip can be a fun learning experience if you are fit and if you don’t mind the other tourists and vendors.
One Pilar Pagoda – HANoi
One of Vietnam’s oldest religious monuments, the One Pillar Pagoda was built in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Tong. It is an iconic sight of Hanoi.
THIEN MU PAGODA – HUE
Thien Mu, meaning “Lady from Heaven,” is one of the top attractions in Hue. The Thien Mu Pagoda was built in 1601 by Lord Nguyen Hoang and it is recommended to visit it at sunset hours.
Linh Ung Pagoda – Da Nang
Linh Ung Pagoda is located about eight kilometers from Da Nang, on a cliff off Son Thuy Mountain. Many people visit it to enjoy the panoramic view of the sea with the Marble Mountains in the back. It has a huge 67-meter statue of Guinyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Trai Mat, Da Lat
Also called Ve Chai Pagoda, Linh Phuoc Pagoda was built using glass, porcelain, and pottery pieces. You have beautifully decorated pillars in the form of dragons and a five-meter-high Buddha statue.
Linh An Tu Pagoda – Da Lat
Linh An Tu Pagoda is located one hour away from Dalat, in Nam Ban. It is remarkable for its giant Buddha statue on its right side.
Van Hanh Pagoda – Da Lat
Most visitors come to Van Hanh for its spectacular 24-meter-high golden Buddha statue. It is also a serene pagoda where you will enjoy walking around in the lush garden.
Ta Cu Mountain Pagoda – Phan Thiet
This pagoda in the vicinity of Mui Ne hosts the longest reclining statue of Buddha in Vietnam. A popular tourist attraction, the visit could be a half-day trip from Phan Thiet. You will need to ride a car for 45 minutes, then pay a ticket for the cable car taking you to the top of the Tà Cú mountain, then climb stairs for several minutes. Don’t miss the three small Buddha statues before you go back to the cable car.
Van Son Pagoda – Con Dao
Built in 1964, Van Son Pagoda is set in a quiet and beautiful location in the forest. It is also known as Nui Mot Pagoda.
These are some of the 12 most beautiful pagodas in Vietnam. Did we forget a place you like? Please leave a comment below and help us discover more great places to travel to.
By Aileen Murphy
- Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea is Now More Convenient and Cost-Effective
- Koreans Flock to Vietnam’s Beaches During Winter Months
- Korean Tourists Expect Strong Service and Wish for Better Traffic Conditions
The tourism market for Korean travelers to Vietnam has expanded at a rapid rate over the past three years. South Koreans are closely following Chinese tourists as the most significant tourist group in Vietnam and together make up over half of all foreign visitors. However, Korea is projected to soon surpass China with a growth rate of 55.3 percent per year, while the Chinese growth rate keeps diminishing.
According to the latest statistical data published by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), over the past 10 months of 2018, there have been 2,867,380 Korean inbound visitors, a substantial increase in comparison to the around 1,000,000 back in 2015.
In October of this year alone, 303,417 South Korean tourists entered Vietnam, closely following Chinese tourists at 371,361, although Chinese tourists are on the decline mostly due to political disputes between the countries. The recent influx of Korean tourists could be a reflection of the increasingly prosperous relations between the two nations, which is significantly notable among the new generation
Although English still holds the top spot as the most commonly learned second language, the number of young Vietnamese learning Korean has considerably risen in popularity, partly due to their interest in Korean celebrity culture such as K-pop and Korean dramas. The improved ties have impacted not only cultural relations but also political ones. Amended diplomatic trade agreements are set to make Vietnam and South Korea US$100 billion in revenue, and South Korea will be Vietnam’s second-largest export market by 2020.
Convenient and Cost-Effective Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea
South Korea, in turn, has also become a top market for Vietnamese travelers. Consequently, more and more air routes are being introduced and visa restrictions have been loosened allowing the use of e-visas and a 15-day visa exemption. There are currently eight air carriers that operate between the countries with plans to increase their frequency and range of destinations—including seven direct flights per week between Da Nang and Daegu, the fourth-largest city in South Korea by population, being introduced on 22 December 2018.
The flight itself is also relatively short at just over four hours and it can cost as little as VND4.5 million (US$190) for a return ticket. But this is comparable to other neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines have been long-standing popular honeymoon destinations for Koreans but now the luxury beach resorts of Da Nang are giving them a run for their money.
Swapping the Cold Korean Winter for Vietnam’s Beaches
Da Nang is the top-visited destination for South Korean travelers in Vietnam, followed respectively by Hanoi and Saigon. The central region welcomed 1.3 million South Korean tourists last year escaping the cold Korean winter for a warmer climate. Interest in Da Nang was intensified when a dominant South Korean tour operator, Ticket Monster Inc., cited Da Nang as one of the world’s top 10 destinations favored by South Korean families and couples.
Da Nang city has many tourist attractions including the 67-meter-tall Lady Buddha statue and the recently built “Golden Bridge” that caused a media storm online and subsequently boosted tourism in the area. Da Nang is also revered for its miles and miles of stunning coastlines and well-kept beaches.
South Korean tourists like to visit multiple locations during a short stay, so the accessibility between Da Nang and the surrounding attractions is inviting. The city is only a stone’s throw away from the UNESCO World Heritage ancient town of Hoi An.
Nha Trang is also seeing its fair share of Korean tourists that are mainly middle class 25 to 45 year olds, according to Remi Faubel, General Manager of Novotel Nha Trang. Faubel explained that like Da Nang, the increase in tourism in Nha Trang is likely related to the area’s sunny beaches.
“Korean tourists are discreet, well educated, good customers”, Faubel said. “In terms of spending, Koreans are not good. They don’t spend money on local products; they don’t come for shopping. Koreans mainly come to Vietnam to relax and enjoy the beach, the golf courses, the entertainment and the bars.”
What Level of Service do Korean Tourists Expect?
Speaking to Citypassguide.com, the Marketing and PR Manager at the Lotte Legend hotel, Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, said she had noticed a substantial increase in Korean guests visiting the hotel even during the past month-and-a-half.
She explained that the 5-star Lotte Legend hotel has a mixed international clientele but is also a favorite with Koreans, partially due to its worldwide reputation. She said, “Koreans choose the Lotte legend hotel as it’s a respected brand around the world.”
The average demographic of Korean tourists who stay at the Saigon riverfront-located hotel is high-class travellers aged between 30 and 50, who expect top-quality service. Nguyen said, “Korean customers do not hesitate to spend their money on luxury as long as there is good-quality service; if there is good service and a good atmosphere they are willing to spend their money.”
How Could the Hospitality Industry Improve to Cater to Korean Tourists?
Implementing new strategies to cash in on the flourishing Korean market in Vietnam is becoming a top priority for tour guides and hotels. However, some services in Vietnam still need drastic improvements to persuade Korean holidaymakers to spend more and stay longer.
The director of the Korean Cultural Centre in Vietnam, Mr. Keum Gi Hyung, recently met with the VNAT in Hanoi to try and solve any remaining barriers between the nations that could be hindering further tourism success. Hyung said at the meeting that providing top-quality tours, professional tourist-guide training, and increased control of agents would ensure the growth rate would continue. Korea offered support in training management teams and tour guides.
He also strongly suggested a heightened focus on improving traffic safety. Vietnam is infamous for its chaotic and sometimes dangerous roads, especially in big congested cities such as Saigon and Hanoi. Korean tourists who aren’t used to the disorder can find it unappealing for a holiday destination. But Hyung’s advice wasn’t solely contrary. He praised Vietnam for its impressive scenery, delicious food, and friendly and hospitable people.
By Bob Johnston
Phu Yen, Tuy Hoa…why bother
That’s the question however, the answer is getting easier with every year. Lonely Planet tells you to pass it by; most of the other guidebooks give it a small paragraph at best but say about the same thing. The ones that provide any information at all are telling you things that are six to ten years out of date at best.
Until last summer, when someone got off the bus or train here and found our place, the few visitors would ask ‘So, how many tourists do you normally get here?’ My pat answer was ‘Tourists here are like Bigfoot sightings in other places.’ Then, last spring, some Russians picked Tuy Hoa as a destination; since then (through no fault of the Ministry of Travel and Tourism) we seem to be getting more casual visitors to the area.
What Phu Yen, Tuy Hoa can offer
Those looking for a highly charged nightlife will be sadly disappointed, it just ain’t here. There is one ‘disco’ operated by the same group that owns the CenDelux hotel complex. It’s populated by a very small group of zombie-like young men most of the time. The same area is peppered with karaoke bars as is the rest of the town.
What we do offer is a dip into the real Vietnam with very short travel times to do so…we can offer relaxation and a severe lack of street peddlers. Chill time of the first order. Miles of deserted beaches, and short trip times will get you deep into the farming country or into the lush green of the local mountains. Tuy Hoa is a nice clean town to walk around in with friendly people where you will still find relaxed tourism. Trekking around or into the hills is relaxing, enjoyable, and convenient. However, you won’t find many amenities so plan on bringing your own.
Also, you won’t find tourist information readily available. A simple thing like a local map with points of interest listed makes a showing once in a while then quickly becomes unavailable. The major points of interest (in the province) can be found by doing a quick search online; getting to most of them takes some work.
When to visit Phu Yen, Tuy Hoa
There is no hard and fast rule about ‘best time’; the best guess answer to that is normally April through the end of September, give or take a month on either end. It all depends on the weather patterns. Two years ago a Vnese friend announced that the monsoon season was over when the sun came out for a week in February; at the end of that week the sun went away and it rained for the next three weeks solid.
How to get to Phu Yen, Tuy Hoa
Located about halfway between Nha Trang and Qui Nhon it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour trip by bus from either city. There is a local bus service from Qui Nhon which runs pretty much hourly seven days a week. Both north and southbound trains have this as a stop about 6 times a day and there is a ‘local’ which originates in Qui Nhon and runs south to Phan Rieng some days (they don’t really have that schedule nailed down yet).
By air, no problem. There’s a small plane going north or south once a day so you can arrive in the morning or mid-afternoon. The airport is a short taxi ride from town. You can also find some tips for accommodation and food in Phu Yen, Tuy Hoa in my next article.
Other Vietnam Tips Related Articles:
By Emily Pham
Get out of Vietnam’s big cities and head to one of Vietnam’s national parks instead
• Phu Quoc National Park is great for marine life
• Cat Tien is the place to go if you want to stay close to Ho Chi Minh City
• Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park is best for exploring caves
• Ba Be National Park is a waterfall wonderland
• Vietnam’s Con Đao National Park is a protected wildlife sanctuary
• Cuc Phuong National Park is close to Hanoi and was Vietnam’s first national park!
1. Phu Quoc National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Phú Quốc)
Phu Quoc is now one of the most overdeveloped islands in Vietnam, but more than half of Phu Quoc island is a national park, which is home to a diverse ecosystem with more than 200 kinds of animals and 1000 pieces of plant. Here, you can see some rare old-growth forests and Dipterocarp trees more than 100 feet high. From Ganh Dau village (làng chài Gành Dầu), you can reach Phu Quoc national park very easily for hiking, camping, scuba diving, and so on. Dive deep into the clear water to see the abundant marine life, or explore this national park by riding a motorbike along its paths. From Phu Quoc international airport, you can hire a motorbike to get to Phu Quoc national park.
2. Cat Tien National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Cát Tiên)
Cat Tien national park is in Dong Nai province (tỉnh Đồng Nai), not too far from Ho Chi Minh City. It is said to be one of the most worthwhile parks in the south of Vietnam. This area is home to many primates and a great trekking destination. Going into this park in the early morning, you will hear the birdsong and cries of gibbons amongst the trees. Do not pack too much because this park nowadays offers tourism facilities for camping or paddling along the waterways. And, do not forget to get to Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre, where you will see many amazing animals such as Asian black bears and sun bears.
You can travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Tien national park by motorbike or coach, but the most suitable way for tourists is by coach. Buy a ticket at Mien Dong coach station (Bến Xe Miền Đông) and get to Cat Tien national park for only 150,000 VND.
3. Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng)
Phong Nha – Ke Bang national park in Quang Binh province (tỉnh Quảng Bình) is famous for the largest cave in the world with whole ecosystems and forests within, called Son Doong cave (Hang Sơn Đoòng). With more than 300 caves, many waterways, mountains and forests, Phong Nha – Ke Bang national park is now a famous destination for tourists from all over the world. It is one of the must-see places in Vietnam and will provide long-lasting memories.
From Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, take a flight to Dong Hoi airport and then catch a motor taxi to Phong Nha – Ke Bang national park.
4. Ba Be National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Ba Bể)
Ba Be national park is home to mountains, waterfalls, caves and rivers. It is a tourist attraction thanks to the diversity of ecosystems with protruding peaks, plateaus and vast lakes. Making a boat trip to explore the waterways is an excellent thing to do, and you can hike through the plethora of forests with stunning views down to the lakes. You can also visit local villages to gain an insight into daily life.
Ba Be national park is 240 km north of Hanoi in Bac Kan province (Tỉnh Bắc Kạn). In Hanoi, Mr. Linh’s Adventures at No. 83 Ma May Street organises a range of tours and homestays in the region—see MrLinhAdventure.com.
5. Con Dao National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Côn Đảo)
Con Dao national park combines marine environments with tropical forests, pristine beaches, lush mangroves, and coral reefs. The area is strictly protected and retains a wild and majestic beauty. From Tan Son Nhat international airport in Ho Chi Minh City you can fly to Co Ong airport (Sân Bay Cỏ Ống) on Con Dao island. You can take the time to see some of the spectacular views featured in this video about Con Dao.
6. Cuc Phuong National Park (Vườn Quốc Gia Cúc Phương)
This national park in Ninh Binh province (Tỉnh Ninh Bình) southwest of Hanoi is a famous destination with pristine trails and beautiful landscapes. It was Vietnam’s first national park and is the country’s largest nature reserve, with a wide range of flora and fauna. It is an attractive area for adventurous visitors. From Hanoi, hire a motorbike or catch a coach at Giap Bat station (Bến xe Giáp Bát) to get to the park.
This year two of Southeast Asia’s most infamous beach resorts—Boracay in The Philippines and Phi Phi in Thailand—have been closed to tourists in order to clean up their beaches and seas, thrusting the ugly side of the region’s tourism boom into the spotlight. Both resorts have suffered problems associated with overcrowding, including mismanaged waste disposal and damage to marine life, according to CNN. With the recent surge in visitors to Vietnam, some of the country’s most treasured tourist attractions, such as Halong Bay, Phu Quoc island and Nha Trang, are similarly struggling to maintain their traveller credentials in the wake of the masses of litter spoiling their natural beauty.
The Vietnamese government has taken an aggressive approach to the promotion and development of Vietnam’s tourism industry, resulting in the number of international arrivals reaching more than 6.7 million in the first five months of this year, an increase of 27.6 percent over the same period last year, as reported by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.
While this is positive news for the country’s growing economy, the millions of travelers flocking to Vietnam are jeopardizing its natural landscapes. The limestone islands of Halong Bay and the palm-fringed beaches of Phu Quoc rank in most top-10 lists of must-visit spots in Vietnam, but a closer look at most traveler forums and discussion groups will reveal a recurring gripe among the travel community in Vietnam: litter.
Littering by both locals and tourists is now an epidemic in Vietnam, with 18,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated a day, according to Tuoi Tre news, and the country is struggling to deal with this. VN Express reported that only 40 to 60 percent of waste in rural and suburban areas ends up in dumps, while the rest is discharged into canals and rivers that flow into the sea.
Phu Quoc Ruined by Rubbish?
In tourist areas such as Phu Quoc, small businesses are mushrooming to meet the rising demand but many do not follow proper procedures for waste disposal or are unwilling to adapt to a more eco-friendly way of working, according to Duggy Dugong, Marketing Director of the Phu Quoc Chamber of Commerce, an independent, not-for-profit group.
Dugong explained that this can extend to businesses falsely using the recycling symbol—when there is no recycling on Phu Quoc island—or branding themselves “eco-friendly” as a marketing tool to capitalize on the increasingly environmentally-conscientious travel community. He added, “there is no accountability or standards, and most are doing it in order to have a competitive edge over similar businesses”.
Michelle Vu, Sales and Marketing Representative for Mango Bay Resort in Phu Quoc, talked about the measures the resort is implementing, from eliminating plastic straws to using all of its organic waste to fertilize its gardens. Vu said that glass waste is a big problem in Phu Quoc, as there is nobody buying and collecting glass for recycling. She added that if tourist numbers in Vietnam continue to rise without any long-term solution, a breaking point will be reached and Vietnam’s global reputation as a tourist destination will be damaged.
Dugong explained that there are just two garbage dumps on the island and they have reached capacity. These are sprayed with chemicals by the locals to prevent the stench from wafting over to nearby resorts.
Halong Bay and Nha Trang Wrangle with Waste
The story is similar at the other end of the county. Visitors to Halong Bay will know how blighted the UNESCO World-Heritage site is by the abundance of trash floating in the emerald waters. Much of this waste originates from the thousands of tourist boats floating in the bay, but there are some tour companies making efforts to reform the Halong Bay experience. The Indochina Junk company has sponsored a clean-up programme in Halong Bay, collecting 24,638 kg of garbage in 2016, and other agencies encourage tourists to take part in clean-up drives in exchange for a discount.
In Central Vietnam, backpacker mecca Nha Trang also suffers from litter problems. Ary Arbani, Marketing Communications Manager for Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, explained that the Nha Trang community “is very much concerned about the impact of waste and littering, particularly plastic, and the problem is compounded with the rapid development of tourism in the area”. Arbani said that the Six Senses resorts have been filtering and bottling their own drinking water, eliminating the use of plastic water bottles. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay alone is saving around 10,000 plastic bottles per month.
While there has been a budget allocated for further green infrastructure projects, many have not yet come to fruition. Dugong mentioned that the Vietnamese government has laid plans to fund a new recycling centre, a waste collection centre and a new recycling business process for Phu Quoc before 2020, although there is scepticism about this. Just this year, a new waste management facility opened on the island but was subsequently shut down for unknown reasons.
Path Towards a Greener Vietnam
Julia Mesner Burdge, the co-founder of Zero Waste Saigon, said, “What needs to be done is work here in Vietnam to produce less trash, on a business level, and raise awareness to the public.” Hotels and tour companies can do their part by working towards making environmental preservation an integral part of the tourist experience.
Dugong suggested that what’s needed is a summit between the Southeast Asian nations to discuss the garbage issue, as much of the coastal trash comes in from the seas, which is difficult to control without a united approach. Globally, travelers are increasingly aware of their environmental impact and there is a growing market for “green travel”, with 87 percent of global travelers stating that they want to travel sustainably, according to a recent report by booking.com.
With this global shift towards more sustainable travel, the call to action is coming from an eco-conscious travel community as much as from global authorities and NGOs. There are commendable small-scale efforts being made by a number of individuals, businesses, and green communities such as Zero Waste Saigon and Clean Up Vietnam, but the country continues to face a significant challenge in promoting economic growth whilst maintaining, protecting, and enhancing its natural environment for the future.
My friends and I had a few days off work, so we decided to get out of the city to relax. We found a quiet island in Central Vietnam, called Lý Sơn. Lý Sơn is an island belonging to the Quãng Ngãi coastal province, bordering Quãng Nam and Bình Định provinces in the North and South respectively. This island is commonly known as “The Kingdom of Garlic” because it is the only place in Vietnam where wild garlic and onions are grown in the sand. The garlic has a special flavor unique to this region and is widely exported to the mainland.
Lý Sơn is also known for being the homeland of the Hoàng Sa Flotilla, a revered group of soldiers who protected the territorial waters around Vietnam during the Nguyen dynasty. On the island, you will be able to see a myriad of relics and historical sites dedicated to these brave sailors. Let me show you the best places to go on the island.
The only way to get to the island from the mainland is to take a high-speed boat from the Sa Kì fishing port. The first ferry is at 8 a.m, then 10:30 a.m, 1:30 p.m, and 3:30 p.m. In order to book your boat, make a list including the number of people in your party, the requested date, your phone number, your ID/ passport numbers, and your address, then send the list by email to email@example.com. You should send the email at least 10 days before your trip to be sure there are available seats on the boat.
The price is about VND140,000 each way.
Important tip: Don’t forget to bring your ID or passport; authorities will check it before you head to the island.
When to go to Lý Sơn?
The best time to go to the central coast of Vietnam is from May to September. During the summer, you will have good sunshine, clean blue water, and white sandy beaches.
Where to stay in Lý Sơn and how to get around?
Central Lý Sơn or Mường Thanh Lý Sơn hotels are both conveniently located near the port. If you want to explore the island you have the option of taking a Tiên Sa taxi or renting a motorbike at your hotel to drive around the island.
What to see in Lý Sơn?
Don’t forget your camera because there will be plenty of photo ops.
Here we go!!!
The island is divided into two parts: Lý Sơn, the main island, and An Bình, Lý Sơn’s little brother. Lý Sơn island is only about 10 kilometers from end to end; the top destinations are not far from one another, so it is easy to move around.
To get to Câu cave, you can start from the center of the island and head North-East towards Thới Lới mountain, around 15 minutes. Right at the base of Thới Lới mountain, Câu Cave will appear in front of your eyes like a beautiful painting, blurring the boundaries between ocean and mountain.
It is a perfect location for wedding photography, picnics, and swimming. The sea water is crystal-clear, making it easy to see the blanket of seaweed and colorful coral within.
Đỉnh Thới Lới (the Top Thới Lới) – An Extinct Volcano
Head to the top of the street from Câu Cave, and you’ll find yourself on the peak of Thới Lới. Here you can pause for a moment and enjoy the view of the lush green plants on the island.
The concave top of Thới Lới mountain is unique because it was a crater millions of years ago. Now, it has become a large lake. Covering the lake is a carpet of grasses and algae, which make it look like a savanna on the top of the mountain.
From the summit, when you look towards the east of the island, you’ll see fields of garlic and onion. Look towards the sea, and you’ll discover two small islands, Mù Cu and Đông ward, which are the most beautiful places to watch the sunrise.
Chùa Hang (Cave Pagoda) – A Pagoda in a Cave
Bricks were not needed to build the pagoda because the cave was eroded naturally, over the course of millions of years, by the ocean waves. A Guanyin statue was erected outside the entrance, and locals come here to pray for peace for their families and good luck for the fishermen, as they head out for their catch. Thanks to the pagoda’s unique structure, it attracts many tourists. If you come to Lý Sơn, don’t forget to come and say a prayer for your family and friends.
Tip: Don’t wear shorts or tank tops. In Vietnamese culture, wearing conservative clothes when coming to a pagoda is a sign of respect for the Buddha.
Cổng Tò Vò (Tò vò gateway)
Tò Vò Gateway is the second most important tourist destination after Câu Cave. You CAN’T MISS this place when you come here. Tò Vò Gateway is a stone archway with a height of 2.5 meters. The unusual shape was organically created from the lava of the volcano millions of years ago. Come here in the evening to watch the sunset. The contrast of the sea with the gateway and the dark lava rocks lurking in the waves make this a great location for photos in silhouette.
An Bình Island is the perfect quiet location for tourists with its palm-lined beaches, white sand, and clear blue water. It is around US$5/per person for a round-trip boat ticket to the island. An Bình island isn’t as crowded as the other islands. However, it has a breathtaking landscape. Take a dip in the fresh sea water and enjoy the sounds of the ocean and nature.
An Bình, meaning peace, lives up to its name; this island definitely gives a sense of complacency and comfort. All feelings of sadness, stress, and frustration ease away. So what are you waiting for? Go!
What to eat in Lý Sơn?
This island is famous for its healthy garlic and seaweed but you can also enjoy the seafood. There are many kinds of fish, snails, sea urchins (a rich source of nutrition for men), and the delicious Red Frog Crab.
