Given that Vietnam is only 1,000km in length and has excellent domestic flight routes, a fast improving road network and many attractions and sights within close proximity, anywhere in Vietnam can make for a great weekend getaway. You can fly to Hoi An in just an hour, an ancient port town and UNESCO world Heritage site, or dash down to Saigon in just 2-3 hours for a weekend getaway of shopping and sightseeing.
If you call Hanoi home, then you will already know how Vietnam’s weather can and does change greatly from region to region. In the North the winter months (November to February) will see temperatures fall to around 10 degrees with the northern most regions (Sapa and around) seeing temperatures drop a few degrees above zero.
Vietnam’s central regions tend to avoid the county’s rain during the wet season of March to August and through the winter experiences mild temperatures with the summer tending to bring hotter climes to the mid-30’s and above. Southern Vietnam (Saigon) paints a similar picture with temperatures ranging from the mid-twenties in the winter to the mid to high-thirties in the summer. As a general rule of thumb the best time to travel anywhere in Vietnam is between the months of October and March however, as most guide books will now tell you the weather is becoming more and more unpredictable.
First bought to the world’s attention in the film Indochine, Halong Bay is fast becoming of the of the world’s most iconic landmarks. So much so the Vietnamese govt used it to front its global marketing campaign for a number of years. London cabs could be seen throughout the streets of London covered in stunning images of a tranquil bay, blue skies and deserted limestone outcrops studded with luscious foliage. As you would expect seeing Halong bay in person a magical sight and is easily reached from Hanoi. A three hour bus ride (taking the day bus is always advised) from Hanoi will deliver you into the heart of Haling city and into a perfect setting for enjoying the views. Accommodation in the bay is mixed but the Halong Plaza is generally well-recommended. Although enjoying views from the bay is certainly worth the visit a boat ride (you can even chose to spend the night) is an incredible experience. Day cruises last around three hours and overnights around 16 hours. As with all Vietnam tours be sure to book with a respectable operator, preferably before you arrive at the bay.
2. Sapa & northern Vietnam
Located about a 6-8 hour train ride from Hanoi, Sapa is an “off the beaten track” destination in Vietnam. Sapa and the ‘mountainous north’ offer forgotten hill-tribes such as the Red Dzong and truly stunning maintain views and valleys. Although some areas have suffered from deforestation there are many areas of northern Vietnam that offer unspoiled views of rolling hill, mist peaked mountains and small communities burrowed in hill-sides. Sapa town itself is resplendent with artisans selling their wares and the streets are a joy to explore, throughout the region there is a mix of influences due to this part of Vietnam’s proximity to China and Laos. For those travellers with a little more time then a visit to the remote town of Paso situated on the river is a great addition and as well as getting to see this charming little town you’ll also get to experiencing long and winding drives through the regions foothills and valleys. Or those with an interest in Vietnam’s modern history then Dien Bien Phu which in 1954 was the site of a protracted battle between the Viet Minh and French colonial forces. The Viet Minh won the engagement and in doing so arguably changed the course of Vietnamese history.
3. Hoi An
Just an hour’s flight from Hanoi will take you to Nah Trang airport, following an additional bus ride of about 30 mins you will arrive in Hoi An. As one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage sites this town is most notably known for its sheer beauty and charm. Located in Quang Nam province, Hoi An is a fusion French, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese architectural influences. This is a direct result of Hoi An’s long history as a port, with traders visiting from Holland, Portugal, China and beyond. Although Hoi An has a stunning coastline, its real charm can be found in simply wandering the streets. Early morning visits make for photography paradise as the French-influenced villas take on a soft morning glow and can be seen intermittently cruising through the town.
Around a two and a half hour flight from Hanoi, Saigon is the perfect escape for travellers looking to experience the sights and delights of a major Asian city. Although fast developing, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is still al little rough around the edges and offers travellers and mix of old and new. As well as some decadent days spent shopping, sampling the European and Asian restaurants or relaxing in some excellent 5* hotels Saigon offers an incredible history. As a major hub of US operations in the US/Vietnamese war Saigon has some incredible museums such as the War Remnants Museum that houses thousands of artefacts – from tanks, 1,000lb bomb cases – to moving and truly humbling photographic displays. The Reunification Palace is also a history-rich site that saw the end of American/Vietnamese war and much of the palace’s interior remains as it once did. From Saigon travellers can also look forward to a day trip to the famous Cu Chi tunnels as well as the Saigon Zoo and Botanical gardens.
5. Mekong Delta
If you have a weekend in Saigon planned then this is a great place to spend a day. Ideally booked with an established tour operator prior to departure a visit to the Mekong Delta is a must. One of the best ports to use is Ben Tre. Although an extra 30 mins drive, this port – as opposed to My Tho – Ben Tre sees a fraction of the tourist numbers when compared to My Tho and makes for a much more intimate experience. Most tour operators will be able to book you on to a leisurely trip down the Mekong’s tributaries in a small boat that piloted by hand, offers a tranquil introduction to this beautiful setting. A short cruise will allow you to see daily life in the coconut plantations, weaving houses, traditional kilns and also provide an insight into traditional Mekong cuisine! This author once opted for a Mekong pork curry, Razor fish and fresh spring rolls with a mix of trepidation but was happy to report it was one of the finest culinary encounters of his life. Wherever you travel, especially with transport arrangements such as boat rides and day tours be sure to book with an established operator. And of course, enjoy!
About the Author:
Kian is E-commerce Executive at UK tour operator www.traveIndochina.co.uk specialising in small group tours and tailor made holidays to destinations across Asia. Kian’s specialist area is Vietnam and he recently returned from a three week tour of Vietnam & Cambodia.
If you’re thinking of relocating to Vietnam please check out our guide to living in Hanoi.