Be prepared for all of your senses to be stimulated: from the bustling sounds of the chaotic cities to the smells of the claustrophobic street markets, from the tastes of the unique and healthy cuisine to the breath-taking sights of the varied landscapes. Vietnam is a world of contrasts with a compelling history.
Sitting 1650 m above sea level, Sapa is synonymous with epic scenery and rich cultural diversity. Sapa and the surrounding region is home to many hill tribes and ethnic minorities such as the H'mong and Dao people.
With countless rice terraces, valleys and Vietnam's highest peak Mount Fransipan to explore, the area has stunning landscapes every direction you turn.
Sapa is at the mercy of the weather. It can be engulfed in fog and there was even snow in 2011. Therefore, Sapa may be more suitable for the more resilient adventurer.
Having endured many invasions and occupations throughout the ages, Hanoi's museums are a definite on any tourists itinerary. In particular, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh is entombed.
At the centre of this magical city is the jade-green Hoan Kiem Lake which offers a pleasant respite from the frantic traffic. You may even catch a glimpse of the sacred turtle that inhabits the lake! Surrounding the lake you can roam around the various propaganda art galleries, sample the street food or marvel at the spectacle of Water Puppet Theatre.
Choose the time of year to visit Hanoi carefully. Autumn is the best time to visit the capital in order to avoid both the brutally cold and wet winter and intolerably humid summer.
However Hoi An retains its charm and is a place where frantic motorbikes are replaced with sedate push bikes and time appears to have stood still for centuries.
With many authentic Vietnamese restaurants, some of which offer cooking classes and numerous renowned tailors, Hoi An is the perfect place to recharge your batteries midway through your Vietnam adventure.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long is also home to great biodiversity with typical eco-systems like mangrove forest, coral and tropical forest. It is also home to thousands of plants and animals of numerous species, such as shrimp, fish and squid. Some species are particularly rare and can be found no where else.
The only way to explore the bay is by boat, and there are many tour companies offering one or two night cruises. These often include kayaking trips around the floating villages, walking tours of the incredible limestone caves and squid fishing!
This is a main stopping off point for travellers making their way up or down Vietnam’s coastline. Over the years, a backpackers scene has developed in the city’s cafés and eateries.
Despite being largely destroyed by heavy fighting during the bloody Tet Offensive of 1968, Hue’s Citadel is a great place to visit. Some of the buildings have been refurbished or managed to escape damage.
Also well worth a visit are the tomb of Tu Duc and tomb of Khai Dinh. Hue is full of history, and the ever-changing community of travellers creates a unique experience.
Outside of the city, the Marble Mountains and My Son ancient Cham temples are great spots to catch a unique view of this region of Vietnam.
The city is often overlooked by tourists but is one of the most friendly to backpackers in all of Vietnam. China Beach, a former R & R destination for American G.I.'s, is now home to a small community of guest house owners, marble statue shops, and other various trades. Some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in Vietnam are found here, among some of the friendliest people. This is a must stop for the budget traveller.
The scenery around Da Lat is quite unique, with both French and traditional Vietnamese influences. Lakes, pine-covered hills and cooler temperatures than the rest of Vietnam, Da Lat makes a superb location to cool down and maybe hit a few balls on it's stunning golf courses!
Other activities include boat tours to explore the outer laying islands, bicycle tours around the town or a visit to the Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam. During the evening you can experience Nha Trang's vibrant nightlife.
Nha Trang is also the scuba diving centre of Vietnam, although scuba in Vietnam is no comparison to scuba in other countries in the region, such as The Philippines.
The bustling trade towns of Can Tho and Vinh Long are contrasted by the slow pace of life on the river. Organised tours usually take tourists to sites where you can see traditional foods and crafts made such as coconut candy, rice paper and rice wine.
With vast low-lying rice paddies and an extensive river network surrounded by dense mangroves and palms, the Mekong Delta is possibly the most stereotypical image that comes to mind when one thinks of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
Modern skyscrapers contrast the numerous Chinese-style pagodas that are dotted around the city. Along with food stalls lining the streets and heaving markets such as Ben Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City has an exciting urban atmosphere.
For those interested in Vietnam's compelling history, there are many museums such as the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the War Remnants Museum. Although the latter contains some quite evocative images, the American War (as it is referred to by the Vietnamese) is an important part of the country's history and offers some insight into the tenacious and resilient nature of the Vietnamese people.
This peaceful tropical paradise, floats in the warm turquoise waters in the Gulf of Thailand, 50 kilometres from the Vietnamese mainland and a 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City. You can explore the local markets which probably sell some of the freshest seafood in Vietnam, relax on a remote and stunning beach or explore life below the surface with scuba diving and snorkelling.
The untouched natural environment, friendly locals and relaxed and easy-going atmosphere has created a quite spectacular tropical island.