Seeing the real Vietnam with Asia Paradise Vietnam
Thank you for choosing Asia Paradise Vietnam (AP) to organize your travel arrangements in Vietnam. This document will give you some more information about the country, the different destinations to visit, useful information for travelers, a listing of the AP preferred hotels, reservations and booking procedures.
Vietnam is an intriguing destination. At the crossroads of tradition and modernity, an eclectic mix of old and new, this country will reveal astonishing finds to every type of traveler. The old world charm is still retained amid the French influenced architectures, wide tree-lined boulevards gracing the cities and former imperial capitals. History buffs can learn about Vietnam"s recent hard fought wars in the museums. Culture seekers will delight in the discovery of the diverse landscapes and everyday sights, from bustling floating markets, lush paddy fields to colorful hill tribes in the highlands. For beach lovers, Vietnam"s long coastline is framed with sandy beaches and clear seas with lots of opportunities for water-based adventures.
Whatever your interest may be, we assure you that traveling with AP to explore Vietnam"s hidden treasures will surely be an impressive trip.
Where should I go in Vietnam
That depends how long you"ve got, what you want to see and what you want to do. The guide below should help you make those decisions.
If you want to really discover Vietnam, you should set aside a couple of weeks to travel, meet the people and get some kind of understanding for this beautiful and fascinating country. Our shortest tours are half day excursions but the longer you"ve got the better. At AP we pride ourselves on being able to fill everybody"s travel plans with just the right mix. It will be our pleasure to make the suggestion and arrangements to allow you to make the most of your precious leisure time. After all, our team of Vietnamese and western travel enthusiasts work, live and travel all over the country and we would be happy to share our new discoveries with you.
When to go to Vietnam?
Vietnam"s weather varies greatly from north to south with each area marked by slightly different seasons and climates. Because of these regional variations, a part of the country is seasonable at any time of year.
The north, overall, tends to be cooler than the rest of the country. During the winter, from November until February, the day time temperature is pleasantly cool and the weather is often damp. To the far north in places like Sapa, there is occasionally freezing temperatures during this time. The north begins to warm up in March and stays dry and warm until May. From June to October, the north is hot and rainy making it a fairly unpleasant place to travel. Overall the best time to visit the north is from November until April.
Central Vietnam experiences warm weather from July to October and wet, colder weather from November to May. Frequent typhoons hit the central coast from August to October which can cause flooding and disrupt travel plans.
Although the temperature remains fairly steady throughout the year, Southern Vietnam has two seasons. The dry season lasts from December to May, while from May to November is the rainy season. Most of the rain is in the afternoon and only lasts a short time so it is unlikely to disrupt touring plans.
The Chinese new year of Tet is celebrated throughout Vietnam in late January or early February. During this time, transport options fill up quickly and lots of restaurants and tourist sites are closed so it is not recommended to travel to Vietnam then.
The following is a guide to the best of the best of Vietnam filled with ideas for travel sightseeing and accommodation with a few insider tips along the way.
Lying in the heart of the Red River Delta, the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi blends the old world charm with the dynamism of a rising Asian city. Its legacy as a former French territory is still evident from the French-inspired features - lakes and parks, colonial architecture and broad tree-lined boulevards - that still dot the present cityscapes. The city has undergone dramatic transformation over the last thirty years and is now seeing a burgeoning population paralleled by rising motorbike ownership, a rapidly expanding retail sector and a flourishing art scene. Yet when compared with Ho Chi Minh City, the economic powerhouse in the south, Hanoi still retains a romantic and elegant atmosphere.
What to see in Hanoi?
Hanoi is one of Asia"s most fascinating cities with its unique blend of western and oriental charm. You can wander through the 36 streets in the Old Quarter, rummage for souvenirs and witness the artisans working on their specialty crafts. As the oldest university (established since 1070), the Temple of Literature and its five courtyards retains a scholarly atmosphere and makes a peaceful respite from Hanoi"s busy streets. Pay homage to the late Ho Chi Minh at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his "house on stilts" and learn why "Uncle Ho" is such a respected figure to the Vietnamese. Vietnam is a culturally diverse country and the fascinating ways of life of her 54 ethnic groups can be seen at the Museum of Ethnology.
