Quy Nhon

If you’re looking to really get away from the hassle of vendors, the noise and smells of the city, and just be left alone to relax and invigorate yourself, Quy Nhon is the place to go. Located on the coast about halfway between Hoi An and Nha Trang, this is a city with a real small town feel. The main draw to the city are its pristine, picturesque beaches that remain virtually untouched by mass tourism. Here’s a place you can lay back under a palm tree without being bothered by vendors, and take a dip in the ocean without seeing the plastic bags and other trash that clutter up other beaches. If you hadn’t heard of Quy Nhon before, there’s a good reason for it – it’s not on the main tourist routes, and that’s perhaps why it remains so special to this day.

Buses run regularly from Da Nang and take between six and seven hours. Coming the other way, from Nha Trang, buses usually take around five hours. The main bus terminus is around half an hour’s walk from the city center, but you can talk a local bus into town if you prefer not to walk. Quy Nhon is quite spread out along the beach, and so it’s often a good idea to rent a bicycle or a motorbike if you want to explore the area.

The beaches on the south side of the city are the best for swimming and bathing – there is nothing wrong with the northern beaches, but there just happen to be more fishing boats arriving and leaving from that area. The water is crystal clean and the sand is pristine. You will most likely be the only foreigner around, so be prepared to make the most of body language and hand gestures if you don’t speak Vietnamese – you may be lucky to find someone who can converse with you, but the city is just not set up for international tourism.

If you’re looking for something to eat after you arrive, as Quy Nhon is a coastal town, you can’t go wrong with the local seafood. Along the front you’ll find plenty of eateries catering to the local population. There are also a number of bars for you to quench your thirst. If you’re traveling as a couple, or if you’ve managed to make a friend locally, definitely check out Surf Bar in Xuan Dieu, for its friendly and romantic seafront ambience.

If you’re staying a while longer in the Quy Nhon area, you might want to check out some of the beaches just outside the city. Bai Xep beach is a 15 minute ride out of the city and is just as nice, but much quieter. Having said that, you’ll still be able to find food and drink in the village if you can tear yourself away from the golden sand and turquoise ocean water. The beach at neighboring Xuan Hai is probably the most beautiful in the area – equally pristine and virtually untouched, only this time with an expanse of white sand petering off into the ocean.

Quy Nhon city itself has a few attractions that you might like to visit if you don’t feel like spending all your time at the beach. The Thap Doy Towers are around a 20-minute bicycle ride from the train station and are located in a tranquil park. These structures are a good example of ethnic Cham architecture. If you’re interested in that, you might also enjoy visiting larger Cham towers around 18 miles out of the city in a temple complex by the same name.

Hoi An

For those who are looking for the quintessential Vietnamese experience, Hoi An surges straight to the top of their itinerary. This ancient port city has everything from the country’s fainest and most famous cuisine, to beautiful beaches, glorious traditional architecture and an almost enchanting ambience. The city itself has been of major importance for over 2,000 years, and its key role in the regimes of occupying powers is reflected in its traditional buildings, which features examples of Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Japanese architecture.

Many visitors arrive here from Da Nang airport, which is a mere 45 minutes away by air-conditioned bus. There is no railway station in Hoi An, but it is possible to travel to Da Nang from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and then switch to the bus at Da Nang airport. Alternatively, there are plenty of overnight tour buses carrying travelers from the two major cities by bus into Hoi An. Most of the city center is off limits to motorized traffic, and so you’ll do most of your sightseeing on foot. This is perhaps one of the most charming aspects of Hoi An – it’s a relief to be able to lower your guard and relax from the chaos and noise of the traffic of other Vietnamese cities.

If there is one place in this country where you should sample the local cuisine, it is here. The city’s name itself is synonymous the world over for its food, and there are a number of dishes worth trying while you’re here. Banh Bao Vac is a type of shrimp dumpling which is hand formed into the shape of a flower. Cao Lau noodles are prepared with water from the local area, and is served with pork and vegetables. Hoanh Thanh are similar to Cantonese wonton dumplings, also served in soup, or occasionally deep fried. There are plenty of eateries in this town, but for a more authentic local experience, you might want to make your way over to the Central Market, where you can soak up the smells of authentic Hoi An cuisine, before sitting down and enjoying your meal in the company of locals.