There are numerous restaurants selling seafood near the fishing port, but here are a couple of restaurants that we tried and loved:
Biển Nhớ restaurant: Thôn Tây, An Vĩnh ward, Lý Sơn
Thạnh Lợi restaurant: Thôn Tây, An Vĩnh ward, Lý Sơn
By Mark Gwyther
Things to do in Ninh Thuan – Activities
The beach is the main attraction, and choosing the right place to stay is very important if your goal is to have quality beach time. The resorts have private beach rights allowing them to keep non-guests away from guests. It also motivates the resorts to keep their beach clean. However, only Bau Truc and Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu do it consistently. Beaches in front of the other resorts can accumulate garbage from the locals who come to the bay in the morning and evening.
Waking up for sunrise is highly recommended and may be a highlight of your trip to Vietnam. Get to the beach before 5:30 AM with a towel to sit and watch what seems like the entire city of Phan Rang doing their daily exercising/socializing in front of a beautiful sunrise. You will also see many of the traditional round boats out in the bay as the fisherman collect their daily catch.
The hundreds of locals mysteriously disappear around 8:00 AM and the beach is all yours until the evening. If you have traveled to other popular beach locations in Vietnam, you will notice immediately that nobody will come and try to sell you trinkets in Ninh Chu Bay. In fact, during the daytime, you may not see anyone on the beach.
If you love to windsurf or kite surf, then Ninh Chu Bay is a paradise. A consistent, strong wind begins blowing before noon and lasts until the evening. Jet skis and motorboats are still unknown, leaving just a few fishing boats as the competition. As of now, none of the resorts rent equipment, however. If you feel like exploring, behind the Saigon Tourist Hotel and within walking distance from the center of the bay, is a hill with several temples and pagodas. Pathways make it easy for visitors to walk up to the statues among the hills and look out over the area. It is a very peaceful place.
Thap Cham is the location of two of the most famous Cham temples. The most popular is Po Klong Garai, which was built in the 13th century and is still an active site for Cham celebrations. Unlike many old ruins, the government has recently renovated the attraction and it is kept in good shape. If you want to take a day trip, the most popular attraction for Vietnamese tourists is nearby Vinh Hy Bay. Vinh Hy is a small fishing village about 30 kilometers north of Ninh Chu Bay. Your resort can arrange for you to catch a bus. Once in Vinh Hy, you can take a boat tour to some of the nearby islands and the deserted beaches of the Ninh Thuan coast. Before the new coastal highway was built, these beaches were only accessible by boat.
What to Eat in Ninh Thuan
Your dining options are fairly limited, but they are also pretty good. Of course, Vietnamese-style seafood is the main attraction. The Sakaya Restaurant at the Bau Truc Resort is highly recommended. The restaurant is open air and located on the beach, unlike many of the other resort dining options. The food is relatively inexpensive with most dishes being around $4 and a beer costing $1. Stick with the Vietnamese dishes and stay away from their attempts at western food.
If your resort has a large group of loud Vietnamese tourists, then another excellent option is the beach bar at the Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu Hotel. It is usually very quiet and you can order any of the dishes from the main restaurant. Phan Rang is also famous for its chicken and rice. The dish is fairly simple, just boiled chicken, rice, and a spicy fish sauce. You can find this dish in many of the local restaurants around Phan Rang.
Things to do in Ninh Thuan – Entertainment
Phan Rang does not have any nightlife fitting for foreign tourists, yet. If bars and discos are your things, then Nha Trang or Mui Ne are more appropriate locations. That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do at night, though. Check out 16 April Park to experience a side of Vietnam that not everybody sees. Hundreds of locals gather around the park to eat street food, drink beer, and chat. It is safe and you will be left alone to enjoy the cool evenings. The park is located between the beach and Phan Rang city.
Things to do in Ninh Thuan – Getting Around
In general, it is not safe for foreigners to rent motorbikes in Vietnam. Phan Rang might be the exception, as the roads near the beach are wide and empty. Most resorts can rent one to you for about $7/day. We still recommend a taxi or bus if you plan on visiting the Cham Temples or Vinh Hy Bay. If you stay at a resort in the center of the bay, you can walk along the beach or the road lining the beach for some light exploring. Taxis are easy to find and Mai Linh Taxi and Phan Rang Taxi have meters.
Issues and Concerns
The biggest factor that can negatively affect your vacation to Ninh Thuan is if a large group of Vietnamese stay in your resort. Ask the receptionist when you check in if they expect a large group and ask for a room that is away from them. These company or school trips are usually accompanied by a tour guide/MC with a microphone and large speakers.
A banquet with entertainment and karaoke can make dining at the restaurant impossible. If this happens, try going to the beach bar at the Saigon Tourist-Ninh Chu Hotel. Have some beer, good seafood, and relax while listening to the waves. Another option is to go to your restaurant, order, and have them deliver dinner to your balcony. The groups typically go to Vinh Hy Bay for most the day or they move on to another destination. Daytimes at the resorts are almost always quiet and peaceful.
Phan Rang is not Ho Chi Minh City or even Nha Trang when it comes to service. Many of the staff speak English, but you are far more likely to have to point to the menu (written in English), and ask the receptionist to tell your taxi driver where you are going than in the more popular tourist destinations. You should keep your expectations low for any spa treatments from the local resorts.
The beaches are separated from town, so there are not a lot of convenience stores around, yet. It is possible to find some convenience store items nearby, but if your plan is to stock up on groceries, you may want to take a taxi to the Co-op Mart near Phan Rang.
Ninh Thuan Province is very much like the eye of a storm. To the south are the bars and crowds of Mui Ne and Phan Thiet. To the west is the increasingly popular mountain city of Dalat. To the north is the beach city of Nha Trang. If you are looking to step out of the storm that is Vietnam tourism and see what Vietnam is like when foreign tourists are not present, then maybe you should try Ninh Thuan Province. You might want to hurry, though, as this hidden gem is becoming discovered.
Things to know before traveling to Vietnam
1. I NEVER BURN
One common misconception they fail to realize is the strength of the sun in Vietnam. Among the various beach towns in Vietnam — Mui Ne, Da Nang, Phu Quoc, and the list goes on — newcomers are divided into several categories according to the degree of sunburn they receive. We’ll start with Snow White. This includes those who have practically just landed and decided it would be a good idea to rush straight to the beach to bask in the hot sun and soak in the temperate waters.
A few hours later they reach the second sunburn category: Lobster. Covered in bright pink, blotchy marks, their burns can be spotted a mile away. The following 2-3 days, none of them are found near the beach until finally, they’ve reached a nice, olive-tone tan, no more burns. Many of my friends frequent these various beaches and every time I warn them about the dangers of Vietnam’s cruel sun — when in doubt, SPF will be your best friend here.
2. RIDING A MOTORBIKE IS AN EASY AND PLEASANT EXPERIENCE IN VIETNAM
It may be easy for those who have driven a motorbike before but there is no need to hop on one right away. One important aspect to keep in mind is that international licenses are not valid in Vietnam meaning any police officer may stop you and take your motorbike. This will then be followed by a ticket and lost valuable travel time. Secondly, the chaotic traffic throughout the streets with little to no traffic rules on the roads is too dangerous for any first-time motorbike driver. All in all, it is your safest option to hold off and save it for a later date. Leave the driving to the xe oms (motorbike taxis).
3. COFFEE AND TEA SHOULD ONLY BE BOUGHT IN DALAT
Most newcomers may not realize this but Vietnam is known for its delicious coffee and café atmosphere. Coffee and tea can be purchased elsewhere other than Dalat. This is a common misconception about Dalat. In fact it is all the same. Save yourself a few dollars and purchase the coffee and tea in Mui Ne. On the other hand, one item you should really keep an eye out for while in Dalat is the cocoa.
4. AIR CONDITIONING IS GREAT ALL OF THE TIME
Yes, ok it is great but remember, everything in moderation, right? Switching from the outdoor temperature to the AC too often can cause you to catch a cold during your travels. Stay healthy and make sure your room temperature does not exceed 10 degrees Celsius.
5. ALL THE CLOTHES IN VIETNAM ARE OF POOR QUALITY, IT IS BEST NOT TO BOTHER
This is another common misconception about Vietnam. Home of some of the most talented tailors and designers, one can find great merchandise here from head to toe. From the shopping centers like Vincom Center and Diamond Plaza to the local markets such as Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City — one can find something for all ages. If you happen to be passing through Hoi An, take advantage of some of the best tailors in the country.
So be sure to bring some Vietnamese Dong along with you. You can exchange your money at the local airports or at various exchange stations located throughout the markets and shopping centers. As far as packing goes, I would pack light so you’ll have plenty of room for all of the souvenirs you may end up buying while on your trip.
Fun fact — according to the Ministry of Finance of Vietnam, “…The first country on the list of major importers of textiles and clothing from Vietnam was the United States. In early 2014, nearly 1.435 million different types of products were imported from Vietnam. The U.S. was followed by Japan and South Korea with about 379.366 and 278.098 million. Major importers from Europe included Germany, bringing in Vietnam textiles and clothing at 106.783 million. In addition to Great Britain, Spain and the Netherlands bringing in roughly 99,159 million dollars, 74.697 and 34.249 million respectively.”
6. LEARNING TO KITE SURF ONLY TAKES FIVE MINUTES
In reality, you will need at least 3 to 5 hours of training before you can get on a board. It is not as easy as it looks! A great spot to learn how to surf, kite surf or windsurf is in Vung Tau, Nha Trang and Mui Ne. Takeoff surf school takes beginners and experts through the different steps and skills — from learning new tricks to conquering the waves.
7. YOU CAN NOT BUY TRIPS FROM LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCIES
Usually, tour operators announce this warning to all travelers who enter Vietnam. This is a common misconception. In fact, you are able to purchase the same exact types of tours through street agencies with similar options.
8. FOR A 12-14 DAY TRIP YOU CAN GO ON MULTIPLE EXCURSIONS
Theoretically, yes. However, one must take into account the amount of distance and time it takes to get from one location to another. For example, one trip could take 4-5 hours one-way by bus and the same on the way back. It is best to take into account travel time and plan for one or two long trips (some great options include Dalat and Nha Trang and two trips around Mui Ne).
A common mistake newcomers make when traveling to a new country is that they don’t take the time to learn about the unique culture and history of that particular place prior to their trip. This is important not only for Vietnam but when planning for any type of trip it is best to research the location you are traveling to. Otherwise, you may miss out on interesting sights and sounds that may be right in front of you. When it comes to Vietnam www.citypassguide.com is your go-to. With anything and everything from day trips, tours, restaurants, and nightlife in Vietnam, you can’t go wrong.
By Brennan Lagman
Southeast Asia is the crown jewel of the world when it comes to luxury destination retreats and Vietnam has become a rising star within a sea of world-class resorts, thanks to the country’s diverse landscapes. From its beautiful island-dotted coastline and dramatic central highlands to jaw-dropping rice steppe-covered mountains and low-lying river delta floodplains.
Vietnam boasts a plethora of unique resort options that combine world-class luxury and high-end facilities with modern and classical design elements to create memories and experiences that will leave you rejuvenated and inspired. Trying to make the right choice for you and your loved ones can be tiresome work and we know you’re just looking to relax. So get off google and start reading our list of The Very Best Luxury Resorts Vietnam has to offer!
PHU QUOC HOTELS & RESORTS
Fusion Resort Phu Quoc
5 Stars Beachside Wellness Resort – fusionresorts.com
Perfect For Couples, Families
Overview: Situated just one hour by air from HCMC, with golden sands, turquoise waters and fiery red sunsets, the island of Phu Quoc is one of the greatest Friday-night getaways for those of us living in Saigon. Fusion Resort Phu Quoc is home to a stunning beach, a large communal pool, three distinct dining destinations, and a fully equipped fitness center, plus daily yoga, tai chi, and meditation sessions. Each of the accommodation options — ranging from one-bedroom Garden Villas to five-bedroom Grand Beach Villas — also comes with its own outdoor pool. If you can pry yourself away from the resort, your Fusionista can tailor-make excursions, tours, and “locals-only” experiences, while guided hikes and bike rides into the countryside, plus complimentary on-site games and activities, means you can stay as active or as restful as you wish.
