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Halong Bay
Bac Son valley
Stunning Halong Bay
Lan Ha bay
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HANOI

HANOI

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is the second most populous city in the country with approximately 4 million people. Compared to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is more traditional and refined. Today it is best known for its thriving contemporary arts scene and French architecture, visible by the many colonial villas scattered throughout the city. While it is rapidly developing, the city has retained many of its cultural traditions. Observe elderly people practicing Tai Chi by the lake or witness traditional festivals during the Lunar New Year. Hanoi has a vibrant “street culture” where daily activities, such as hair cutting and eating at food stalls, take place on cramped sidewalks. As Hanoi is becoming more populated with people and automobiles, the city is experiencing more traffic congestion, particularly in the Old Quarter.

 

HALONG BAY

HALONG BAY

A visit to the north is not complete without experiencing the spectacular views of more than 3,000 limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, Ha Long Bay is a naturalist’s dream. Sculpted into strange shapes by the wind and weather, the karsts hide deserted beaches, many magnificent caves, and hidden lagoons that may only be reached by chinks in the cliffs that are revealed at low tide.

Getting here: A 4 hour drive from Hanoi through urbanized areas. You’ll transfer to the docking station, since this is a popular destination, expect bustling scenes of boats and large crowds. All this will be left behind once you sail away to a more serene environment.

MAI CHAU

MAI CHAU

Nestled in a valley amongst verdant hills in the northwestern highlands, Mai Chau’s stunning scenery offers excellent opportunities for trekking and mountain biking while providing a glimpse into the village life of the H’mong and White Thai ethnic hill tribes.

Getting here: Mai Chau is a 4 hour drive from Hanoi. Although the drive can be strenuous due to the mountainous roads, it does offer a good view of the countryside.

SAPA

SAPA

Set high in Vietnam’s northeast mountains, the hamlet of Sapa offers spectacular views of jagged mountain ridges, terraced rice paddies and green valleys inhabited by people of various ethnic minority groups, most of whom congregate in Sapa’s colorful market. Each group has its own distinctive style of dress. From early childhood, girls learn to grow and weave hemp, to dye cloth with indigo, to sew the family’s clothes, and to decorate items with traditional embroidery motifs. More recently, Sapa has become a tourist mecca. Expect hilltribe vendors to follow you and to be persistent in persuading you to buy their handicrafts. If you buy from one vendor and other vendors see you making purchases, they will attempt to sell you their products too. If you’re not interested, just say ‘no’ and ask your guide to walk you away.

Getting here: The best way to get to Sapa is to take a 10-hour overnight train from Hanoi. Departing at night you wake up refreshed the next morning in Sapa ready to begin your adventure. Visiting a more remote hill tribe market requires a 3 to 4.5 hour drive on bumpy dirt roads through mountains. The trip is for the adventurous; otherwise enjoy your time in nearby hill tribe villages.

HOI AN

HOI AN

Set near the coast in central Vietnam, from the 16th to 19th centuries the riverside town of Hoi An once drew merchants from as far as Japan, India, Indonesia and Europe who bought the area’s silk, spices and porcelain. Hoi An still retains remnants of its trading days as evident in the bustling market and abundance of souvenir and tailor shops. What makes Hoi An remarkable today is that its Old Quarter has been beautifully preserved, the streets still lined with old tile-roofed shop houses, shady pagodas and colorful communal halls earning it the status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hoi An is surrounded by attractive countryside where you can observe the traditional way of life of farmers and fishermen.

Getting here: Hoi An is a 30 minute drive from Danang International Airport.

HUE

HUE

While imperial rule ended more than six decades ago, the central city of Hue still bears the marks of its royal past. From 1802 to 1945 Hue was home to 13 Nguyen emperors, whose palaces and tombs provide fascinating glimpses into the luxurious and secretive world of the court. During this period, the Imperial City was built according to the practices of Feng Shui that dictates the location and shape of spaces in harmony with both the physical and spiritual. Visitors may explore the red-lacquered pavilions of the Citadel, wander through ancient garden houses, or feast on delicacies once served in the royal palaces.

Getting here: Hue has a small domestic airport. It is a 1 hour flight from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

QUY NHON

QUY NHON

Quy Nhon once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Champa in the 11th century and was an important US naval and military base during the Vietnam War. Today Quy Nhon is a port city with a population of a quarter of a million and is becoming better known for its secluded beaches. A recently-built international hotel offers the possibility of a relaxing break well away from other more traveled paths.

Getting here: Quy Nhon has a small basic domestic airport. It is a 1hr 45minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

NHA TRANG

NHA TRANG

Located in central Vietnam, the sun-washed town of Nha Trang hugs a seven-km-long stretch of golden sand, making this the perfect place to get a dose of sun, surf and fresh seafood. Clear blue seas dotted with offshore islands offer excellent opportunities for diving, fishing and snorkeling, while the town itself is home to some interesting sites, including a massive white Buddha statue and a cluster of Cham towers built between the 7th and 12th centuries. For a truly dirty pleasure try the mineral mud baths warmed by natural hot springs.

