There is nowhere quite like Vietnam – a land of true contrasts, from the frenetic and fascinating capital of Hanoi to the idyllic rice terraces of mountainous Sapa. Whether you have a month to play or two weeks off, here is an overview of cities in Vietnam to start your travel planning.
Hoi An, Central Coast
Best suitable for: Sightseeing, shopping and café hopping
Don't miss: See the thousands of lanterns on an evening stroll through the old town
If you want to combine sightseeing with a deluge of shopping, the charming UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An should be at the top of your list. The from the 15. Century character positively oozes from its old, ochre walls. It's not hard to see why the city is often called the Venice of the East referred to as. Spend your afternoons walking along the main canal and exploring the maze of winding streets lined with market stalls, tailors, cafes and boutiques.
You can have almost anything made here – and for incredibly little money by Western standards – so be warned, you may go home with far more than you brought with you. If shopping doesn't interest you, escape the crowds and bike to the sea for some relaxing beach time – the beach is only 15 minutes away by bike. Hoi An really comes alive at night, when thousands of colorful silk lanterns illuminate every corner of the old town, creating a magical glow – a paradise for photographers.
Hoi An is lined with picturesque canals © Sarah Gibbons
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Dalat, Central Highlands
Best suitable for: Frolicking in the countryside and the thrill of canyoning
Do not miss: The hair-raising canyoning experience
If you prefer to bake on the beach, make sure that Da Lat – known as the "City of Eternal Spring" – is on the beach – On your itinerary. This picturesque mountain town lies in the scenic central highlands. Has far cooler temperatures than its coastal cities. Here you are surrounded by pine forests, open meadows and coffee plantations.
A popular weekend destination for local tourists, this city was built for romance with its French colonial architecture, horse-drawn carriages and even an Eiffel Tower-like radio mast. But there is also a serious adventure streak, with travelers from around the world enjoying one of the most adrenaline-pumping canyoning experiences in Southeast Asia. Not for the faint of heart, this means climbing, jumping and rappelling down 20-meter waterfalls – a hair-raising but extremely exciting activity you won't soon forget.
Canyoning in Dalat – not for the faint of heart © Sarah Gibbons
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), South Vietnam
Best for: Buzzing culture and cheap food
Don't miss: Discover the best street food in the city on a motorcycle tour
You didn't experience chaotic traffic until you were in Ho Chi Minh City (still known as Saigon by many locals) – a high-octane, positively vibrant city of over eight million people. One of the first things you will undoubtedly experience is the roar and clatter of thousands of bicycles whizzing around. It seems like Pandemonium, but somehow everyone seems to know where they are going.
The food scene here is thriving, and if you can muster the courage, join a motorcycle street food tour (as a passenger, of course) for a whistle-stop tour of the city's best street food, from bánh mì (stuffed baguettes) to bánh xèo (crispy rice flour pancakes). Ho Chi Minh City is also the gateway to exploring the fascinating and highly claustrophobic Cu Chi tunnels, used by Vietnamese guerrilla fighters during the war with America, as well as the hard-hitting War Museum.
Bánh xèo, a crispy rice flour pancake with a variety of delicious dishes
Sapa, Northwest Vietnam
Best for: Trekking through the legendary rice terraces
Don't Miss: The view from the top of Fansipan Mountain
Founded by the French in 1922 as a hill station, Sapa is the tourist hub of the mountainous north – famous for its dramatic rice terraces hanging from steep slopes. The region is also home to a number of ethnic minorities, namely the Red Dao and Black Hmong, who still wear their distinctive traditional clothing – each village wears different clothes.
Spend your days exploring the region on one of the many hiking trails. If you're looking for a bigger challenge, you can climb Mount Fansipan itself, the highest peak in Indochina at 3.143 m, cope. If you're not interested in the rut, you can still enjoy the incredible views thanks to the Fansipan Legend cable car, said to be the highest and longest in the world.
Rice terraces in Sapa, Vietnam
Hue, Central Coast
Best suitable For: Exploring Vietnam's imperial history
Don't Miss: Cycling along the Hai Van Pass
Experience Vietnam's imperial past by visiting Hue, the Vietnamese capital (1802-1945) during the time of the Nguyen Dynasty, which dissolved at the end of the war with America. The city stretches across the Song Huong (Perfume River). Is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to the Imperial City – a vast network of temples, museums and pavilions that will keep you busy all day long.
If you are traveling from Da Nang and Hoi An to Hue or vice versa, be sure to drive the Hai Van Pass: a breathtaking mountain road with hairpin curves and panoramic views of secluded beaches and misty hills. Some may recognize it from Top Gear, which named it one of the best coastal roads in the world in its Vietnam special. You can either rent a motorcycle. Experience it on your own or join an 'easy rider' tour as a passenger.
The Phu Van Lau Pavilion in Hue, Vietnam
Hanoi, North Vietnam
Best for: Pho love and bargain hunting
Don't miss: A walk around tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi's historic district – a hub for tourists and locals alike.
Vietnam's attractive capital is a city of contrasts, from the wide, elegant streets of the French Quarter to the colorful chaos of the Old Quarter. Most of the activity takes place in the latter – the UNESCO-protected heart of the city. With hundreds of stores and market stalls on the streets (and thousands of motorcycles!) Is it best to just dive in and see what you discover.
Take time to stop and sample some pho. After all, Hanoi is the home of that famous noodle soup. You can easily spend several days in Hanoi itself, but most also use it as a springboard to explore legendary Halong Bay and its thousands of towering limestone pillars-a four-hour drive away. Peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake is worth a visit and also steeped in history: legend has it that Emperor Le Loi received a magical sword from the Dragon King in 1428 to fight Chinese oppressors.
Tran Quoc Temple in Hanoi, Vietnam
Da Nang, Central Coast
Suitable for: Beach vacation and cosmopolitan city culture
Don't Miss: The Marble Mountains and the Golden Bridge
Vietnam's third largest city, right on the coast of Hoi An, cosmopolitan Da Nang is changing fast and gaining a steady reputation among visitors. Known for its white sand beaches, stylish bars and restaurants, and picturesque surrounding mountains, there's enough to keep you busy for a few days. One of the most popular things is the Marble Mountain, a collection of five mountains named after the elements of the earth: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). The main attraction is Nui Thuy Son mountain, the largest of the group and home to a number of caves. You can also climb one of the spiral staircases in the rock to enjoy the view of the surrounding countryside. One of the newest attractions is the Golden Bridge, a 150 meter long pedestrian bridge at Bà Nà Hills Resort. Supported by two huge hands it looks like something out of a fantasy movie set.