Highlights: Personally assigned Fusionistas to cater to your every need, Private Gardens, Private Pools, ‘all-spa inclusive’ resort, oceanfront infinity pool, tennis court, fun kids’ club, and beach games.
What People Say: “The villa is exquisite, and the pool is fabulous for cooling down, and just about big enough to swim in. The beach is clean and well kept, the spa treatments are well thought out and the staff that runs them are knowledgeable. The breakfast choice is vast, although if you want the all-day breakfast remember to book in advance. Otherwise, the choice is very limited… wished we could’ve stayed longer.” (Adrian, hotels.com)
“Everything that people have been saying about Fusion is spot on, impossible to complain about anything. This place is a hidden gem. I got a superb private villa with pool, spacious room with all the equipment in the room that you could need for… nice staff, great hospitality.” (Thuy Nguyen, tripadvisor.com)
What we say: The “all-spa inclusive” concept is the highlight of every Fusion Resort and is something you won’t find anywhere else, with a menu of massages, facials, and all-natural body wraps and scrubs.
La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc – MGallery by Sofitel
4 Stars Luxury Beach Resort – laverandaresorts.com
Perfect For Couples, Families
Overview: Set in a magical French colonial seaside mansion, La Veranda’s setting evokes posh garden parties and leisurely afternoons spent sipping wine and gazing at the sea from under a wide-brimmed hat. The saltwater swimming pool is surrounded by lush greenery and features a large children’s pool that is the perfect depth for little ones to splash in. The resort is part of AccorHotels group’s exclusive MGallery Heritage Collection and is one of the best resorts in Phu Quoc and all of Vietnam.
Highlights: One of La Veranda’s main draws is its world-class The Peppertree restaurant, which is rated #1 on the island and #4 in all of Vietnam by TripAdvisor. The restaurant combines the techniques of gourmet French cuisine with the spirit and recipes of a traditional Vietnamese kitchen. La Veranda’s famous breakfast includes crowd favorites like the made-to-order waffle/pancake/crepe bar and fresh smoothies that change daily. Weekly F&B events spice up the evenings with special seafood beach barbecues, complimentary wine tastings, and afternoon tea services.
Each garden or ocean-view deluxe room, suite, or villa at La Veranda has a story to tell. Madame Catherine, the resort’s creator, has added her own personal touch to each room with historically accurate paint colors, furnishings, and artworks.
What People Say: “The weather wasn’t amazing when we were there but the service and atmosphere was great. It feels like a tranquil and lush rainforest walking around the resort. Dinner at the restaurant was very good.” (Andrew, Agoda.com)
“La Veranda is a beautiful Colonial style hotel with lush gardens, stunning ocean views, and an all-around relaxing feel to it. Coming back into the resort from the outside world feels like coming home. The staff is very attentive and nothing is too much.” (Joanne, booking.com)
What we say: La Veranda is deservedly one of the top-rated resorts in Phu Quoc thanks to its stellar customer service, intricately designed colonial theme, world-class dining and recreation, and access to untouched nature and wellness-related activities.
Best Western Premier Sonasea Phu Quoc
5 Stars Beachfront Resort – bwpremier-sonaseaphuquoc.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Best Western Premier Sonasea Phu Quoc is one of the newest luxury beach resorts on the island. Located around 10 minutes south of the airport and overlooking a lovely beachfront along Phu Quoc’s gorgeous western coast, this thoughtfully designed resort boasts excellent options for any traveler. The resort’s magnificent lagoon pool is Vietnam’s longest, at 300 meters, and is the gorgeous centerpiece of the resort. The perfect space for you to relax and float around in true luxury.
Highlights: Two main pools and two kids pools, fun beach activities, Thala spa service, Nemo kids club, complimentary bicycles, modern fitness center, free airport transfer, excellent business and meeting facilities.
What People Say: “The resort itself was lovely, nice food, room, and pool.” (Anonymous, Booking.com)
“We had a very good time here in Phu Quoc. We loved the lagoon pool! It’s like a real river with clear water, we could float on it the whole day… Will definitely recommend it to others!” (Anonymous, Hotels.com)
What we say: The accommodation, from modern guestrooms and suites to entire three-to-five bedroom villas with their own private pools, all come with quality furnishings and luxurious amenities. For families with younger children, there is an unmissable deal offered by the resort, where two kids (under 16) can stay for free in their parent’s room and includes access to the daily buffet breakfast!
Salinda Resort Phu Quoc
4 Stars Luxury Beach Resort – salindaresort.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Salinda Resort epitomizes tropical luxury. The resort is enclosed in a lush landscape featuring more than 100 types of trees and flowers, creating the atmosphere of an enchanted garden complete with butterflies and birds. There is a selection of deluxe rooms, suites, and villas. From the private balconies, guests can take in the breathtaking sunsets, as the evening sky becomes filled with a spectacular array of vivid colors. Premium linens, bathrobes, and luxury beauty products make the experience at Salinda Resort one of pure comfort.
Highlights: Infinity pool, private gardens, private beach, spa, and wellness center, fitness center, five-star dining, bar, live entertainment, bikes & other recreation.
What People Say: “I would highly recommend the Salinda Resort to those who plan their trip to Phu Quoc! Facilities were literally awesome and well-cleaned all the time. And the staff were very friendly and attentive. We really enjoyed the authentic breakfast with champagne. I would definitely come back to this resort for my next trip.” (Kyunghwa, Agoda.com)
“I will definitely say that Salinda is the best! Very clean in the room, very delicious food, restaurants are very nice with top level service!” (Stanislav, Booking.com)
What we say: With world-class F&B options, impeccable tropical greenery surrounding the premises, and a comprehensive five-star beach resort experience, it’s no wonder Salinda is one of the highest-rated resorts in the country and easily makes our list of best resorts in Vietnam.
DA NANG HOTELS & RESORTS
Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
5 Stars Luxury Beach Resort and Spa – danang.intercontinental.com/vn
Perfect for Couples, Families, and Adventurers
Overview: Internationally regarded as an iconic destination in itself, the Intercontinental Danang offers a truly world-class beachside experience with impeccable ocean views and a huge array of exquisitely designed rooms, villas, and amenities.
Highlights: Cinema, onsite water recreation, airport shuttle, private beach, tennis courts, spa.
“This luxury resort is amazingly beautiful and the location is nestled in the hills of the peninsula. The landscape is breathtaking and every room has its own panoramic views (we had four rooms). The private beach has so many activities. We enjoyed playing volleyball and the water recreation. Although we only stayed two nights because of other destinations, we would definitely return for a longer visit because of the great experience here.” (Anonymous, hotels.com)
What we say: The Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort offers an unrivaled level of class and luxury for the hospitality industry in Vietnam. As one of Vietnam’s premier resorts, this location has so much to offer. There is no way you can go wrong with this choice for a true tropical beach vacation.
Pullman Danang Resort
4.5 Stars Luxury Beach Resort and Spa – www.pullman-danang.com
Perfect For: Couples, Families, and Adventurers
Overview: Only fifteen minutes from the city center, this stunning masterpiece of a luxury beach resort can’t be beaten! In alignment with Pullman’s global brand of hospitality excellence, you’ll have world-class facilities, modern interior design, and endless entertainment at your fingertips. You can’t go wrong!
Highlights: 2 pools, healthy Ayurvedic menu options, shuttle service, tennis court, golf course, lounge, bar, private beach.
What People Say: “What a wonderful resort, we were very sad to leave! From the moment we arrived, tired and worn out, the staff at the Pullman went out of their way to make our stay as happy and comfortable as possible. ” (Anonymous, Trip Advisor)
“My husband and I stayed for 2 nights…it was not enough – wished we had stayed longer. The resort is so beautiful, we did not want to leave. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Breakfast was amazing. The resort is a short cab ride to the city. Could not fault this place. You will not regret it!!” (Jennifer, Agoda)
What we say: Pullman Danang delivers an incomparable, world-class resort experience that meets and exceeds the standards of Danang’s infamous stretch of luxury resorts.
Mangala Zen Garden & Luxury Apartments
5 StarsSpecialty Beachside Luxury Villas & Apartments – mangalagarden.com
Perfect for Cultural Tourism, Families, Couples
Overview: One of Danang’s large lineup of spectacular resorts, Mangala Zen offers unique Buddhist-inspired Zen interiors that are sure to calm and rejuvenate even the weariest of travelers!
Highlights: Healthy Ayurvedic menu options as well as Asian and European meals, stunning Japanese fusion style interiors, and kid-friendly, outdoor activities.
What People Say: “Great place for vacation to relax… Enjoyed the location, weather, and wonderful sandy beach. Not crowded at all in April. ” (Harald, Booking.com)
“We were looking for a quiet, beautiful resort with quality vegetarian food and Mangala perfectly fit the bill. The decor is lovely… We had a comfortable bed with a view of the ocean on one side and the garden on the other.” (Stephen, Trip Advisor)
What we say: Mangala Zen Gardens stands out as a truly unique resort experience in a sea of great options. With its unique Zen Buddhist-inspired theme and world-class dining, lodging, and recreational options, Mangala is sure to provide a remarkable experience.
Naman Retreat Danang
4.5 Stars Luxury Beach Resort – namanretreat.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Naman Retreat delivers guests a high-class wellness retreat experience. In a secluded location, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the beautiful natural surroundings of Danang. The resort is close enough to many natural points of interest to keep your thirst for adventure alive. It is also fully equipped with childcare facilities, making it perfect for traveling families.
Highlights: Private beach, swimming pool, large villas, fitness center.
What People Say: “Rooms are gorgeous and I’m very fussy – pictures don’t do it justice. Service is impeccable. It’s one of the calmest hotels I’ve ever been to. The beach was also quiet and had waiter service if you want it. Amazing.” (Titania, Booking.com)
“Really, really beautiful and nice resort. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and kind during our 5-day stay. We enjoyed renting a private driver to drive us for sightseeing and to check out local spots.” (Arthur, Hotels.com)
What we say: Naman Retreat is a wellness oasis alongside Vietnam’s central coast. With an incredible architectural design that fuses modern with traditional Indochinese materials and styles, this resort delivers a superb hospitality experience.
DA LAT HOTELS & RESORTS
Ana Mandara Villas Dalat Resort and Spa
Five Stars Mountain Luxury Resort and spa + golf course – anamandara-resort.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: One of Dalat’s best luxury resorts, Ana Mandara Villas Dalat Resort and Spa offers guests a world-class mountainside retreat. Nestled in the forest-covered hillsides of Vietnam’s highlands, nature is only footsteps away. The historical French colonial-style villas are elegantly decorated.
Highlights: Large golf course, large french colonial style villas, full-service spa, proximity to popular attractions.
What People Say:
“Friendly, caring, informative & attentive staff… Villa studio was spotless & maintained during my 3-night stay.” (Jenny, booking.com)
“Have stayed at Dalat Palace and many other hotels in Dalat, but I really prefer this one. Why? 1. Location (1.2 km from town center) 2. Heated swimming pool 3. Great service 4. Wonderful atmosphere…. if possible, get room 702, good view, near the pool and restaurant.” (Ted, Trip Advisor)
What we say: Ana Mandaras is an exquisite retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life, perfect for couples and families. It is one of Dalat’s best luxury locations and integrates culture, history, and nature in a seamless customer experience.
Terracotta Hotel & Resort
4 Stars Luxury Hotel and Resort – terracottaresort.com
Perfect For: Couples, Businesses, and Families
Overview: The Terracotta Hotel and Resort is a modern resort, spa, and hotel that is centrally located in the hills of Dalat. It has an unparalleled view of Tuyền Lâm lake alongside top-notch amenities such as tennis courts, meeting rooms, a pool, and a spa.
Highlights: Amazing views of Tuyền Lâm Lake, central location, great value, fitness center, lounge.
What People Say: “The resort is really big and beautiful, surrounded by the pine tree forest and Tuyen Lam lake. We felt relaxed when walking along the lake, everything is quiet and peaceful. All staff is very friendly and professional.” (Peter, Agoda.com)
“This was my second visit to this property because of its beauty, set by a lake out of town, it’s a perfect tranquil location to relax. They have rooms, shared villas, and private villas… Absolutely beautiful.” (Greg, Hotels.com)
What we say: Terracotta Resort offers a fancy, modern alternative to others in the rustic scenery of the Central Highland town of Dalat. If you want a retreat surrounded by the silence of nature, with modern decor and amenities, this is a great option.