Take a walk around the old town and along the riverfront to take in the sights of Hoi An’s historic center. From traditional Japanese pagodas to Vietnamese town houses and Chinese meeting halls, a stroll around the Old Town will take you on a tour of the city’s rich history. Once the sun begins to set, the city gently ushers you into the past – there is no electric street lighting in Hoi An. Instead, the streets and buildings are lit by silk lanterns, which create an air of mystery, romance and nostalgia. Many visitors who experience this decide to prolong their stay in Hoi An, simply to experience it again.

Around Hoi An
One of the reasons Hoi An makes a great destination, is that it is not only a fascinating and historic town, but it is also surrounded by places of beauty and interest. Nearby Cau Dai beach stretches out under the palm trees with barely a tourist in sight. If you’ve been to other beaches in Southeast Asia – expecting the pristine setting of golden sand sinking into a turquoise ocean, only to be disappointed by throngs of tourists, noise and litter – then you should definitely head for Cau Dai beach, which won’t disappoint you.

Marble mountain is a popular sightseeing spot due to the numerous statues of Buddha carved into the rock, along with the splendid vista it gives way to. Those interested in the was with the United States also find this spot to be of interest, as it was from here that Viet Cong soldiers managed to gun down so many American aircraft at the height of the war.

The My Son Sanctuary is home to a great number of sculptures which span the centuries, dating back to the Champa Kingdom. Many of the older towers are covered with jungle overgrowth, giving it a real feel of being a ‘lost kingdom’.


Staying in the far north, close to the Chinese border crossing at Lao Cai, and nestled in the misty mountains, lies the beautiful town of Sa Pa. This part of the country has become popular with trekkers, who make a bee line for the rugged, untouched natural beauty of the area’s mountain terrain. Buses run from Hanoi and take just under eight hours. If you are coming from Lao Cai, there is also a fairly regular bus which takes just over an hour to reach Sa Pa. Once you have arrived in the town, the best way to get around is on foot.

Sa Pa is a place in which the country’s ethnic minorities form a majority. Many of them have realized the allure that their culture and costumes hold for traveler, and you may be asked to buy trinkets and hand-made souvenirs from them. On the other hand, many travelers want to have their pictures taken with local people in costume. Most of the time, people will be happy to oblige for free, but it is important to always ask for permission before taking a photo of a local person.

Due to the popularity of the town, a number of backpacker hostels, restaurants and bars have sprung up to cater for the incoming crowds. It is possible to share a drink with travelers from around the world in the evening and then have an entire mountain panorama to yourself the following morning.

If you don’t fancy trekking alone, you can sign up for tours with local guides who will show you the most impressive sights of the area. Be sure to visit Heaven’s Gate – the most spectacular view in all Sa Pa. You might also be interested in a longer tour, in which case you can arrange a homestay with a local family on your route. Alternatively, take a poncho and a warm blanket with you, and rent a motorbike from the town to see as much as you can in one day.

Ha Giang

One of the most remote, mountainous and hitherto inaccessible corners of Vietnam, Ha Giang is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves for its breathtaking mountain views and traditional way of life. Nestled up by the Chinese border, this part of the country has, for the most part, been ignored by the regional powers, including the Vietnamese themselves, making it home to a large number of ethnic minority communities. These people continue to live our their traditional lives, tending to rice paddies and living in small villages which cling to the mountainside.

Most people who arrive in Ha Giang, do so either coming from Hanoi, or having crossed into Vietnam from China. From My Dinh bus station in Hanoi, it takes around six or seven hours to get to Ha Giang. If you are crossing into Vietnam from China, there are two buses running each day from the Lao Cai border crossing. Be aware that foreign travelers are still required to apply for a permit to travel in this region, due to the sensitive situation around the border.

