Limestone mountains rising out of emerald waters, miles and miles of white sandy coastline, paddy fields carved into deep green slopes and dotted with the conical straw hats of farmers, floating flower markets in the waterways of the Nine Dragon river delta…Vietnam’s magical scenery is not to be missed. From beach huts and hostels to holiday resorts and 5-star hotels, there is accommodation to suit all budgets, and with the number of cheap flights available at the moment, there’s really no excuse…
The Mekong Delta in the southwestern tip of the country is a world in itself, with its watery landscape, green fields and sleepy villages, some of which are only accessible by boat. This is Vietnam’s verdant, colourful answer to Venice and has been described as a “biological treasure trove” for the variety of flora and fauna found here. Drift along riverways and canals, through floating fruit and flower markets, find bird sanctuaries and hidden beaches, and enjoy the dream while you can…
Near the Delta but not technically a part of it, PhuQuoc Island offers motorbike adventures through the forests and mountains, as well as a wealth of water sports, including sea-kayaking and scuba diving. But if you’d rather relax, there are plenty of white, sandy beaches to choose from.
Back on the mainland, and over on the country’s lengthy east coast, you are again spoilt for choice by the number of beautiful beaches. Windsurfers and surfers should head down to the coastal town of Mui Ne where the season runs from August to December, and which, other than a beach with a number of resorts dotted along it, also boasts rolling sand dunes and a ruined temple.
For those seeking out a taste of Vietnamese culture and history, the old imperial capital at Hue is the place to go. The UNESCO World Heritage Site complex is replete with an impressive array of citadels, palaces, temples, mausoleums and pagodas. The town also hosts a biennial arts festival – the next one of these is in April 2012.
Hoi An is another city infused with the flavours of Vietnamese town life. This is a good place to stock up on traditional clothes, or to sign up to one of the cooking courses and try your hand at recreating the delicious local Vietnamese cuisine. Try and time your visit to coincide with a “Hoi An Legendary Night” which takes place every full moon: the city really comes to life, as motorbikes are banished from the Old Town and replaced by silk lanterns, singers, dancers and people playing games in the street.
Maybe the most magical part of any trip to Vietnam is a cruise on a junk in Halong Bay. The enchanting experience of floating between the tall, steep limestone cliff faces that tower up out of the water is unparalleled – you can even arrange to spend a night or two on one of the converted junks.
All this and more make Vietnam an attractive alternative to a winter in the UK – or, for that matter, to any season in the UK!