CAN THO HOTELS & RESORTS
Azerai Can Tho
5 stars Luxury Eco Resort – azerai.com/can-tho
Perfect for Eco-tourism, Cultural Tourism, Couples, and Families
Overview: Located just a short ferry ride from Can Tho, this eco-friendly resort is perfect for people looking for an authentic resort experience in the heart of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. It is rated one of the top resorts in Can Tho thanks to its contemporary design and world-class facilities and customer experience.
Highlights: Gorgeous islet location, Yoga and Pilates studios, fitness center, swimming pool, childcare services, spa facilities, picnic area.
What People Say: “The eco-friendly hotel was great, staff were very attentive and friendly.” (Anonymous, booking.com)
“From the moment we arrived Serge (GM) and his team made us feel at home and that nothing was too much trouble. Perfect setting on a small island just off Can Tho City, with a great balance between the tranquility of the island and the lively small town just on the other side of the water.” (Ian, Trip Advisor)
What we say: Located on a small islet amidst local wetlands, Azerai Can Tho stands out as the ultimate Mekong Delta Resort. The retreat eloquently integrates eco-friendliness and luxury into a seamless and intimate experience among the captivating nature of the Mekong Delta.
VUNG TAU HOTELS & RESORTS
The Wind Boutique Resort Vung Tau
4 Stars Boutique Resort – thewind.com.vn
Perfect for Couples, and Solo Travellers
Overview: This small resort on the edge of Vung Tau has unique personal amenities such as private cinemas, jacuzzis, and fully equipped kitchens. It is perfect for those looking for a central location in this Southern Vietnam Beach City. Don’t be fooled though, The Wind Boutique Resort Vung Tau still remains incredibly serene and quiet.
Highlights: Cinema, jacuzzis, central location, contemporary boutique style, spa, sauna, pools.
What People Say: “This place is really nice and very suitable for families. There are several swimming pools and it is quiet. The food was also good. Most of all, the staff are incredibly helpful.” (Lynn, booking.com)
“Gorgeous resort with views to die for. Lots of attention to detail. Dung was very courteous and helpful. Jay Elliot, the owner, was always around to make sure the stay was pleasant. The breakfast was amazing and beautifully decorated. Lots of amenities comparable to 5 stars hotel.” (Tu, Agoda)
What we say: A unique boutique resort experience with an incredible reputation. With impeccable views, luxury amenities and so much to discover in such an intimate space, this is easily one of Vung Tau’s Best Boutique resorts.
Marina Bay Resort Vung Tau
4 Stars Luxury Beach Resort and Spa – marinabayvungtauresort.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: One of the first beachfront resorts in Vung Tau, Ho Chi Minh City’s nearest beach town, this resort provides all the amenities, recreational activities, and spa treatments to cater to any of your needs.
Highlights: Beachfront location, fitness center, infinity pool, large rooms, and villas.
What People Say: “Marina Bay Vung Tau Resort & Spa is our pick for the best resort in Vung Tau. Located in front of the beach, this resort is somewhat away from it all while still being close to other places to eat and shop.” (Ruby, Trip Advisor)
“Such a lovely resort with beautiful landscape, warm atmosphere, and great hospitality. We stayed there for one night in the Premium room in the Bungalow, facing the ocean. Different from other hotel buildings in Vung Tau, coming here you can see and feel the “green” all over the resort, which shall make you feel relaxed and peaceful.” (Doan, Trip Advisor)
What we say: Marina Bay Vung Tau is one of the best quality beach resorts in Vung Tau thanks to its comprehensive amenities and services.
CON DAO HOTELS & RESORTS
Six Senses Con Dao Resort
5 Stars Luxury Island Beach Resort – sixsenses.com/resorts/con-dao/destination
Perfect for Couples, Families, Eco-tourism, and Adventurers
Overview: Six Senses Con Dao is a perfect union between luxury and contemporary design. An exquisite island escape that gently screams relaxation and rejuvenation, with amenities and interior design that can’t be beaten. Located in the middle of a Vietnamese National and Marine Park, the resort offers a vast array of activities and amenities in a fishing village-inspired design.
Highlights: White sand private beaches, restaurants, water and beach sports, hiking, organic food from the garden, yoga classes, spa.
What People Say: “Incredible personalized service, hospitality, and friendly staff – best service we’ve ever had. The beautiful resort was luxurious, and every detail was taken care of. Stunning beachfront location with incredible views and infinity pools. Some of the best food we had in Vietnam.” (Hparkerash, booking.com)
“We had without doubt one of the most relaxing enjoyable vacations ever… Met at the airport by smiling helpful staff… which we then continued to experience every day for the next week… A beautiful, luxurious resort with first-class service. Cannot recommend it enough.” (Bahamas_sunsets, Tripadvisor.com)
What we say: Six Senses is one of the top-rated resorts in Vietnam thanks to its unrivaled white-sand beaches and first-class service. It has something for everyone, from child to adult, from adventurer to business people, this resort delivers high-class relaxation and wellness in a truly stunning setting that is nothing short of paradise.
HOI AN HOTELS & RESORTS
Anantara Hoi An Resort
5 stars Luxury Heritage Resort – anantara.com/en/hoi-an
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Anantara is conveniently located in Hoi An’s old quarter. It is a historical resort experience with the convenience of location and helpful staff. Though it is more compact than other options on our list, Anantara is still jam-packed with many quality amenities, facilities, and services that are sure to make any traveler’s stay in Hoi An one to remember.
Highlights: Specialty spa treatments, convenient location, babysitting service, bar, pools.
What People Say: “This hotel is very comfortable and provides lovely rooms at the edge of the river. The staff are very polite and attentive and provide a very warm experience. The breakfast buffet is excellent and well presented. Rooms are excellent and showers are good, with large sized bathroom. Well recommended.” (John, Agoda.com)
“This is a great place – colonial style, riverside hotel with superb service and great rooms/bedding/showers, etc. From the moment the friendly driver collected us for breakfast each morning, the service and relaxed atmosphere were faultless. The best thing is the location, close to the old town markets and the many fabulous local eateries and coffee shops and the great local tailors too… We were with our young family but would equally work for couples. Thank you to the managers and great hotel team!” (Anonymous, Tripadvisor.com)
What we say: Anantara resort is located in the center of Hoi An’s Old Quarter – one of Vietnam’s most famous world heritage sites. Combining Vietnamese, Chinese, Dutch, and French undertones, the ambiance of this historic resort makes it one of the most unique resort experiences the country has to offer.
Sunrise Premium Resort Hoi An
5 Stars Luxury Beach Resort – sunrisehoian.vn
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Sunrise Premium is one of Hoi An’s premier beachside luxury resorts. With a full-service spa, multiple pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a tennis court, this is one of the best Hoi An has to offer!
Highlights: Beachfront location, concierge, gym, hotel bar, beach bar, Wellness Spa, fine dining.
What People Say: “It has been a pleasure to stay here. Excellent customer service. Relaxing, friendly, great spa. Beautiful views. Amazing selection of delicious food … Best deal ever 🙂” (Nataxa, Trivago.com)
“Excellent holiday resort, enjoyed our spa treatments and the pool was magnificent… We enjoyed our stay very much, the shuttle bus worked out very convenient for town visits and airport transfers.” (Sue, Tripadvisor.com)
What we say: The Sunrise Premier is the perfect beach getaway alongside Hoi An’s east seafront. With breathtaking beach and island views, quality spa treatments, and stellar fine dining on offer, this is one of Hoi An’s best beachside resorts!
MUI NE/PHAN THIET HOTELS & RESORTS
Pandanus Resort Mui Ne
4 stars Beachfront Resort – pandanusresort.com/en-US
Perfect for Families and Couples looking for peace and quiet.
Overview: The biggest resort in Phan Thiet, Pandanus is located east of the cape at Mui Ne, close to the famous red and orange Mui Ne sand dunes, and far removed from the frenetic pace of the Ham Tien-Mui Ne strip one kilometer away.
While some travelers might prefer the louder, more action-packed hotels in the Ham Tien tourist strip, Pandanus is perfect for families or couples looking to find peace and quiet. Here you’ll be sure to find a few things: beautiful, flourishing gardens; an amazing pool and beach; spacious and well-laid-out accommodations, and service standards that reach international levels of quality.
Highlights: Largest pool in Phan Thiet, massage by the pool or on the beach, Free tai-chi and yoga lessons, walking tours, Spa, Fitness Room, tennis courts, volleyball courts, badminton, basketball.
What People Say: “Couldn’t fault this place. The grounds and pool are amazing, and the service is top. The buses to the tourist area in the evening are excellent.” (Oliver, Booking.com)
“This is one of the best resorts in Asia I have stayed in. I’m actually not sure you could beat this even if you paid 3 x more! Spotless, very happy, and helpful staff. The Saturday night BBQ by the pool is 100% value for money. The seafood choices are spectacular. The beach was clean and the resort immaculate.” (Trevor, Booking.com)
What We Say: All in all, the Pandanus Resort provides a good price/quality ratio away from the hustle and bustle.
Sailing Club Resort Mui Ne
5 stars Boutique Beach Resort – sailingclubmuine.com/
Perfect for Couples, and Adventurers
Overview: A centrally located beach resort in Mui Ne, Sailing Club Resort has all the best that resorts in Mui Ne can offer, including a private beach, rustic beach style decor, and lush gardens interwoven throughout the premises. It is highly rated as a best-value option for couples traveling.
Highlights: Great vegetarian menu options, beachfront dining, private dining packages, private beach, pool, spa, and water sports.
What People Say: “We loved our 4 days at this beautiful place. Everything was perfect: room, staff, food, pool, beach. Definitely our favorite hotel in Vietnam.” (Frank, Booking.com)
“Sailing Club Resort is in a good location. Loved the room we stayed in. Gardens are wonderful. The restaurant has a good choice and the food was very good.” (Gail, Booking.com)
What we say: Sailing Club Resort Mui Ne Resort and Spa provides luxury service with a boutique, beach retreat ambiance, and a convenient location. Lush green garden walkways, rustic interiors, and breathtaking beachfront views are sure to relax the weariest of travelers.
The Cliff Resort and Residences Phan Thiet
5 stars Luxury Beach Resort – thecliffresort.com.vn
Perfect for Couples, and Families
Overview: Located 5 km from the city center, The Cliff is the perfect recluse from the noise and rumble of Ho Chi Minh City. It is rated as one of the best properties in Mui Ne for its comprehensive spa, amenity, room offerings, and stellar design.
Highlights: Large infinity pool, grand terrace restaurant, private cinema, private beach, villas with private pools, and self-contained apartment options.
What People Say: “Amazing facilities, beautiful location only a 10-minute taxi ride from Mui Ne, but felt like a totally different part of the country. Much cleaner, less busy and chaotic.” (James, booking.com)
“We came to The Cliff resort and residences after a 10-day trip throughout Vietnam. We stayed in several hotels and had a good time in most of them, but The Cliff Resort has topped them all. The facilities are wonderful and the Villa we stayed in was very luxurious.” (Nir, tripadvisor.com)
What we say: This Mediterranean-inspired resort offers travelers to Mui Ne a truly private getaway with breathtaking beach views, a massive heated pool, and a grand terrace overlooking the ocean. With plenty of activities for kids, this is an ideal destination for families and couples alike.
NHA TRANG HOTELS & RESORTS
Mia Resort Nha Trang
5 stars Luxury Beach Resort – mianhatrang.com
Perfect for Couples
Overview: A secluded beachside resort surrounded by stunning sea cliffs, ocean views, and tropical gardens, this luxury getaway destination is one of Nha Trang’s highest rated for couples.
Highlights: Quiet location, large-sized rooms, and villas with private pools, stunning views, excursions, concierge, five-star dining options, rated Best Value in Nha Trang.