Getting here: A 45 minute drive from the small domestic airport located in Cam Ranh City. It is a 1 hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City and 1hr 40min from Hanoi.

PHAN THIET

PHAN THIET

Phan Thiet is a large fishing village best known locally for its fish sauce production. Located 200 km from Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet is a gateway to nearby beaches which are popular for both local and tourists alike. Mui Ne, a nearby resort town, has 21 km stretch of sandy beaches lined with hotels, resorts, restaurants, and nightclubs. Mui Ne is subject to onshore winds from the South China Sea and is especially breezy from November to May, which may not be ideal for swimming but is popular for wind and kite surfing. Other attractions in the area include the white and red sand dunes, Po Klong Garai Cham tower, and Ocean Dune’s Golf Club, a 6746-yard par 72 course designed by Nick Faldo.

Getting here: Phan Thiet is a 4½ hr drive or a 5 hour train ride from Ho Chi Minh City.

DALAT

DALAT

Set in Vietnam's picturesque Central Highlands, this quiet town boasts cool mountain air, some of the best-preserved French colonial architecture in Indochina, and stunning natural beauty. Year-round, the temperature hovers around 20˚C (68˚F), making this a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Mountain bikers and hikers will delight in the area’s trails, as well as in views of pine-covered hills, organic farms and lush tea and coffee plantations. Dalat hosts a flower festival every other year which normally takes place in mid-December for one week and features a flower exhibition and a flower parade around Xuan Huong lake.

Getting here: Dalat has a small domestic airport. It is a 45-minute flight or a six hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. From Hanoi it takes 1hr, 40 minutes.

PHU QUOC ISLAND

PHU QUOC ISLAND

Located off the tip of Vietnam’s south coast, Phu Quoc is a haven for nature and sea lovers looking for a place to unwind. The island is considered “off the beaten track” as it remains remarkably undeveloped. Phu Quoc’s virgin forests and pristine white sand beaches make this an ideal place for trekking, diving, and snorkeling. The infrastructure remains basic with dirt roads and a small number of four-star properties. If you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway without any distractions or a noisy nightlife then Phu Quoc is the ideal place to visit.

Getting here: A 20 minute flight from Rach Gia (Mekong Delta) or 50 minute flight from HCM City.

CON DAO ISLANDS

CON DAO ISLANDS

Con Dao, or Con Son if referring to the main island in this 16-island archipelago, is possibly the best kept secret in Vietnam. Currently virtually undiscovered - except by the ex-prisoners of the South Vietnamese regime who return to visit their places of incarceration prior to 1975 – Con Dao offers stunning virgin forest, deserted tropical beaches, unique sea life, forgotten prisons being consumed by the jungle, and the possibility to experience a castaway lifestyle without any of the pains normally associated with life 180 kilometers from land. The Con Dao archipelago is an ideal place for nature lovers and an opportunity to visit unspoiled tropical islands before they become developed.

Getting here: Con Dao has a small modern domestic airport. It is a 50-minute flight from HCM City.

MEKONG DELTA

MEKONG DELTA

Life continues in Vietnam's agrarian heartland much as it has done for centuries. Farmers cultivate paddy fields, tend their orchards of tropical fruit and fish in the rivers and canals that criss-cross this fertile plain. Offering an ideal opportunity to adopt the pace of local life, choose to slow down and cycle along the flat roads of the Delta. You may also choose to visit a farmer’s home, try your hand at fruit picking or explore the myriad waterways on a loud one engine boat as used by locals for their daily transportation.

Located 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho is the gateway to the Delta and is ideal for those who are seeking a glimpse of agrarian river life. Traveling further south, you reach Cai Be, best known for its trading activities at the floating market and traditional craft villages. A 4-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, you reach Can Tho, the heartland of the Delta. Can Tho is famous for its floating market, the largest in the Delta, and its numerous fruit orchards.

SAIGON

SAIGON

Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawling metropolis of approximately 10 million people. Formerly known as “Saigon” prior to 1975, today the city is Vietnam’s commercial center. The city’s dynamic energy is apparent in the bustling street scenes with thousands of people on motorbikes constantly on the move. Although Saigon has rapidly developed into a modern city with skyscrapers and shopping centers, there are still remnants of its past visible in the historic landmarks and beautiful French colonial buildings dotted throughout the city. In Saigon, you will still see women dressed in Vietnam’s traditional ao dai tunic stroll past modern trendy boutiques and crowded cafes. You’ll find great nightlife and some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia in this vibrant, fast-changing city. The city is home to people from all aspect of Vietnamese society. You’ll see newly wealthy entrepreneurs in their luxury cars driving past beggars on the street side. As in any large city, petty theft exists and you must exercise caution. From Saigon you can make a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai Holy See temple.