To check out the budding arts scene, pop into the dozens of art galleries that stock works ranging from traditional to modern. Some of our favorites, the Apricot Gallery and Art Vietnam have consistently received positive accolades from art connoisseurs and travelers. Although modern entertainment outlets are readily available in Hanoi, why not opt to catch a water puppet show - a unique cultural form of North Vietnam? For early risers, head to Hoan Kiem Lake or Park of Reunification (formerly Lenin Park) and observe Vietnamese in their synchronized Tai Chi moves. On fine afternoons, stroll through the French quarter, sip an aromatic cup of coffee on the sidewalk and observe the bustling street life.
If you have more time to spare, there are many interesting locales in Hanoi"s outskirts that are lesser visited by tourists. Tam Coc in Ninh Binh - with its series of limestone rock formations jutting out from a sea of rice paddies, is a scenic and surreal place to visit. Nearby Hoa Lu also offers similar landscapes of rocky outcrops - no less spectacular when compared to Tam Coc - as well as 10th century relics from when the area was the capital"s country.
To learn about Vietnam"s pottery history, a visit to Bat Trang Ceramic Village should be on the travel agenda. Here, you could try your hands at making the ceramics, but it is much easier to be enticed into owning the exquisite vases, bowls and dishes produced from the hands of the talented Bat Trang potters. For lovers of indigenous crafts, the Van Phuc Weaving Village lures visitors with its bewildering range of silk products.
Explore the rustic landscapes by cycling around the city"s northern outskirts in Dong Ho Village, which is also famous for its painting styles that depict the traditional Vietnamese village lives. Follow the trails of Vietnamese pilgrims and embark on a 2-hour trek up Huong Son Mountain to Perfume Pagoda (or Chua Huong), with lots of photographic opportunities along the way.
Where to stay in Hanoi?
When in Hanoi, a stay in a colonial-style hotel should not be missed. The Sofitel Metropole Legend Hanoi is a celebrated Hanoi institution which boasts of an impressive guest list. For a lavish stay, the InterContinental Westlake Hanoi tops with its chic Vietnamese décor and waterfront location by the historic West Lake. Nearby the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, the boutique Maison D"Hanoi Hanova Hotel appeals to discerning travelers with its 55 tastefully designed rooms. For accommodations that are more wallet-friendly but yet present good value, we prefer The Silk Path Hotel - conveniently located within walking distance to the Old Quarter and other city attractions.
Where to eat in Hanoi?
For street eats, Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), Bun Cha (grilled meat with dry noodles) and Banh Cuon (pho package with beef rolls) usually make good introduction to the local cuisine. For delicious pho eats, consider the ubiquitous Pho 24 which offers different varieties of the much-loved Vietnamese beef noodle. The popular Quan An Ngon makes a good introduction to Vietnamese cuisine with its scrumptious and inexpensive offering in a courtyard setting.
A classic Hanoi dish, Cha Ca - grilled fish with tumeric usually served with rice noodles - is best savored on Cha Ca Street where this northern specialty dish originated at Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant. Highway 4 is a recommended stop for its complete dining experience with its delectable range of traditional Vietnamese liquor and specialty dishes. The bustling Bao Khanh Street, lined with numerous cafés and open-air eateries, is a great hunt for a cup of Vietnamese coffee while people-watching.
Housed in an old colonial building, both Wild Lotus and Seasons of Hanoi are stylish establishments that serve rich Vietnamese menu with tasteful Asian décor.For French - Vietnamese fusion fare, opt for Didier Corlou"s La Verticale which showcases an impressive selection in an intimate setting. For the ultimate dining experience, head to one of the homes of the celebrated chefs who will whip up a tantalizing dinner for you.
An imperial city during the Nguyen dynasty, Hue still retains much of its royal heritage and laidback atmosphere. Straddling the banks of Song Huong River (Perfume River) in Central Vietnam, it is best known for its historic monuments and architecture and has been appointed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to see in Hue?