What People Say: “Perfect in every way, highly recommend to anybody considering a stay at this property.” (Michelle, booking.com)
“Absolutely an amazing place to visit. Extremely helpful and polite staff. Stunning view of the sea and reasonably priced. Once you enter the resort you won’t need to leave for anything! Overall, it was an experience I would love to repeat!” (Wayne, Hotels.com)
What we say: Mia Nha Trang is located in the heart of serene nature. The luxury resort incorporates beach-inspired natural elements with modern design in elegantly crafted villas and rooms. For people who want to escape the noise and dive into the beach life of Southeast Asia, this is an option that can’t be beaten!
Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang Resort
5 stars Luxury Beach Resort – sixsenses.com/evason-resorts/ana-mandara
Perfect For: Families, Couples, Adventurers, and Eco-tourism
Overview: Part of Six Sense’s line of luxury resorts, Evason Ana Mandara is Nha Trang’s only true beachfront resort. Only one mile from the city center there is plenty of onsite entertainment, as well as organized excursions to other major points of interest, The resort combines nature with the convenience of location and there is no shortage of amenities and activities for everyone.
Highlights: Water sports, beachfront location, gorgeous villas, multi-room apartments, spa treatments, excursions, 24-hour dining, and live music.
What People Say:
“Great breakfast selection, beautiful beach, beachfront bungalow room was perfect. It’s pure luxury and very relaxing. The spa located in the resort is also fantastic. Room service selection was great and good value.” (Margeaux, booking.com)
“Naturally friendly staff and service, excellent cuisine and spa. If you want to have alternative food places, nightclubs, etc, they are only a short stroll away on the beach.” (Anonymous, Mrandmssmith.com)
What we say: This is one of Nha Trang’s best resorts and the only resort along the beachfront in the City. With many watersports and exciting excursions to nearby islands, this is the perfect resort for couples, families, or even solo travelers looking for luxury and a dash of adventure.
HUE HOTELS & RESORTS
Azerai La Residence Hotel
5 stars Luxury Art Deco Hotel – azerai.com/la-residence-hue
Perfect for Couples, Families, Historical and Cultural Tourism
Overview: One of Vietnam’s most spectacular riverside resorts, with historical Hue as its backdrop, Azerai La Residence is close to most points of interest and comes complete with professional spa treatments, a tennis court, river views, five-star dining, and more.
Highlights: River views, central location, indoor and outdoor pools, spa and wellness center, fitness center.
What People Say: “Extremely friendly and helpful staff, beautiful decor, delicious food, clean and well-appointed rooms, brilliant pool area, delightful cocktails, superb location.” (Tracy, Booking.com)
“This is one of the pricier hotels in Hue, but from an aesthetic and service viewpoint worth the money. Interior design is a treat for Art Deco fans and both the service and hotel facilities match the price expectations.” (Siegbert, agoda.com)
What we say: This art deco resort, with one-of-a-kind colonial architecture and meticulously crafted ambiance situated alongside Vietnam’s perfume river, is one of the country’s most unique luxury hotel experiences.
HA LONG BAY CRUISES
5 stars Luxury Bay Cruise – azaleacruises.com
Perfect for Couples, and Honeymooners
Overview: This high-end resort on the water takes you on a luxury voyage through the iconic limestone landscape of Halong Bay. Guests can enjoy five-star culinary treats while soaking up stunning views of the ancient monoliths. Top off your experience with world-class spa treatments available on board.
Highlights: Onboard Wifi, family rooms, transport to and from Hanoi, five-star dining.
What People Say: “Service excellent, Food amazing! Activities great, and the views are stunning. The staff are so nice and super friendly and attentive. Highlight of our Vietnam trip by far!” (Anonymous, Booking.com)
“We loved every minute of our stay in Halong Bay on the Azalea – all the crew, all the staff – amazing!! The ship herself is wonderful – Halong Bay is one of the wonders of the world!!” (Leanne, Booking.com)
What we say: If you are looking to check out Vietnam’s own natural wonder of the world without sacrificing comfort and style, Azalea Cruise is your best option. This exclusive cruise ship brings adventure, excitement, and luxury straight into the heart of nature.
Mon Cheri Cruise
5 stars Luxury Cruise – monchericruises.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: This world-class luxury cruise offers a stellar, unrivaled cruise experience in beautiful Halong Bay. Rooms come complete with full-length windows offering stunning views and the ship is packed with food options, onboard activities, and a variety of daily excursions.
Highlights: Five-star dining, mini golf course, kayaking and water sports, transport from Hanoi, onboard wifi, spa, and wellness center.
What People Say: “The staff was excellent from the moment we were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi to our drop-off back to Hanoi. They took care of our dietary requirements. We were celebrating our anniversary and my mother’s birthday on the cruise. The staff ensured that they made it a special celebration for us.” (Al, Booking.com)
“This cruise was a real highlight of our trip to Vietnam. The staff were so friendly – nothing was too much trouble! Food was also delicious and the itinerary is jam-packed and runs like clockwork. All activities were included in the price (including a full day tour to Cat Ba island) which was a major bonus. Rooms are a great size, clean, and have all amenities you need. Having a private balcony to watch the islands go past is also lovely. Would recommend this cruise without a doubt!!” (Ana, Tripadvisor.com)
What we say: Mon Cheri is easily Vietnam’s best luxury cruise option for families traveling to Halong Bay, thanks to its jam-packed activity itinerary, exquisite rooms and amenities, and top-notch dining. If you are looking to score a memorable Halong Bay experience for your family, this one can’t be beaten.
SA PA HOTELS & RESORTS
Eco Palms House
3 stars Eco-tourism, Cultural Tourism – ecopalmshouse.com
Perfect for Couples, and Solo Travellers
Overview: This resort is the most unique offering on our list. Forget the star rating, what this hotel lacks in luxury is more than makes up for with unbeatable mountain views and unforgettable cultural experiences with local families of the H’mong Minorities. With hands-on gardening, cooking and weaving classes, and village tours, Eco Palms House brings you into the heart of the local culture of this mountain village.
Highlights: Hand-built eco-lodges located directly on Sapa’s iconic rice steppes, cooking classes, wifi, bar and lounge, airport transportation, bicycles, and tour guides.
What People Say: “My son and I had 3 nights wonderful nights at Eco Palms and loved it all. I took the cooking class which was educating and very professional using organic veggies from the garden!… The beds and shared room were very comfortable and authentic. When my son got a bad ear infection they personally took us to the local hospital and explained the situation to the doctor. Lastly, they found us a car and driver for a nine-day trip through the mountains and checked on us throughout the trip. It doesn’t get any better!” (Dawn, Tripadvisor.com)
“Everything about this hotel was great! The location on the rice fields, the view, the staff, the food… The bungalows are very cozy and the hotel has one of the best views you can ask for a vacation near Sapa!” (Jeremy, booking.com)
What we say: The perfect balance of comfort and cultural experience, Eco Palms House brings you the most authentic Sapa experience you could ask for. With the best views in the entire country, food straight from the local gardens, and a truly authentic experience of quiet comfort and Hmong culture, this is easily one of Vietnam’s best off-the-beaten-path resort experiences.
Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa Sa Pa
5 stars Luxury Mountain Resort – sapa.silkpathhotel.com
Perfect for Couples, Families
Overview: Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa rates as one of Sapa’s best on multiple booking sites. The resort offers exceptional service and magnificent design. Every inch of the hotel exudes extravagance. It’s easy to see why this luxury mountain resort is widely considered the gem of Sapa – with its perfect location, indoor pool, onsite spa and wellness center, and breathtaking views.
Highlights: Nightclub, billiards, karaoke, game room, children’s playground, walking and biking tours, entertainment, five-star dining, spa, wellness center, and indoor pool.
What People Say: “If I could give a higher rating I would! Both I and my partner thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Silk Path Resort. Everything about it was exquisite. We felt like we were staying in a palace as opposed to a hotel.” (Jessica, Booking.com)
“Outstandingly beautiful and well-designed. It was quiet, felt like I had the place to myself. Great indoor pool, nice cocktails & excellent breakfast with plenty of variety for Western & Asian tastes. The highlight was the huge comfortable bed! Highly recommended.” (Josh, agoda.com)
What we say: This resort really is the pearl of Sapa. Offering travelers a degree of luxury that does not exist for miles around in this sleepy, ancient mountain town, Silk Path brings a world-class resort experience to a far-off, magical destination.
By Fabrice Turri
Cat Tien National Park is the True rainforest of South Vietnam
Cat Tien National Park is located in the center of three provinces: Dong Nai, Lam Dong, and Binh Phuoc. Threatened by human activity, Cat Tien is nonetheless a treasure of biodiversity and has been recognized by UNESCO. Dipping a paddle into the lake, my friend casts an anxious glance at the water, looking for air bubbles rising to the surface – a clear sign of the presence of a predatory reptile likely to capsize our small boat!
Located in the northern part of Cat Tien National Park, the famous Crocodile Lake is indeed a breeding ground for the Siamese crocodile, reintroduced in 2000. But this is not the only species lurking in Cat Tien. The park, which covers 71,920 hectares of forests, plains, and marshes, is home to many birds and mammals. It is, in fact, the last true rainforest of South Vietnam.
More than a jungle, Cat Tien is a legacy of an ancient time when Vietnam was still covered with thick vegetation. Aware of the park’s ecosystem’s extreme fragility, UNESCO decided in 2001 to inscribe Cat Tien in its World Network of Biosphere Reserves. This recognition, however, did not manage to save the last Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros, discovered in 2010 with its skull shattered, a sad victim of poaching, killed for the value of its horn.
The rhinoceros horn’s supposed therapeutic and aphrodisiac effects have unfortunately led to the extinction of the last specimen. Cat Tien National Park had already greatly suffered during the Vietnam War when it was sprayed with herbicides, arguably the most notorious of which was Agent Orange, a defoliant. Today the most pressing threats to the park are unfettered deforestation, agricultural encroachment, and poaching.
The plan to build two dams upstream of Crocodile Lake on the Dong Nai River continues to provoke outcries among defenders of this expansive biological sanctuary. Despite the park’s deteriorating biodiversity over the years, it still houses more than 1,610 different plants, 105 species of mammals, 351 species of birds, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and hundreds of species of butterflies and insects – a remarkable nature spot for lovers of wilderness hiking.
Places to visit in Cat Tien National Park:
- Tung Tree (1.5 km, 3 hours by foot)
- The Heavenly Waterfall (5.5 km)
- The Fig Tree (16 km)
- The archaeological site of Cat Tien (12 km)
- Ethnic villages of Ma and S’tieng (12 km)
- The Botanical Garden (2 km)
- Elephant Hill (3.5 km)
- Crocodile Lake (14 km)
- Ta Lai (home to different types of forests)
- The Primate Rescue Centre
The Thai ethnic minority are the second-largest ethnic minority in the country. The White Thais live mainly in Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces, while the Black Thais can be found more in the provinces of Son La and Mai Chau. They are known for their beautifully woven garments and other accessories, and they live in stilt houses designed to protect residents from possible flooding and dangerous animals, as well as to provide shelter for their domestic animals.
Black Thai women wear green, blue, pink, or purple blouses with a distinctive row of buttons, a black skirt, and a black scarf. Thai people have a great heritage of myths and ancient legends and love to sing and perform folk dances known as Xoe, Sap, and Han Khuong. Their customs include the practice that a husband lives in the house of the family of his wife until a baby is born, before moving in with his family – a lesson for us all, perhaps!
The approximately 600,000 Dao, known as jungle people, originally came from southern China hundreds of years ago. Their religious beliefs include elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. They are divided into smaller sub-groups – Dao with white trousers, Dao with narrow trousers, Dao with coins, Dao with blue clothes, and similar descriptive titles.
Women of the Red Dao sub-group are easily identifiable by their triangular red turbans or scarves decorated with silver coins and red tassels. The men usually wear long pants, shirts, and headscarves.
The Importance of Tourism
Various NGOs provide support for community-based tourism that involves local ownership and management, offering tourists the chance to learn about and experience the culture, work environment, and lifestyle of local villages. Fortuitously, the regions that are home to many ethnic minorities have breathtaking landscapes, spectacular rice terraces, limestone mountains, and impressive waterfalls that make them ideal locales for sustainable tourism activities.