Getting around the province can be done in several ways. There isn’t much in the way of public transport, but many people are happy to hire a local driver and agree a fee in advance for a day, or several days touring the area. Alternatively, it is possible to hire motorbikes. If you really want to get close to nature, it’s a great area for trekking, with a number of established trails.

Once you’ve found a place to stay, you might want to partake in some of the local food offerings of this unique region. Many dishes originate with the ethnic communities who live here, and can’t be found anywhere else in Vietnam. Chao Au Tau, for example, is a popular evening dish served around Ha Giang town – a dish based on glutinous rice, featuring pigs trotters and an assortment of herbs. Alternatively, you might want to plump for smoked buffalo meat, another local delicacy.

In terms of seeing the sights, most people aim to get the to Ma Pi Lang pass – a steep road climbing up to 2,000 meters of elevation, offering travelers some incredible views stretching from China, out across the mountainous province. From there, you might want to head towards Xa Phin Village, where you will find a grand edifice known as the Hmong King Palace, and named for the ethnic Hmong people who inhabit the area.

To get closer to more local ethnic minority communities, and to see their everyday lives, head to Pho Bang Village, where you can appreciate the wooden columns and mud walls of their traditional architecture. People here belong to the Hoa and Mong ethnic minorities and, with any luck, you might be able to see them in their traditional costumes. If you are trekking, you’ll want to head for the Dong Van Plateau – an almost untouched part of the country, offering panoramic views down to the Vietnamese rice paddies on one side, and the mountains of China on the other. The ethnic minority communities here have been isolated from the rest of the country, and offer the chance to see their communities without the typical tourist gimmicks.

Halong Bay

This is another of Vietnam’s most celebrated natural wonders, and its beauty has inspired many a painter, movie director and advertising executive. Here you have an unmistakeably East Asian water scene, with limestone karsts facing the jade green of the forest across the bay – a spectacular scene which almost couldn’t exist anywhere else.

Halong Bay lies just over 100 miles to the east of Hanoi, opening up into the Gulf of Tonkin. Visitors usually arrive by bus from Hanoi – a journey of around five hours, leaving from Hanoi’s Gia Lam terminus and arriving at Bai Chay in Halong.

Once you have settled into your accommodation (you don’t need to be too picky about location – there are several ports within Halong City and around the bay, too), you can venture out to try a local delicacy known as Ngan – a type of clam dish which is only served in this part of northern Vietnam. The large clams are usually served with wine and are best enjoyed overlooking the bay as the sun begins to set.

The main attraction of the bay are its island cruises, of which there are plenty to choose from. Despite the abundance of different types of water transport – from junks to speedboats – it is better to book your trip in advance due to the sheer popularity of the rides. As high season approaches, after March, you may even find it impossible to find a ticket at the time you want to travel. A typical cruise itinerary may involve stopping at islands and caves for some swimming, diving and exploring isolated beaches. Overnight cruises may also involve beach parties or cocktails on deck.

Ninh Binh

Sixty miles south of the capital city lies the small, sleep city of Ninh Binh, capital of the province of the same name. This former garrison town is most often used as a base for exploring the dramatic surrounding scenery, although the city does have a few charms of its own.

Most tourists arriving from Hanoi will arrive by air-conditioned bus, which departs from Hanoi Giap Bat Station and takes around three hours. Getting around the town itself is easy enough on foot, but to see the countryside, you’ll either need to join a tour, use a taxi or rent a motorbike.

Phat Diem Cathedral dates back to the 1870s and is renowned as one of the loveliest churches in the country. From there you can make your way to Dinh Tien Hoang Plaza, by the riverside, to take in the relaxing atmosphere of the city and enjoy the riverscape. As evening approaches you can find plenty of eateries around the train station area. If you’re looking to sample the local cuisine, be sure to ask for Com Chay – a specialty of Ninh Binh which consists of burned rice and pork. Wash it down with a glass of sugarcane juice – another local favorite, while you plan your visit to the surrounding area.