Step into imperial times with a visit to the large Hue Citadel, the prime attraction of Hue. There, the walled interior houses the Forbidden City - a sprawling complex of palaces, temples, pavilions and galleries. Enjoy a romantic cyclo ride on the way to explore the royal tombs of Tu Duc, Minh Mang or lesser known Gia Long and other former emperors that lie scattered around the countryside. The covered bridge, lush paddy fields and cottage industries that dot the city outskirts offer varied and interesting excursions. Hue is good for a day trip out to Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a buffer site between North and South Vietnam that saw intense fighting during the American War. Traverse the quaint streets of Hue on a cyclo or bicycle and take in Hue"s unique atmosphere. Do not forget to visit nha vuon, elegant historic garden houses that are exclusive to Hue.
Where to stay in Hue?
La Residence Hotel & Spa is the city"s top accommodation with its enchanting blend of French colonial décor and tranquil location by the Perfume River. In the quaint countryside, Pilgrimage Village lures with its harmonious combination of a rustic village setting and modern art elements.
Where to eat in Hue?
The recommended street eats are Banh Khoai (traditional savory pancake), Com Hen (tiny mussels served on rice with soup) and Bun Bo Hue (hot and steamy beef noodle soup). Modeled after a style house, Ancient Hue offers imperial style cuisine. Near the Citadel, Y Thao Garden is a simple yet charming choice. Dine in style in the grounds of the former mandarin houses or hobnob with the locals as you tuck into a bowl of noodles at the Dong Ba Market. For the romantics, a private dinner cruise down the Perfume River makes a memorable experience.
Situated along the south central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is an outstanding example of a well-preserved ancient town that has been designated a World Heritage Site. Known as Faifo in the past, it was a major port town that boasted multi-cultural influences from the 16th – 18th centuries. Today, it is a quaint and picturesque town that can be easily explored on foot.
Where to go in Hoi An?
Hoi An’s tailors are renowned for their high workmanship, so be sure to shop for tailor-made clothes. Do also shop for interesting souvenirs such as silk lanterns and custom made jewelry. Head to the Old Town where historical sights await. There, you can cross the Japanese covered bridge, stroll through the cultural halls, enjoy a traditional music performance, and explore the layout of an ancient house.
Just a few kilometers out of town, Cua Dai Beach’s golden sands provide a nice place to unwind over fresh seafood. Explore the small villages on a bicycle and discover artisans crafting pottery in the narrow streets. For day trips out of Hue, opt for the historical Cham statues at My Son or to the Marble Mountain where caves, temples and magnificent views await at the summit.
Where to stay in Hoi An?
For a luxurious resort stay, it has to be The Nam Hai which sits on a tranquil stretch of palm-lined beach facing China Sea. Overlooking the scenic Do River and lush paddy fields, the gorgeous Life Resort is highly favored for its proximity to Cua Dai beach and the old quarter.
Where to eat in Hoi An?
In Hoi An, do not miss the local specialty Cao Lau which is a dry noodle dish with a tantalizing touch. Other delicacies include Hoa Hong (white "rose" dumplings) and Mi Quang (noodle soup with a foray of ingredients). With only 6 tables, the seafood specialty restaurant Hoi An Hai San features a cozy and intimate atmosphere but pre-booking is required if you want guaranteed seats. The funky Mango Rooms serves fusion food at its best – delectable dishes with great visual appeal. If you are eager to learn local culinary recipes, be sure to join in the cooking classes at Tra Que Organic Vegetable Village which produces the country’s finest organic food. For an original culinary experience in Hoi An, indulge in a private picnic on a deserted beach on the Cham Island (accessible by speedboat).