Réhahn has seen this during his photographic travels. ”I believe the best way to protect ethnic groups is to promote them outside their community, to create a sense of pride and make them realise the value of their heritage,” he says. “For example the Quang Nam of Hue province are active. Northern groups have proven that there is an interest from foreigners in tribal culture; now people have to realize that ethnic groups are found everywhere in Vietnam, and some have only a few hundred members.”
An example of these efforts was the first Hoang Su Phi Mountain Bike Challenge in May this year, which, apart from cycling in Sapa, had participants interacting with communities and carrying out a day of voluntary work that directly benefited a local village.
A number of tour companies now organize trips to the more remote areas of the country relying on homestays with local ethnic families. For example, Mr. Linh’s Adventures Travel Company, based in Hanoi, has a range of tours that focus on the Ba Be National Park, home to Tay, Dao, and Hmong ethnic groups. All of his five to 21-day trekking, caving, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing, and boating tours include basic but comfortable homestays in local villages.
By Mark Gwyther
“Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever.” – Anthony Bourdain
Vietnam’s First Generation of Travelers – Adventure Tourism
If you are reading this article in Vietnam, there is a fair chance it is in part because of Anthony Bourdain. As Vietnam slowly opened its doors to the world during the last few years of the 20th century, celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain epitomized the country’s first generation of tourism: adventurous Westerners with backpacks traveling halfway around the world to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of an exotic country. Only 20 years ago, Vietnam received a meager 1.5 million international visitors. These early adventure travelers increased in numbers over the next decade and as they explored the country, their favorite places became Vietnam’s first generation of tourist locations. By 2008, arrivals nearly tripled. Of course, not all were these adventure travelers: Asian businesspeople, Chinese cross-border shoppers, veterans of the war, and Russian oil ex-pats were also in the mix.
It was not all smooth sailing. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, growth was not linear or even a certainty. The SARS scare of 2003 reduced the total inbound visitors by nearly 8 percent from the year before, and the Thailand political unrest in 2009 affected the entire region, dropping the number of arrivals to Vietnam 2009 by more than 10 percent from the year before.
Despite the ups and downs, businesses serving these adventure tourists multiplied as savvy Vietnamese saw the profitability of focusing on foreign visitors. A small number of foreigners fell in love with the country (or someone) and became ex-pats, often opening a business for the adventure travelers who followed. Inside the cities, Pham Ngu Lao (Ho Chi Minh) and the French Quarter (Hanoi) became known as “the backpacker area”. Outside of these two major cities, travel was difficult in the early days and many of the first-generation locations arose because they were accessible. Phan Thiet/Mui Ne was the first spot where Highway 1A meets the ocean. Nha Trang and Danang/Hoi An had military airports converted to civilian airports which increased access.
Adventure tourism is not unique to Vietnam; it is often associated with developing countries and it often comes with problems. Ironically, adventure travelers en masse tend to destroy what they love. First-generation destinations are almost always not prepared for the growth in tourism. Adequate waste disposal, business regulations, and security never quite catch up with demand. Once shops, restaurants, and hotels are built along the roads, improving transportation infrastructure becomes much more difficult and costly. Many first-generation locations in Vietnam still struggle with these issues.
Vietnam will continue to be an adventure traveler’s dream in the foreseeable future. New locations such as Sapa are being discovered (and ruined) by travelers trying to get off the proverbial beaten path. Infrastructure improvements and a loosening of visa requirements will lower the learning curve, making the country more accessible to more people looking for that once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Vietnam’s Second Generation of Travelers – Mass Tourism
In January of this year, Vietnam received nearly as many international visitors as all of 1998, but not because of a huge increase in adventure travelers. A recent seismic shift in the type of visitors changed the industry. To illustrate the point, only eight years ago nearly as many Americans visited Vietnam as Chinese. Now Chinese visitors outnumber Americans by almost six to one.
The second generation of tourists to Vietnam is the new Asian middle-class from nearby countries. The growth of people with disposable income in Asia is unprecedented in the history of humankind, surpassing post-World War II United States. That leads to interesting questions about where those new American middle-class consumers traveled and what they did.
The answer is they overwhelmingly headed south to Mexico, a warm country with beautiful beaches, where Americans had more purchasing power, and the culture was interesting but not too exotic. By the end of the century Mexico was a top-10 international destination with 90 percent of arrivals originating from its northern neighbour. Vietnam is positioned almost exactly the same geographically to China as Mexico is to the United States. Mexico’s tourism industry is an excellent guide for understanding the past, present and future development of tourism in Vietnam.
Tourism in Mexico began with adventure travelers, just like in Vietnam. As the numbers increased, Mexico learned from the problems first-generation tourism hotspots like Acapulco encountered. Rather than continue to let development occur naturally, it allocated huge tracts of land for large developers in designated locations and provided incentives to build mammoth modern resorts.
Mexico invested its oil revenues to develop the infrastructure surrounding these designated tourism locations. Unlike adventure travellers, the new middle-class travellers preferred resorts with walls that kept them inside and the locals outside. This successful strategy resulted in Cancun developing 26,500 hotel rooms and welcoming six million visitors a year by 2005.
Given these developments in Vietnam as well, it might lose some of the less mass-tourism-inclined visitors to less developed neighbouring countries, but many will be motivated to find less-known locations in Vietnam. An indirect benefit could be that tourism revenue may spread to some of the poorer areas of the country.
Vietnam’s second generation of tourism is just beginning, despite tremendous growth in the last few years. The government is targeting 20 million international arrivals by the end of this decade. It is likely that nearly 30 million visitors will come to Vietnam by 2022. Destinations such as Phu Quoc, Cam Ranh, and Danang are turning into Asia’s versions of Cancun and Cabos.
Individually, these travelers might not spend as much money as more experienced travelers, but their sheer numbers make up for that and more. Additionally, the environmental and social impact is contained in a proportionately small area. For a developing country like Vietnam, the economic impact might be great enough to push the country towards the top end of the middle-income scale. For that to happen, the government’s proceeds from tourism should be reinvested back into programs that offer a high rate of return such as better infrastructure and education. While that may be uncertain, what is certain is that investors, developers, and the Vietnamese government will continue to focus on this growing market segment.
Vietnam’s Third Generation of Travelers – Sustainable Tourism
Once people travel internationally a few times, they become more adventurous and look for quality experiences outside the resort wall. The third generation of tourism arises when the experience or activity is integrated into the surrounding environment. Specific cultural, geographic, and historic properties are integral to the vacation. Companies engaging in third-generation tourism act in a more sustainable manner since their business model depends on the surrounding environment remaining relatively the same.
This is also what industry experts mean when they discuss diversifying tourism products. Rather than focusing on a geographic market, the focus is on people from around the globe interested in some activity. Third-generation tourists are searching for specific experiences and thus are willing to pay more. Price becomes less of an issue. This is the holy grail of tourism.
How will tourism companies in Vietnam take this next step? Culturally, Vietnamese food is gaining an excellent reputation for being both tasty and healthy. Foodies all over the world might be interested in coming to Vietnam to experience their favorite dishes cooked and served authentically, especially if they know it is safe to eat.
While an adventure traveler is comfortable eating on the street without guides, third-generation travelers need value added by a company that understands their needs. They pay more and expect more. Homestays and indigenous villages also offer a view into Vietnam’s unique culture. Vietnam has great potential for medical tourism as a low-cost alternative to Western medical procedures.
Vietnam’s incredible and diverse geography is another advantage companies may use to entice sophisticated travelers. Photography, adventure sports, and spelunking are just some of the activities that potentially could bring vacationers from around the world.
Historical tourism will be a tougher road. Vietnam’s recent past damaged or destroyed many of its ancient sites. Although many Cham structures still stand, most could use renovation and support services to make the experience better. While war tourism is not a big market, maybe a small niche might arise for tours focused on the recent past wars. The Cu Chi Tunnels, after all, are a popular attraction.
The evolution of tourism in Vietnam can and will happen concurrently. Third-generation tourism businesses already operate quietly. Examples include the Amano’i Resort in Ninh Thuan Province which offers spa and wellness services to the super-rich and famous. Eco-lodges in both the North and South try and co-exist with locals outside of the popular destinations.
It will be up to individual businesses like these to move past the mega resort model since the Vietnamese government’s focus should be directed towards the low hanging fruit from the North. But Mexico’s tourism industry learned that as Americans gained more travel experience they eventually desired more than a beach and buffet. The new Asian middle-class travellers will also evolve past mass tourism, and those working in the tourism industry in Vietnam need to be prepared for the shift and get ahead of the curve.
By Mark Gwyther
The headline seemed to say it all; “Only 6 percent of foreign visitors return to Vietnam”.
The impressively named Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Development Program announced its survey results in early November which was quickly followed by numerous newspaper/website critiques about the reason why the figure was so low. Teeth gnashing and the blame game commenced immediately, with comparisons to Thailand and Singapore’s official return rates being used as a benchmark. In all the coverage though, no one mentioned just how flawed the survey was and how it would be impossible to compare it with official numbers in other countries.
Of course, Vietnam does have problems with its tourism industry. I don’t mean to sound like Vietnam is a traveler’s paradise. The reasons reported such as lack of basic facilities and transportation continue to be major hindrances for the industry. But to cite a market research study that uses samples from the top tourist destinations of Sapa, Halong Bay, Hue, and Hoi An when looking for repeat visitors is like going to the Ho Chi Minh City McDonalds and Starbucks outlets and asking international patrons if they love Vietnam street food.
The sample of tourists questioned was heavily biased towards first-time visitors because the survey was taken where people go on their first trip to Vietnam. If the survey was conducted on the beaches of Mui Ne, District 1 in Saigon, and the border town of Mong Cai, then the survey would have been skewed very much in the opposite direction. The purchase considerations of a traveler returning to a country are often very different than the reasons a person visits a country for the first time. In Vietnam, this would very much be reflected in where that traveler visits.
First time visitors (typically tourists) are looking to explore a new culture, geography, and scenery that they cannot find at home. Once seen, it is stored in both memory and photographs. Then it is on to the next adventure. The survey says visitors only stay in Sapa for two days. How long do they expect people to look at tiered fields and indigenous people? How many times do you need to see it? Adding an amusement park or other typical tourist facilities designed to keep visitors longer would only take away from the reason they go there to begin with. Sometimes it is alright to be a “once in a lifetime” destination. If you try to “fix” it you may break it instead.
On the other hand, tourism authorities must understand what makes people come back. The most obvious reason is cross-border trading. Vietnam shares a border with Cambodia, Laos, and China. In fact, one out of every five international arrivals to Vietnam is made by road. Some are tourists, but many are just doing business. The same applies to business travelers who often return to a country multiple times. About 17% of all international arrivals to Vietnam are made for business purposes. Very few of them are traveling to Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, or Halong Bay. Comparing a survey taken in these spots to official numbers from other countries is ridiculous.
But let’s forget about those types of travelers and just focus on tourists. What purchase considerations are fulfilled when a tourist visit a country multiple time? In general, there are two reasons:
1 – A need that cannot be fulfilled in the person’s home country. The obvious example of this is hot weather in the wintertime. Casino gambling and other vices are also reasons people leave their country for a trip abroad. Activities and events can be included in this category as well.
2 – More purchasing power in the visiting country than at home. This includes upgrading or extending a vacation because it is less expensive in a foreign country. Cheaper shopping and golf excursions are also examples.
Of course, when considering an international vacation, travelers will weigh the cost versus vacationing domestically. Transportation expenses and travel time are usually important when deciding.
So getting back to the survey; Sapa, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Hue are great destinations for visitors to experience on their first trip to Vietnam. Seeing those locations are once in lifetime trips and fulfill the person’s purchase consideration of adventure and new experiences. Going a second time no longer does that and it never will. People coming back for a second time are going to the beaches of south-central Vietnam, playing golf in Danang, and shopping in Hanoi and Saigon. Making conclusions from a survey that does not understand the reasons why people come back to Vietnam is not productive.
