Welcome to one of Asia’s most compelling cities. Ho Chi Minh City is the energetic commercial hub of modern Vietnam, with wide boulevards, grand colonial buildings, fascinating cultural sights, and a vibrant tangle of narrow laneways – all framed by a kinetic river of traffic. From noodle breakfasts to temple visits, art tours and cocktails with a view, here’s how to make the most of two days in former Saigon. Day One Morning Pull up a stool at Ben Thanh market for a hearty breakfast of herb-ladenpho (noodle soup) and ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk). From Ben Thanh’s iconic clock tower, it’s a short stroll to Ho Chi Minh City’s Fine Arts Museum, a building displaying the elegant architecture of French colonial times. Conduct your own exploration of the galleries, which showcase centuries-old statuary and contemporary art inspired by the tragedy of war. Or visit with expat Sophie Hughes, who runs in-depth four-hour tours of the city’s art scene. From the heritage of the Fine Arts Museum, continue to the soaring modernity of the 68-storey Bitexco Financial Tower. Ascend to the 48th-floor Saigon Skydeck for views of the impetuous growth of Vietnam’s economic capital. From the tower, make your … Continue reading 48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City

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Vietnam might have been late to Southeast Asia’s beach party, but it was well worth the wait. The country boasts more than 3400km of coastline, with infinite stretches of powdery sand, coves, lagoons, impossible boulder formations and tropical islands ringed with yet more beaches. We can help you navigate the overwhelming amount of choices. Nha Trang The heavyweight champion of Vietnam, Nha Trang has been knocking out visitors for years. True, the town is brazen and brash, but the beach is bold and beautiful and a gateway to a cluster of quieter islands. Mui Ne Set on a seductive swathe of sand, Mui Ne is an absolute charmer with swaying palms and towering dunes. Get pummelled on the beach by a masseur or pummelled by the waves with some water sports – this place blends action and inertia to perfection. Phu Quoc Simply the most beautiful island in Vietnam, Phu Quoc is liberally sprinkled with picture-perfect white sand beaches and cloaked in dense, impenetrable jungle. Long Beach is sophisticated, Ong Lan Beach romantic, and Bai Sao simply irresistible. Con Dao The Con Dao islands have been protected from over-exposure by their isolated location off the coast. Enjoy it while it … Continue reading Spoilt for choice: Vietnam’s best beaches

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Stunning Halong Bay continues to dominate the itineraries of most travellers in Vietnam, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of the country’s northeast. If you’ve got some time up your sleeve and want to delve a little deeper, you’ll find there is more to this region than cruising around Halong’s feted karsts. Cat Ba Island Craggy, jungle-clad Cat Ba Island is the launching pad for exploring the limestone islets and towers of Lan Ha Bay. Geologically an extension of Halong Bay, and just as dramatic, Lan Ha Bay sees much fewer visitors. But Cat Ba has more to offer than a beautiful seascape to goggle at. This is the northeast’s adventure capital – whether you want to climb it, bike it, hike it or kayak it, Cat Ba has the activity for you. Almost half of the island’s 354 sq km is protected as a national park, which is home to most of the world’s remaining golden-headed langur population (the world’s most endangered primate), while the island’s cliffs have become one of southeast Asia’s top learn-to-climb destinations. Experience it For water-based activities, Blue Swimmer runs guided kayaking trips within the karsts and Asia Outdoors has recently brought SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) to … Continue reading Beyond Halong Bay: lesser-known highlights of northeast Vietnam

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World Heritage Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, with its karst mountains, underground rivers, historic sites, extensive caves and unspoilt jungle, is packed with opportunities to hike, bike, paddle or simply relax in one of Vietnam’s most spectacular and interesting regions. The national park is famously home to Hang Son Doong, discovered in the early 1990s and confirmed as the biggest cave on the planet only in 2009. In recent years the cave has become one of the hottest tickets in travel for in-the-know adventurers. Negotiating its 5km-long cavern is superbly exciting, but guided tours are limited and beyond the budget of many. Luckily there are many other activities – both below and above ground – to occupy travellers in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang area. Biking the Bong Lai Valley Grab a quirky hand-drawn map from either the Phong Nha Farmstay (phong-nha-cave.com) or the Easy Tiger hostel (easytigerhostel.com), and spend a day exploring the Bong Lai Valley. Meandering tracks and back roads made for mountain bikes weave through local villages and along sleepy rivers, passing by an ever-expanding array of laidback attractions. Lunch on grilled chicken with peanut sauce at the Pub with Cold Beer, or spend a relaxing afternoon in a rustic riverside shelter at the Wild … Continue reading Exploring Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

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Way south of the mainland, Vietnam’s idyllic Con Dao Islands (population 6000-ish) are the perfect oceanic antidote to the feverish energy and punishing pollution that can afflict the nation’s booming mega-cities. For decades the main settlement of Con Son was used by the French and Americans as an island prison for anti-regime activists and criminals. Several of these jails are now deeply moving, harrowing sights to visit. History aside, Con Dao is blessed with stunning beaches and rich coral reefs that represent the best diving in Vietnam. The islands have been declared a National Park, and there are rewarding rainforest hikes to remote bays. Take a morning stroll in Con Son town The islands’ tiny capital is a delight to explore on foot, with (almost) traffic-free streets, a couple of traffic lights (which don’t work) and a solitary gas station (which closes for a siesta). This is Vietnam in the slow lane. Begin with an early morning stroll along the town’s spectacular promenade, with a horizon-filling turquoise ocean on one side and a roster of handsome ochre French colonial buildings to admire on the other. You’ll pass the old Gallic customs house where Camille Saint-Saëns composed his opera Brunhilde in 1895. Next … Continue reading Exploring Vietnam’s remote Con Dao Islands

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