HO CHI MINH CITY
Commonly referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest city and undisputed commerce capital. It is a dynamic city that is currently enjoying the fruits of Vietnam’s economic boom – lavish hotels, decadent restaurants and trendy nightspots are continually added to the cityscape. The younger residents may seem status oriented and eager to flank their new-found wealth, a significant change from the war-savaged population barely one generation ago. Yet against the backdrop of new-found confidence, frenetic development and urban bustle, the boutique charm of HCMC still lives on amongst the tree-lined boulevards, quaint wooden shops, old temples and colonial architecture. The city is quickly making a name for itself in Vietnamese crafts shopping, an emerging art scene and a wide range of dining pleasures (with almost every imaginable cuisine available).
What to see in HCMC?
Within the city, HCMC has many sights that should not be missed. A city tour of the Opera House, Le Loi Street, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and War Remnants Museum on a classic Citroen or Vespa scooter are nostalgic ways to be introduced to this former colonial city. Ben Thanh Market, a massive old-style market in the central district, is a place to rummage for knock-offs and interesting souvenirs. However, do not forget to bargain hard (but in a polite manner) for your purchases.
For more ‘posh’ buys, head to art galleries and fashion shops that line Dong Khoi. If you are keen to own a piece of propaganda art, Dogma stocks a unique range. History buffs should reminisce at Rex Hotel, where media briefings known as ‘five o’clock follies’ to international correspondents were held during the Vietnam War. For a night out, hit the city’s chic bars and restaurants that are crowded by the rich and trendy.
If you have a bit of time to spare, make a day trip outside of Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This network of over 200 kilometers of tunnels was used by the Vietcong during the American war and offers a fascinating look into the lives of the inhabitants during the war-time era. This can easily be combined with a stop at Wildlife at Risk (WAR) rescue centre, a non-profit organization to stop illegal wildlife trade, and Tay Ninh Temple, home to the intriguing Cao Dai religion.
Where to stay in HCMC?
Park Hyatt Saigon is the city"s most luxurious hotel that packs world-class restaurants and spa services in a classic French colonial building. One of the finest in its class, the Caravelle Hotel offers commanding views of the city and overlooks Lam Son Square and the Opera House. Recently refurnished, Palace Hotel Saigon retains its original French architecture and is favored for its convenient location in the city"s heart. Another landmark building from the colonial era, Hotel Majestic exudes old world charm combined with excellent service and rooms come with either pool or river views. The cosy and unique Sanouva is well located close to Ben Thanh market and boasts charms with its well furnished interiors and friendly staff.
What to eat in HCMC?
Street eats can be found in almost every corner of this bustling city. To be inducted into Southern Vietnamese cuisine, opt for Lau (hotpot with cook your own ingredients served on the side), Com Nieu (broken rice served out of a claypot) and Banh Xeo (pancakes cooked over a flame). To enjoy the clatter of an authentic Vietnamese eatery, Com Nieu will surely leave an impression when the waiters fling claypots across the restaurant. Dong Pho is the best place to enjoy a meal of traditional Hue dishes in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you are looking for authentic Vietnamese cuisine in an old world setting, Anh Vien receives the thumbs-up – it offers superb food and tasteful décor in an old French villa. Tucked in a former opium refinery (hence the name) in a small alley, the Refinery is a French bistro that serves a wide range of light eats in classy décor. Just next door, Hoa Tuc serves a tantalizing selection of Vietnamese dishes in an elegant setting of green and purple hues. Xu is our favorite when it comes to fusion Vietnamese fare, a renowned restaurant cum bar tops with a chic and classy atmosphere
THE LANDS IN BETWEEN
From Hanoi, a scenic 3-hour drive through the Red River Delta leads you to Hanoi. In the famed Halong Bay, the sublime beauty of magnificent limestone formations rising dramatically from the waters is best experienced from the vantage point of a boat cruise. Be transported back to the nostalgic charm of yesteryear aboard the Emeraude, a luxurious replica of a grand colonial steamer. Other charming vessels in Halong Bay include Jasmine and Violet Junks, Paradise Cruise and utterly charming Indochina Junks. Make a stop at a local village to enjoy the captivating performance of traditional water puppetry, a distinctive art form of the Red River Delta.