We explored the very best beachfront resorts in Vietnam. You could visit any of the luxury beach resorts mentioned as a fantastic way to celebrate your honeymoon or a landmark birthday, or just as a truly decadent vacation treat.
Sipping a cold cocktail on a white sand beach, with a dense jungle at your back and the lapping of the tide gently soothing your senses – what could be better? Vietnam’s luxury beach resorts are some of the best in Asia, with luxurious accommodations available at affordable rates all along the country’s 3,200 kilometers of coastline.
Fantastic Vietnamese food and the sunny warmth of both climate and its people make this a great choice for relaxing and unwinding in stunning surroundings.
Who stays at Six Senses Con Dao?
Do you mean, Brad and Angelina? The Hollywood couple stayed here once, putting Six Senses Con Dao firmly on the luxury travel map.
What makes Six Senses Con Dao such a great beach resort?
It takes less than an hour to reach by charter plane, directly from Ho Chi Minh City to Con Dao Island, where a luxury mini-van picks you up and drops you off at the resort. Situated on one of, arguably, the best beaches in Vietnam, with flat, firm sand that stretches out for a few kilometers and inviting blue water, the private villas all come with an infinity pool and butler. Films are projected nightly in the open air, while the food and drink options are second to none. The service is finely-tuned, leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of a pleasurable stay for the customer.
With a hefty VND18 million price tag per room, it should be no surprise that the service is immaculate, but there are plenty of other aspects which go beyond the basics and may surprise even the most well-traveled luxury aficionado. A pre-check-in list offers anything you might need on the house, from razors to nail clippers to scented pillows to snorkeling gear. Guests can even specify the music they want playing upon entering their private villa for the first time.
The island is a beautiful and scenic attraction in itself, but if you prefer some more activity in your day then there are options to suit most tastes. For the history buff, there is a (now-decommissioned) prison which makes for an interesting visit. For experienced and inexperienced divers alike, there are abundant opportunities to explore what is widely known as Vietnam’s best scuba diving location, while those who prefer to stay above the surface can rent a catamaran for the day.
How long should you stay at Six Senses Con Dao?
As one of the most desirable and delightful resorts in Vietnam and with an outlay of around USD100 to be expected for a return flight, you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend at least four days here soaking in the atmosphere.
Who stays Azerai Ke Ga Bay?
Couples in search of some luxury treatment.
What makes Azerai Ke Ga Bay such a great beach resort?
A short distance from Phan Thiet, Azerai Ke Ga Bay is around a 3-hour trip by car from Ho Chi Minh City, making it the nearest beachfront resort on our list to Vietnam’s largest city. And it’s on the lower end of the luxury price spectrum (around VND7 million for a deluxe suite).
The hotel is peaceful, secluded, and stylish. For your money, you get immaculate 24-hour service and some beautiful sights: the East Sea, rolling sand dunes, and an unspoiled local village where you can pick up local fruit and coffee on the cheap.
What marks Azerai Ke Ga Bay as a top choice are its beautiful surroundings and location. Relax at the spa that overlooks the ocean or choose from the variety of treatments in the expansive spa which spans 10 treatment rooms and a spa pool.
How long should you stay at Azerai Ke Ga Bay?
Three or four nights. In such a small and secluded area you might consider taking a taxi trip into Phan Thiet to check out the city for something to do.
Who stays at Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang?
People who want to balance the beach with some lively city life.
What makes Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang such a great beach resort?
Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang is for beach lovers who don’t want to be too far away from Nha Trang, the busiest coastal city in Vietnam. It also has direct beach access, rather than being located across the road.
This idyllic beach resort is a delightful hideaway despite how close it is to the city. The noise is low enough not to disturb your stay, while the gardens, the exclusive beachfront, and the inviting swimming pools all boost the peaceful atmosphere.
Six Senses, known for its world-class spa facilities, are the managing company behind Evason Ana Mandara so do yourself a favor and make use of the facilities here.
How long should you stay at Evason Ana Mandara Nha Trang?
If you want to explore the bustling city of Nha Trang, which has plenty of landmarks to check out, then around five days will be sufficient. If you’re all about that beach then stick with two or three nights only. If you book in advance, a Garden View Room may be available for under VND3 million. For the more luxurious Beach Front Suit, the cost is usually double this and more.
Who stays at The Nam Hai?
The luxury-minded older crowd, no loud partying but plenty of fun.
What makes The Nam Hai such a great beach resort?
With more than 2,200 reviews The Nam Hai has five bubbles on TripAdvisor – that’s no mean feat. When we visited, we spotted a few things that made this beach resort stand out: the rooms are beautifully decorated with a nice view of the beach meters away; lounging by the pools is idyllic, and the beach sand is spotless. Of all the hotels in Vietnam, this place is easily one of the best. What makes it such a great beach resort?
With more than 2,200 reviews The Nam Hai has five bubbles on TripAdvisor – that’s no mean feat. When we visited, we spotted a few things that made this beach resort stand out: the rooms are beautifully decorated with a nice view of the beach meters away; lounging by the pools is idyllic, and the beach sand is spotless. Of all the hotels in Vietnam, this place is easily one of the best.
Service, in general, is straight out of the top drawer and the price tag matches this (USD350 and up). Every villa offers in-villa dining 24 hours a day, and small but significant details like the low-emission, low-noise electric buggies, and bicycles used by the staff give The Nam Hai a push over the edge into the veritable 5-star territory. This is the place for world-class treatment, rest assured.
How long should you stay at The Nam Hai?
At least two nights. If you can afford more, go for it.
Who stays at An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas?
Luxury travelers in search of peace and seclusion.
What makes An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas such a great beach resort?
The peace and tranquillity of An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas mark it as a truly special spot to get away. Located on an isolated island, a boat ride from Nha Trang, Ninh Van Bay beckons guests from the moment and is an ideal destination for those who are seeking privacy, serenity, and moments of stillness.
The dense trees and jungle in which the villas are situated help to build up the sense of privacy and serenity, despite the near proximity of other holidayers. You may not be the only ones here, but it’ll certainly feel that way.
With exceptional levels of service, you’ll find that your every whim is indulged almost as soon as it enters your mind – this is a place to leave behind any memories of the outside world and submit yourself to total indulgence.
The breakfast at An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas stood out as extra-special – not only is it a la carte, but you can order to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content.
How long should you stay at An Lam Ninh Van Bay Villas?
Situated on a remote and totally private peninsula, the resort is accessible only by boat transfer – this adds a little bit of time to your transfers, and for this reason, we’d recommend staying two-three nights here rather than just one.
And that completes our list of the top beach resorts in Vietnam. If you think we’ve missed one or want to share your experiences at one of the luxury hotels mentioned in the article then please leave a comment! If you’re planning your own trip to the best beaches in Vietnam, check out our top 10 most beautiful beaches in Vietnam.
By Vinh Dao
Traveling to Vietnam can be a life-changing experience with its beautiful scenery and rich cultural history. The main hassles you’ll encounter will be the milder sort, such as pushy vendors and over-enthusiastic touts. Nevertheless, petty theft is on the rise. Travelers tend to target not just because of the cameras or money they carry but also due to the unfamiliarity of their surroundings. These circumstances can make you vulnerable and put a bulls-eye on your back for thieves. While the country is assuredly a friendly and safe place to travel, a little common sense and a few precautions can make your trip smooth and trouble-free.
Simple and smart theft protection habits in Vietnam
Use your camera strap. It might get uncomfortable wearing it in the heat and humidity but it’s easy for a cướp giật (thief on a motorbike) to grab onto your brand new Canon or Nikon DSLR and drive away.
Use your front pockets. The back pocket of your shorts or trousers is an easy mark for any experienced pickpocket. Even better, use a money belt!
Put your stuff away. Most thefts experienced by travelers are crimes of opportunity and leaving your iPad or credit cards out is a big welcome sign for a thief. If your luggage has a lock, use it.
Put away your jewelry. Thieves on motorbikes love necklaces as they are easy to grab and small enough to pocket afterward.
While walking in the city, wear your bag across your shoulder. Also, switch the bag to the inside of the sidewalk to make it harder for a would-be thief.
When checking Google Maps on your iPhone or another smartphone, hold it with two hands!
I know there is supposed to only be 5 but I just saw #6 happen to someone so I had to add it in! We hope these tips help make your trip to Vietnam as safe as can be and hope these tips can keep your trip as enjoyable as possible.
Other Vietnam Travel Tips:
By Tom Owen
The beauty and tranquility of the beaches in Vietnam are one of Asia’s best-kept secrets. Vietnam boasts more than 3,400 kilometers of coast, with beachfront resorts dotted all over its long expanses of soft sand. There are deep blue coves, lagoons surrounded on all sides by jungle and accessible only by boat, striking rock formations, and tropical castaway islands, enveloped by yet more beaches. It may not be people’s first thought for a beach vacation, but Vietnam is one of the best beach holiday destinations in Southeast Asia.
Sandy Beach – Da Nang
Green-blanketed mountains run down to a pristine stretch of white sand at Sandy Beach – Danang. An idyllic place to relax, and just an hour’s flight from either Saigon or Hanoi. And what about that view.
Ninh Van Bay
With imposing rock formations, a white sandy beach, and a backdrop of verdant green mountains, there’s a reason this place is lined with 5-star resorts each with its own private beach area – it’s quite simply one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.
Sao Beach – Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is widely-considered to have the best beaches in Vietnam, with Sao Beach on the southeast coast deemed to have the whitest sand anywhere on the island. Rent a mask and snorkel or paddle your way in a kayak, just make sure you visit this beach.
Cua Dai Beach – Hoi An
The charmingly rustic Hoi An Old Town is one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations, but just a few kilometers out of town are some of the country’s best beaches. Rent bicycles and ride out to Cua Dai beach, grab one of the sun loungers and wile away the hours.
Con Dao is the top place to find some of the bluest waters in all of Vietnam. The tranquil, crystal clear seas make it perfect for scuba diving and exploring the corals around the island.
Hon Tam (near Nha Trang)
Hon Tam is a beautiful island with glorious beaches to enjoy. The island is already home to an extensive eco-resort and with a five-star hotel currently on the way, you better get here fast before the secret is well and truly out.
The beaches in Hue, the old dynastic capital of Vietnam, are stunning places to watch the sunset or sunrise. Grab yourself a margarita, enjoy the breeze and recline back into beachfront bliss.
Just a few hours out of Saigon, Long Hai is one of the busiest fishing villages in the country. Vacationers arrive by busload every weekend, so plan your trip here on a weekday.
Looking for lively nightlife with a Seaview? Nha Trang is the spot for you. Soak up the sun by day, revel at night. What could be better?
Mui Ne and Phan Thiet
The fishing village of Mui Ne is a popular getaway for tourists and locals alike, its beaches are popular and there can often be big crowds. Still a worthwhile excursion, just avoids it during Vietnamese national holidays.
Think we missed out on an essential stop for a blissful beach vacation in Vietnam? Make sure to let us know – we’d love to check it out!
HCMC TRAVEL INSPIRATION
BEST TRADITIONAL CRAFT VILLAGES IN VIETNAM: PART 2
By Lien Nguyen
Vietnam’s craft villages have earned famous reputations over the years. Since these villages were founded, the skillful artisans not only created new handicrafts but also techniques from previous generations alive as well. Today we’re seeing a lot of modernization in Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean handicraft villages in Vietnam are dying off. Visit these villages to check out a piece of history, and don’t forget to read the first part of our series for even more suggestions.
For hundreds of years, the quintessential symbols of Huế have been áo dài (Vietnamese gown) and nón lá (conical hat). Conical hats have been crafted and perfected over centuries, and many craft villages have sprung up over Vietnam to fill the demand: Dạ Lệ, Sịa, Kim Long, and others all depend on conical hat weaving as many villagers’ livelihood. However, Tây Hồ craft village is widely recognized as the most prestigious and historic.
This iconic village is located on the banks of the Như Ý River in Phú Hồ commune, Phú Vang district, around 12 km from Huế City. Fifteen stages have to be completed to create a well-made conical hat, starting with collecting green leaves (bồ qui diệp) in the forest. Then