Misty mountains, cascading rice terraces, thick jungle, unspoiled beaches and two of Southeast Asia’s most time-honoured cities – the variety of landscapes in Vietnam seems so endless, it’s hard to know where to begin. For most visitors, it all starts – or ends – in Hanoi, the chaotic capital of the north. Here, you’ll find golden temples, Buddha shrines and holy monasteries beside bustling markets, manic streets and towering skyscrapers. East of here is Halong Bay, the now iconic archipelago of soaring limestone cliffs, which feels a world away. Take a junk boat tour through the bay to appreciate this natural wonder in all its glory.
At its narrowest point – roughly halfway down the elongated S-shaped land area – Vietnam is just 50 km across. Nearby are more natural wonders, like the sprawling Phong Nha-Ke National Park. Above ground, this park is a jungle wilderness, while below it is a vast network of caves, with the world’s biggest among them. Further south, historic Hoi An preserves a legacy of ancient customs in its old town, while Nha Trang’s crescent-shaped beaches offer access to offshore islands. And then there’s Ho Chi Minh, a city with as much energy as the capital, but different in so many ways. If there’s one thing you should embrace here, it’s the incredibly varied and delicious street food – but a sobering visit to the War Remnants Museum is also worthwhile. Vietnam is very well-developed, so you can rest assured of finding accommodation all over the country – even in remote places like Sapa in the north. Options include hotels, hostels and eco-lodges.