Vietnam’s northern mountain ranges are breathtakingly beautiful with fresh air and cool temperatures. To visit these remote mountains, take advantage of the elegantly restored Victoria Train with its plush seating and wood-paneled Pullman carriages. Home to a diverse group of hill tribes such as Tay, Red Dao, Black and Flower H’mong, Sapa boasts of ample hill tribe trekking and home stay opportunities. Victoria Sapa Resort combines mountain traveling with stylish comfort while Topas Eco Lodge provides a peaceful retreat amid the lush valleys. Beyond Sapa, Mount Fansipan (Indochina’s highest peak) is great for trekking and exploration.
Although not a major stop on the tourist trail, Danang’s location between Hoi An and Hue makes a nice stop along the way. The city is one of the most dynamic of Vietnam’s modern cities with rapid industrial and economic growth. Visitors to Danang can enjoy the understated, yet fascinating Cham art and culture at Cham Museum. On the outskirts of town is China Beach, steeped in legend yet wonderfully deserted.
Buon Ma Thuot and Central Highlands
Buon Ma Thuot is the largest city in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, an unexplored area with great adventure and trekking potential. The abundance of untouched forests, stunning landscapes, national parks and hill tribe villages are still off the tourist trails.
With its perennial cool weather, pine-clad valleys and weathered but elegant French hilltop villas, Dalat is Vietnam’s premier hill station. Opportunities abound for meetings and incentives in boutique colonial hotels such as the Dalat Palace Hotel, as well as mountain adventures of absailing, canyoning and even world-class golfing. For an opulent alpine retreat, Ana Mandara Villas Dalat is a good fit.
Just a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne is renowned for its long stretches of sandy beaches and perennial sea breezes that greatly complement wind-surfing and kite-surfing. It is also famous for the wind-sculpted red and white sand dunes that make great postcard shots and adventurous sports. Golfers can tee off at the Nick Faldo-designed Ocean Dunes Golf Course. Home to many different resorts, the luxurious Victoria Phan Thiet, the boutique Cham Villas and the newly refurnished Blue Ocean are our top selects for this charming beach town.
Located in Binh Thuan province, Phan Thiet is a small coastal town with a thriving fishing industry. Check out the production of nuoc mam (fish sauce seasoning commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine). Golf lovers will be delighted with a choice of two international class golf courses overlooking the sea – Ocean Dunes and the recently established Sealinks.
In the heart of Khanh Hoa province, Nha Trang is the undisputed beach capital of Vietnam. Besides long stretches of sand lapped by crystal clear waters, it is dotted with many islands each with its own distinct character. The turquoise waters play host to teeming marine life, and snorkeling and scuba diving are perennial favorites. This beach town also features a vibrant night life. The lovely Evason Ana Mandara and Sheraton top the resorts in Nha Trang and for travelers seeking a luxurious resort experience, the remote six-star Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay does not disappoint.
Quy Nhon is Vietnam’s other ‘secret’ destination. Occupying the stretch of coastline between Danang and Nha Trang, this port city is close to spectacular secluded bays and unpopulated private islands. The Life Wellness Resort Quy Nhon makes an ideal location for a peaceful retreat.
One of the world"s most fertile areas, the Mekong Delta is home to countless rice fields and tributaries across thousands of square miles of flat land. An overnight cruise in the Mekong Delta is definitely worthwhile, for the experience of awakening in the early morning to find floating markets and villages floating around you is incredible. The small sizes of the Song Xanh Sampans and Cai Be Princess are perfect for glimpses into the local ways of life while relaxing in the comfort of a floating boutique hotel. The ornate vessels of Pandaw, Jayavarman, Jahan as well as the more traditional Vietnamese Bassac are great for Mekong Delta cruises between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh.
Off Vietnam"s southern coast in the Gulf of Thailand, the island of Phu Quoc is one of Asia"s up and rising beach destination. The island"s clear waters, isolated beaches, forested interior and charming local character make for an ideal beach escape. Do not forget to sample Phu Quoc"s famous traditional products - fish sauce and black pepper. For a relaxing tropical beach retreat, try La Veranda Resort & Spa or ChenSea Resort & Spa.