Vietnam is one of my favorite places to travel, so much so, presently, I temporarily call it home. I gloss the guide for the region nearly as much as the next person, but there are some must-see places for westerners that will both garner an acute appreciation for Vietnam and respect from Vietnamese friends. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it will whet your apetite to venture throughout Vietnam.
Sapa, Vietnam – Cradled in the northern Vietnam’s Lao Cai province, Sapa is a cool and crisp getaway from crowded, hot and dusty Hanoi. An overnight train and a short bus ride will bring you to this princely mountain town situated at the foot of Southeast Asia’s largest mountain, Fan Si Pan. The Hmong people call this area home. Gander at the artisan rice paddies, do some hiking, and try your luck at the love market.
Halong Bay, Vietnam – Quang Ninh province hosts one of Vietnam’s most famous sites in Halong Bay. Here, limestone juts out of a beautiful bay on the inner coast of Northern Vietnam. The best way to arrive here is by bus from Hanoi. Book a three-day junker boat to have a full experience, including kayaking, visiting monkey island, and Sung Sot Cave.
Tam Coc – This day trip from Hanoi can leave you awestruck and reeling for more of Northern vietnam. Tam Coc is known as the Halong Bay on land. Standing among rice paddies are limestone rocks, similar to those described above, yet cutting through the area is a lake that has eroded three caves, Tam Coc, a treasure of Ninh Binh province. Local women both peddle the boats with their legs while peddling handicrafts to you. Travel tip: Don’t buy the snacks at the end of the boat trip.
Vinpearl Land, Nha Trang, Vietnam – Perhaps it’s not exactly the Disneyland of Vietnam, but it’s close. In lieu of happy kids and Mickey Mouse, there are a bevy of stoic Russian tourists. Instead of Minnie and Daisy icees, there are daiquiris and mojitos. But, with all the differences, Vinpearl Land island has a luxury resort, growing water park, an aquarium that is akin to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and an impressive gondola that delivers you from Nha Trang beach over the pristine waters to Hon Tre Island (Vinpearl Land).
Bana Hills – Vietnam’s central region is romantic. Aside from Dalat, many Vietnamese people love to make a romantic weekend from going to Bana. Bana is a mountain resort located in Danang, resembling something out of a Czech novel of nobility. With a castle perched facing east on Truong Son Mountains, the fairytale writes itself. On the way up guests ride the world’s longest and highest cable car. Once atop, you’re graced with hours of entertainment, near free flow libation and perhaps the highest concentration of those silly selfie sticks in the region. $24 gets you a round trip ticket.
Travel tip: Go early and review the schedule, nothing is worse than spending $24 on just a cable car ride.
Bitexco Tower – Ranking among one of the tallest in Southeast asia, a few hours here will give you more perspective into the impressiveness of Saigonese ingenuity. Atop, there is a impressive gift shop and the view is exquisite, you can see for miles (read: kilometers) and the interactives display provide more understanding into what is yet to come in the rapidly developing Ho Chi Minh City. $10 entrance fee with free water.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam – The seafood basket of Vietnam. A productive region of agriculture and aquaculture, the Mekong Delta is a delight in various ways. Whether you are traveling from Saigon to Can Tho, or just lazing through Vinh Long to see the floating markets, the Mekong Delta should not be missed. If you get the opportunity try a homestay in the Mekong by booking with a Saigon-based tour guide, you’ll get a great perspective of the lifestyle.