VIENTIANE

VIENTIANE

Vientiane is Southeast Asia’s smallest capital city with a population of just over half a million inhabitants. Located along a bend of the Mekong River, the city exudes a laidback atmosphere and old world charm with its mix of Chinese shop houses and French colonial architecture. The tree-lined boulevards and low traffic density makes the city an ideal place for walking and exploring ancient temples and pagodas including Wat Ho Phakeo, a former royal temple, and Wat Sisaket, one of the capital's oldest temples which houses hundreds of small Buddha images. Apart from sight seeing, there are also excellent shopping for silver jewelry and hand-woven textiles which can be found at the Morning Market and a number of boutique shops. A visit to Vientiane is not complete without a relaxing sundowner at one of the many riverside bars along the Mekong River to enjoy a spectacular sunset view.

Getting here: Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport is the gateway to most domestic destinations. There are daily flights to/from Luang Prabang.

LUANG PRABANG

LUANG PRABANG

Luang Prabang, once the royal seat of the Lan Xang Kingdom or “land of a thousand elephants”, is a sleepy town nestled in a mountain valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers. Considered as the center of Lao culture, the city offers a fascinating glimpse into the Buddhist religious practice and traditional lifestyle of the various hill-tribe groups in this northern region. The town is endowed with a picturesque landscape of palm lined riverbanks, ornate golden temples, and ancient monuments amongst the backdrop of the towering Mt. Phousi. It is no wonder that UNESCO declared Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site in 1995 describing it as an "outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries."

The town center has an outstanding range of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. With a population of 16,000 inhabitants, the town is relatively quiet with little activity and a non-existent nightlife. Due to the increasing popularity of Luang Prabang, the town can be inundated with tourists, especially during peak travel season. Nearby attractions include Pak Ou Caves which houses thousands of Buddha images, Kuangsi Waterfall and several cotton-silk weaving villages.

Getting here: There are direct international flights from Bangkok, Hanoi, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Kunming. There are daily domestic flights (40 minutes) from Vientiane. By road, it is a 9 - 10 hour drive from Vientiane and 6-7 hours from Vang Vieng.

PHNOM PENH

PHNOM PENH

Before civil war broke out, Phnom Penh was nicknamed 'The Pearl of Asia' as it was considered one of the finest cities in the region. Located at the junction of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh has been Cambodia’s capital for most of the last six centuries. Having recovered from the dark legacy of the Pol Pot era in the 1970’s, Phnom Penh today is a vibrant economic center with a population of two million. Cafes, restaurants and hotels line the riverfront while boutique shops and art galleries sprout along smaller side streets. Even as it undergoes urban development, Phnom Penh has retained much of its old world charm as evident in the French colonial architecture and traditional ornate temples. Rich in history, the city offers a number of cultural and historical sites including the National Museum, Royal Palace, and Silver Pagoda.

To truly understand the country’s recent history and the people’s mindset, a visit to the Tuol Sleng Prison is a must. Also known as S-21, this former school became a torture center and has now been preserved as a museum. On the outskirts of Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields, an area where some 17,000 men, women and children were murdered and dumped in mass graves. Not for the faint-of-heart, these sites are sobering reminders of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality—and of the rest of the world’s failure to intervene.

SIEM REAP

SIEM REAP
Siem Reap is a charming provincial town defined by a cluster of villages, Chinese-style shop houses, and French-colonial architecture. As a gateway to the ancient temple ruins of Angkor, Siem Reap has experienced exponential growth in recent years with hotel and resort developments turning this once sleepy village into a tourism mecca. Activities to experience in the town of Siem Reap include watching a traditional Cambodian “apsara” dance performance and participating in a Khmer cuisine cooking class. The rural outskirts offer plenty of interesting activities such as visiting craft shops and silk farms, taking a bike ride through the scenic countryside, or participating in a humanitarian assistance program by making a pump well donation or helping children at an orphanage.

Getting here: Most visitors arrive in Siem Reap by air. There are direct flights from most major capital cities in Southeast Asia. It is a 40 minutes flight or a 6 hour journey by road from Phnom Penh.

TEMPLES OF ANGKOR

TEMPLES OF ANGKOR

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992, the Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact place it alongside other wonders of the world like the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. Built between seven and eleven centuries ago the temples—about 100 of which are still standing—were devoted to Buddha and Hindu deities. Within the fortified city of Angkor Thom lies the Bayon temple, the third tier of which is lined by more than 200 huge, carved faces that stare down from 54 towers. Other highlights include the Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm, which was not been restored and looks just as it did when French explorers stumbled upon it in the 1860s, and Angkor Wat, a vast temple complex dedicated to Vishnu in the early 12th century. Many of the temples are covered with fantastic carvings depicting religious stories and scenes from daily life.

You will be issued an “Angkor Pass” which is similar to an entrance ticket but has your photo on it. The pass allows you access all the temples in the complex. Make sure you keep the pass just in case you would like to explore the temples in your leisure time, as long as the date is still valid.

 

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