Perhaps the most popular of the areas around Ning Binh is Tam Coc River Garden. Board a boat here and be rowed by a local through some of the most wonderful scenery in all Vietnam. As the cliffs of the river disappear behind you, you’ll pass through three cave systems, which were carved through the mountain by the river, millions of years ago. Once your riverboat ride is over, you can head into Tam Coc itself and find the Bich Dong Pagoda, for equally spectacular views looking out from the cliffs over the river you just traveled on. Try to get their early and avoid public holidays, and Tam Coc is popular with both foreign and Vietnamese tourists.

Not all that far from Tam Coc is Hang Mua Peak. The trek up this mountain is made easier by the construction of steps for most of the way, but be aware that the peak does drop away dramatically, so this is not for those who are afraid of heights. The drop, however, does off magnificent views which, as you approach the top of the peak, become a complete panorama of breathtaking proportions. From the distant mountains to your west, you can watch the land pan out into the Red River Delta to your west. If you’ve brought a camera, you’ll definitely want to use it here.


The capital city of Vietnam has, for a long time, been somewhat overlooked in favor of its larger counterpart in the south. These days, however, Hanoi is firmly on the tourist map and visitors continue to come each year to sample the city’s delights. The city’s architecture and cuisine reflects a fascinating blend of Vietnamese culture with French influences. As the city was largely undamaged in the war with America, it is perhaps the best place to get to grips with a more traditional side of the country.

Most visitors arrive at the international terminal at Noi Bai Airport, which was opened in 2015, and has vastly improved visitors’ experiences. It takes just under an hour from the airport to Hanoi station by air-conditioned bus, which runs at regular intervals through the day. This is generally the preferred way to get to the city, as many visitors have been put off using taxis due to being overcharged and other bad experiences. Taxis, however, do remain one of the most important ways to get around the city, although you also now have the option to use Uber. Motorcycle drivers and pedicabs will also take visitors on shorter journeys. For the truly adventurous, the bus is an excellent, cheap and reliable option. If you are unsure where to get off, ask the conductor when he or she comes to collect your fare.

Perhaps the most famous attraction which continues to draw the tourists, is Hanoi’s Old Quarter. As its name suggests, this is one of Hanoi’s oldest districts, and its streets and buildings survive intact to this day. Take a stroll around and admire the mixture of traditional Vietnamese buildings, interspersed with architecture from the French colonial period. At one time, this part of the city was the most important merchant district, and it still has the bustle, sights and sounds suggestive of that time. If you’re lucky enough to be there around lunch or dinner time, the aromas of freshly cooked food will be added to that blend, making the Old Quarter a real treat for the senses.

For something of a relaxing chance from the Old Quarter, you can take an early morning, or late evening saunter around Hoan Kiem Lake. This charming body of water provides citizens with a place to relax together, exercise, socialize and forget the stress of the city. It is punctuated with delightful bridges and statues. The lake itself is also home to a number of giant turtles. In fact, don’t forget to look out for the most conspicuous of the temples around the lake – Turtle Temple.

To get some idea of more recent history, no trip to Hanoi is complete without visiting the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The former leader’s embalmed body lays here, with thousands visiting each day to show their respect. You’ll need to dress appropriately – no shorts or exposed midriffs, and the guards don’t tolerate loud, drunken or rude behavior. You won’t be allowed to stop for too long to take a look at the embalmed body – the line is supposed to be constantly moving. But you’ll get an idea of just how much the country reveres the memory of this extraordinary man.

If all that walking takes its toll on your feet, it isn’t difficult to find a good places to sit down to eat and drink. No visitor to the city should leave without trying a Hanoi specialty – Banh Tom – deep fried and battered shrimp and sweet potato. If you were wondering what to wash it down with, look no further than Bia Hoi Hanoi, a local, unpreserved beer that perfectly quenches thirst on a hot afternoon.